Let’s have a happy first anniversary

By Marina Mahathir

AS the cliche goes, time has whizzed by. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were queuing up by the thousands at polling stations, and then getting together with friends to wait for the results? And waited and waited?

Meanwhile, our phones buzzed with unofficial results. Yet on TV we were made to twiddle our thumbs until the early hours of the morning. Another long tense wait followed. We voted for the government we wanted and yet we didn’t know for an entire day whether it would be sworn in.

Who doesn’t remember the emotions of that day? The camaraderie at the polling stations, the frustration of people not being allowed to vote past closing time despite the extra-long queues, the exhilaration of winning and then that long agonising wait for the new government to take over.

Whichever side you may be on that day, all Malaysians should take pride in one thing: in this chaotic violent world today, we were arguably the only developing country that changed governments – after sixty years! – in the best way possible, through the ballot box.

Without a single drop of blood being shed. Just read about all the elections now being held elsewhere and see how unusual this is.

It was certainly a new experience for everyone, to see a new government sworn in.

Faces we had barely seen in the news were suddenly ministers.

But how refreshing that was to see a Cabinet that looked like us, instead of a bunch of tired and jaded entitled folk who had been there too long.

But reality can be a hard bone to swallow. Only those who believe in fairy tales could have expected things to become wonderful overnight.

We didn’t get extra change in our pockets and justice and equality the day after the elections.

There are only four people in the Cabinet who have actual experience in governing, two at the Federal level and two at the state level. It’s not a skill that one picks up overnight.

Furthermore, they were inheriting an almost broken machine that had to be fixed up first. Some patience is needed.

Having said that, one year on, the government’s track record is uneven.

On the one hand, we are finally seeing some people being brought to court. The media has a new freedom, which even they are finding it hard to get used to.

I read a letter from a teacher who praised the Education Minister for lessening the burdens put on teachers in schools.

The Environment Minister was very proactive and quick in dealing with the Sungai Kim Kim toxic fumes disaster.

I’m sure there is more but we just don’t hear about them.

The good news is being overwhelmed by the bad news. Partly this is because of the relentless attacks by the opposition.

I do wish they would behave like a good opposition because a good democracy always needs one.

But they’ve become single-issue fanatics. Everything is only about race and religion.

I do understand that they are unable to talk about corruption without a lot of the mud splashing back on their faces but seriously, are there no other policy issues that they are interested in?

What are their views on climate change for instance? Or equal pay for equal work for women?

What do they think about the attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of 5200 civilians, and a further 50,000 deaths from famine?

What are their views on genocide, say, in Myanmar, and what do they think is the best way to deal with it? What do they think is the appropriate response to attacks on houses of worship around the world that cause so many deaths?

What is their stand on nuclear arms? On what issues would they be willing to join the government in a bipartisan stand?

I would really like to know the answers to these. Is it simply too much to expect this from the opposition or from their paid trolls on social media?

I live in hope though because if they intend to rule again, the least we can expect is a government that can sing more than one note.

But we cannot lay the entire blame on an opposition deprived of ideas.

The government too needs to stop looking like amateurs. I don’t understand why a government that was so soundly voted in should get defensive at all about any of their policies. Especially social policies.

Why be afraid to raise the age of marriage and ban child marriage altogether? Why attack minorities who voted for you just because the other side keeps baiting you on them?

Why the need to respond to every single thing that reporters ask you about? Some things benefit from better investigation and longer reflection.

Other things are best left to the technical people who actually know what they’re talking about.

I think some people forget that they’re now in government and they don’t have to fight for media coverage anymore.

The one thing I really wish this government had done from the beginning is to have some sort of coordinating mechanism so that ministries no longer work in silos.

This was a huge problem in the old government when, for example, the Health Ministry didn’t know how international trade agreements affected them simply because they were negotiated by the International Trade and Industry Ministry.

Or how only the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry dealt with gender issues when in fact women are affected by policies from every ministry.

In Indonesia, there is such a thing as a Coordinating Minister whose job is to ensure horizontal cooperation between ministries.

Something like that would be very useful here too in my opinion.

But since it’s the first anniversary coming up soon, let me end on a positive note.

I remember the days when we all felt like there was not enough air to breathe, when hate poured out of our TV screens like poisoned rivers, when nobody could even fly a balloon without being arrested and taken to court. Those days must never return.

For at least the next four years, I wish to see a kinder, gentler and fairer government – one that considers every single citizen in this land a Malaysian, whether they voted for it or not.

I’d like to have a government that respects us all and not treat us like ignorant children, that spends its resources on what would benefit all of us and not on monitoring imaginary insults.

It would be terrific if this was a government that raised the level of intellectual discourse in this country, that doesn’t ban books but instead invites people to debate them in an orderly civilized way.

A government that shows us through very clear values and by example how to be exemplary citizens.

It’s not just about putting down the other side, it’s also about how you raise the bar for governance.

Raise standards and the other side will have to keep up. And the rakyat wins either way.

Happy first anniversary in advance, Pakatan Harapan. And happy first anniversary, rakyat Malaysia Baharu.

First published in The Star Online

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