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So Aunty, So What?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Breaking free from culture of fear

I AM not angry and afraid any more. That sense of frustration and foreboding was lifted exactly one week ago. But now I have about 130 eggs in my fridge. And quite a stack of frozen pizzas. In my pantry is a large bag of rice, several loaves of bread, many packets of instant noodles and canned food.

It was fear that made me quietly stock up, just in case. Unfortunately, I did it so quietly that I forgot to tell my husband who had the same thought and on the eve of polling day, he came home with three trays of eggs and six loaves of bread.

I know many people did too but it wasn’t something we talked about. I did the same in 2013 before the general election.

My preparation for “just in case” stems from my being old enough to have lived through the May 13, 1969 riots.

But there was a big difference in why I stocked up in 2013 and 2018.

Five years back, I did fear riots and clashes that would be racial because in GE13, we knew the majority of Malaysian Chinese were determined to vote out Barisan Nasional. And if the election results clearly reflected that, there was fear of ugly reprisals.

Fortunately, that fear was unfounded and although there were very nasty things said about the Chinese tsunami, peace prevailed.

This time, however, I was not worried about racially motivated unrest but rather street violence and riots between BN and Pakatan Harapan supporters should either side refuse to accept the election results.

That seemed a possibility because there was already so much tension and anger at the extremely uneven playing field in favour of the incumbent who used every tactic they could think of.

There was also fear that because of its desperation to win at all cost – a phrase used repeatedly throughout the election – the more unruly among BN’s ranks might stir trouble to stay in power if it lost the election.

Well, I could not be more wrong, and I am absolutely glad to be so. On May 9, we had our own Barack Obama moment when the impossible became possible.

There is no doubt the nation feels very reassured that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is at the helm of the good ship Malaysia again and is expecting him to steer it out of stormy seas into safe harbour.

For me, who covered him and his family extensively during his first tenure, it’s good to have him back. Press conferences with the prime minister have become a lot more interesting and meaningful again, thanks to his wit, sarcasm and ability to tackle any question.

But Dr M himself needs to make huge adjustments, too. Back then, he certainly showed he disliked dissent and wielded the immense power vested in his position to stymie his critics and opponents.

He made changes that were deemed by many as detrimental to the judiciary and the press was not exactly free and independent either in his time.

The good thing is that he, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng, Mat Sabu and other PH leaders have experienced first-hand how threatening and oppressive a leader can be when he has a wide range of tools to use against his political opponents and ordinary folk.

Dr M must also contend with party members and citizens who aren’t cowed and will speak up on what they passionately believe in. On his part, he has repeatedly said he wants to bring back the rule of law.

That’s why we are all hopeful that PH will fulfil its promises to dismantle the existing power structure and bring back effective checks and balances in our democracy by strengthening institutions like the judiciary, media, police and the anti-corruption agency with real independence to act without fear or favour.

And if you have been reading my column, you will know I am a strong advocate of term limits for elected leaders, so I look forward to the PH pledge to introduce a two-term limit to the Malaysian prime ministership. That would truly be a game-changer.

An unexpected outcome from GE14 is the demand for the old-fashioned newspaper. The Star sold like hot cakes because in times like this, when history is being made, people want something tangible to keep for posterity, and that is only possible with a copy of the newspaper; an FB or WhatsApp post doesn’t quite cut it.

Again, if PH stands by its promise, of a free and independent press, that it would abolish the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the horrible Anti-Fake News Act and set up a self-governing media council, it will truly usher in a new era of journalism for Malaysia.

I am also supportive of Dr M’s setting up of the Team of Eminent Persons. The inclusion of Robert Kuok is yet another deft move because his presence will reassure Beijing that the new government is not anti-China.

I have so much more to say but for now I will just hail the breaking of the fear culture that has hung over our heads for so long.

Malaysians ignored politicians who kept using race to divide us and instead came together to fight against corruption, for justice and for a better way of life – all of which have nothing to do with race.

So I will not fear the spectre of another May 13 ever again because Malaysians have had an epiphany that change is possible without the nation descending into chaos.

We are now emboldened, and we must never ever allow ourselves to be silenced or be held ransom again by our politicians.

I would like to paraphrase a part of what I wrote in my Aug 14, 2013 column headlined “Ruling multiracial Malaysia”:

I am all for a government whose leaders are morally upright with zero tolerance for corruption and understand they are the people’s servants and respect must be earned. Most important of all, they are committed to keeping Malaysia multiracial, multicultural and multireligious.

 

Oh, if anyone needs eggs or have recipes using eggs, do drop Aunty a line at aunty@thestar.com.my