column banner pic 3

COLUMN

kylo renDecember 29 – One of Kylo Ren’s most memorable quotes in The Last Jedi is: “It’s time to let old things die”.

I’m not a huge Star Wars fan by any account, but I loved The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. And unlike some people who found Kylo Ren whiny, I thought he was a great villain with motivations I could empathise with.

The year 2018, when Malaysia will face a general election, is almost upon us. Much has changed since the 13th general elections in 2013 when many, including me, thought that Malaysia would have a new federal government for the first time since Independence.

We were mistaken. Barisan Nasional (BN) won the election yet again and political alliances have shifted since, with old enemies joining hands and former friends turning into bitter foes.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians (including youth leaders) tell us to try to understand their coalition’s “internal politics” when we express reluctance to vote for them in light of their linking up with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose authoritarianism many senior PKR and DAP leaders had once denounced when he was in office.

We (urban/ young/ non-Malay/ non-Muslim voters) are implicitly told to accept racist politics, like the formation of Malay- and Muslim-only parties Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), because PH’s goal is to capture the Malay-Muslim vote since the urban/ non-Malay/ non-Muslim/ youth vote is (supposedly) in the bag since 2013.

Five years on, perhaps the urban/ non-Malay/ non-Muslim/ youth vote is still mostly pro-Opposition, but for some of us, the fire of hope that was lit before Election 2013 is now just a sputtering flame, or completely extinguished.

It is, of course, unrealistic to immediately expect a change of government, especially one that has not changed since Independence, within just one term of the general awakening of civil rights and the realisation that politicians do not always have our best interests at heart. More specifically, the realisation that democracy takes real work every day and citizens shouldn’t give any political party a free pass in between elections.

I don’t think today’s voter apathy can solely be blamed on Malaysians who give up too easily. I think many of us do want to continue fighting for liberty, equality, and an end to racial discrimination and religious fundamentalism.

But it’s difficult to fight that battle alongside political parties and politicians who not only fail to promote those values, but enacted policies that ran contrary to those principles when they were previously in office (and still believe that they had made the right decisions).  

The ruling BN has never changed since Malaysia became independent 60 years ago in 1957, even though we are now in the 21st century when people in their 30s and 40s and ethnic minorities can become heads of state in other countries.

BN is still divided into race-based parties led by old men, corruption scandals abound, and civil liberties like freedom of speech are severely curtailed. Unfortunately, PH seems to have the same problem, perhaps to a lesser degree because they do not control access to federal funds and state machinery.

Anyone who wants to replace BN as Malaysia’s first alternative government can either tell voters that they will do the same things as BN (but they will do it better), or that they will implement different policies (starkly different if they posit themselves as saviours of the country, a common narrative in politics).

While some may dislike instability and fear the unknown, I reckon many people (especially millennials) aren’t afraid of electing an alternative federal government for the first time because, like in many other things, we just want to try something new. Old things get boring after a while, no matter how good they may be at first. 

But we can only do that if there is something new to choose. If we believe that all parties offer the same old racist ideas, then there is no motivation to choose one over the other. It’s just “meh”.

However, as 2018 approaches, I have hope that we will see real efforts to eliminate racism, to return the freedom to live our lives without State intervention, and to truly make Malaysia “a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world”, whose citizens are treated equally and have the opportunity to achieve all their dreams.

This hope does not lie in whoever wins the 14th general election, which will come and go like all previous elections.

This hope lies in people who believe that “it’s time to let old things die” and who have the courage to forge a great country never envisioned before in the past.

Let the past die. Kill it, if we have to. That’s the only way to become what we were meant to be.