Malaysia’s new govt must now manage its success and heal what has been broken
Among the mountain of materials that came my way in this historic general election over the past 11 days, one image is seared in my mind.
It is a short video clip and it came, among the million bits of unrelated data about the election, on my WhatsApp uninvited.
In it, a man is riding on a moped along a busy North-South Expressway. His small machine, alone on the emergency lane hardly keeping up with the torrent of car traffic, is unremarkable except that over his shoulder is a flag on a big stick. He would be moving faster, no doubt, but the giant party flag drags his progress.
When a motorist asked him what in the world was he doing, the man said he was going home to vote. He said the words matter-of-factly. It is obvious that this man was determined to vote for Pakatan Harapan.
His ride is symbolic of the army of Malaysians who answered the call to vote in this election and make the 14th General Election (GE14) Malaysia’s true people power election. Like him, millions of other voters “balik undi” from near and far, self-funded for those with means and crowdfunded for those without. But they came back and came out in numbers yesterday.
The man on the motorbike has proven to be the harbinger of the storm that has swept through the country this historic day, the storm that has dislodged a government that has ruled this country since it became a sovereign democratic nation.
As of writing this, Pakatan Harapan has secured, for all intents and purposes, the mandate of the people of Malaysia. The long lines of voters determined to make their voice heard despite the many hurdles, deliberate or not, that the Election Commission (EC) has thrown to discourage them.
From the start, the odds were stacked against this lone motorcyclist who symbolises all of us. Not only was the election held on the most inconvenient day of the week for thousands of voters, it was also after a comprehensive re-drawing of the constituencies.
Pakatan Harapan’s 93-year-old leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had re-assembled his old team in time for the test against Barisan Nasional’s (BN) juggernaut and mobilised ordinary people to vote for change. After the polls were counted, one by one BN’s seats tumbled, 23 at last unofficial count, even in its traditional strongholds. It was clear that we were on the cusp of making history.
But this mandate was not made official by the EC, until well after midnight with many results being witheld. Dr Mahathir said the coalition has amassed enough seats to form a government, but refrained from announcing anything until an official result is made by the EC and asked the people to remain calm.
This is where our beloved country has arrived in its 61 years — at the crossroads.
Where Malaysia stands in history will depend on whether our institutions will acknowledge the will of the people or not.
That the Pakatan Harapan had won over the hearts and minds of the people was palpable and real. This was to be a people’s movement.
Pakatan Harapan, a coalition cobbled by disparate political parties, were able to put aside their vast differences and unite with one purpose — to oust the BN coalition. In campaigning, the BN message was the same tried and tested — a vote for the incumbent means more bridges, schools, highways and just money would be built. The condition is that BN is given another five years of running the country.
Against this message, Pakatan Harapan appealed to the higher values of good governance, anti-graft and accountability to the people. Its message was also brutally simple — vote Pakatan Harapan to remove the incumbent.
Although PAS was a major player in our politics, it painted itself into insignificance by contesting an election with no intention of governing.
It was well after midnight that the EC chairman finally made an appearance and gave a garbled press conference, denying any mischief, but could not explain the delay.
With the EC droning out the results at well past 1am, it is clear that Malaysians will wake today to a whole new chapter of its history.
Congratulations, we have matured as a country and has joined the ranks of world democracies where the will of the people is sacred. We have done the hard part, but a more challenging part is ahead. Malaysia’s new government must now manage its success and heal what has been broken.
The people have spoken, Dirgahayu Malaysia.
ZB Othman is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.