In the hilly land to the north of Johannesburg, the Constitutional Court of South Africa – nestled in the Old Prison Fort where Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were once imprisoned – the bricks are red, dirty and unpainted.
Each time the bench convene, and as the judges face the counsels, the red, dirty and unpainted brick wall stares at them silently but powerfully.
These are bricks from prison cells of the old fort. The wall serves as an ever-present reminder to the sitting judges that the decisions they make may bring back the dark days of apartheid.
The fact that the old apartheid-era prison was transformed, or rather redeemed, into a monument of justice and human rights itself speaks of a revolution meant to be thorough and long-lasting.
But back to Malaysia.
May 9, 2018, will forever be etched in the collective memory of Malaysians. For the first time since 1957, after 14 general elections, Malaysians managed to vote out the Umno-led BN federal ruling regime.
Being in government for 61 years, BN is the longest serving ruling party in a democratic country in the world.
The prospect of BN losing power was almost nil, with the president of Umno-BN, Najib Abdul Razak, declaring three days just before polling that BN would not only win but win big.
He claimed that the crowd at opposition rallies were actually ferried from elsewhere and were not genuine local voters.
Some may even say that May 9 was a miracle. But it was only because they lacked the confidence that Malaysians could and would do the right thing.
We showed them that we did it, that the moral compass in each our hearts is still unspoiled – if a little rusty – from years of suppression by the former regime.
While we await the official figures for the voting pattern and analyses, I want to share with you several observations as one of the witnesses and participants of this momentous event.
One thing is evident: this election belonged to the people, not political parties.
At about 6pm, an hour after voting was closed, people began gathering at several counting centres. One of these was SMJK Jit Sin, the official Election Commission counting centre for Bukit Mertajam, my constituency.
The fact is, the Bukit Mertajam DAP committee had decided that there shall not be any gatherings, not on the streets nor at the counting centres.
While all candidates had to immediately congregate at one location, we dispatched our key local leaders to the nomination centre to see through the process of the announcement of results. These leaders were given specific instruction to disperse or at least control the crowd, if any had formed.
Yet, my immediate thought that night when reading news of people gathering at counting centres was, “They were not there for us, they were there for something bigger.”
Several people criticised Pakatan Harapan for not telling our zealous supporters to “behave” outside the counting centres. What they do not realise was this: the people were not there to defend Harapan nor our candidates. They were there to defend their votes and their election.
I think all political parties need to realise this by now. That May 9, 2018 was not about any political parties, just as August 31, 1957 was not about political parties.
Yes, Harapan was an important player in the former, and the Alliance in the latter, but both were people’s moments. A ‘Malaysians’ moment’ if you will, or our second Merdeka.
But what’s next?
The morning after
I believe many will agree with me that May 9 represents a whole new world.
The very next morning, many of us felt the air was fresher the sky bluer. Without even being figurative, so many greeted each other with a “Welcome to a new Malaysia” that morning.
Indeed, everything was cast anew. There will be many things which we may not even have a definition for yet. Let me extract a few notable examples in the last week alone:
A new ‘Council of Elders’ – which would make Dumbledore, Gandalf, and Yoda smile with approval - was established almost as soon as the prime minister was sworn in to guide and oversee the reforms promised by the new government.
Perak Umno assemblypersons, Zainol Fadzi Paharudin and Nolee Ashilin Mohd Radzi, endorsed Harapan’s Ahmad Faizal Azumu as menteri besar, preventing a potential hung assembly. Neither Zainol nor Nolee joined Harapan, however. They merely gave their support to enable a state government to be formed.
The young and inspiring Bersatu Youth chief and Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman admonished the newly-minted Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian for saying that opposition state assemblypersons would not receive constituency development funds from the state government.
The appointment of an ethnic Chinese finance minister – who nevertheless reminded the world that he is a Malaysian through and through – which is not only a break from Umno-BN’s old model, but also reminiscent of the strength of our national unity reflected in the post-Merdeka Tunku Abdul Rahman cabinet.
And the list will only grow longer. But clearly a whole new world requires new framework and new thinking. Business as usual will not do anymore.
For a start, the government can no longer be paternalistic, or worse authoritarian. Just like the night of May 9 when the people claimed the election for themselves, they too had claimed the government for themselves. It is their election, their government.
Democratic space must be expanded, and the people’s voice must be respected and government accountability must be upheld.
I think if anything, that means stop enticing or allowing elected representatives to ‘jump’ from one party to another. May 9 crushed the old cynical wisdom that “the people can never do the right thing.”
We should trust the people to make the right decision for our country, and therefore respect the decision once it has been made. This is a self-reminder to my party and coalition.
A monument for posterity
Like the red dirty and unpainted bricks of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, May 9 should be consecrated as a reminder of this important event.
Just as the Court is nestled in the Old Fort and thus in a strange way redeeming the symbol of an oppressive regime, so May 9 is situated in the caliginous period approaching May 13.
Hopefully in time to come, redeeming the memory of the dark period of our nation’s history, we will celebrate in its stead the glorious ‘Malaysians’ moment’.
Oh, and one more thing. A young colleague recently reminded me that I once told him, “The line separating good and evil is not between us but within us, and the way to save our country is to be part of the change we want to see.” I am sure I paraphrased that from somewhere, I don’t know.
But we just emerged from a very heated campaign and a very fierce election, and there are bound to be casualties.
And yes, the old regime may have hurt some of us on a personal level. But there is no time to waste on the trivial and on personal vengeance.
Let’s move on, but together. Let’s stop the pain from being passed down. Let’s focus on nation building, on reconciliation, on reconstruction, on justice – not vengeance. And most importantly, on what we have promised – reform, not revenge.
We have a nation to rebuild, and we can only do it together, as Malaysians.