Random Thoughts on Monday before Elections

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This elections is critical not just for the next 4-5 years but the next 40-50 years.

While many of us might prefer to operate with a more independent streak as an ideal, i.e. we vote primarily for the candidate and not the party, or we want to focus on specific issues. But political realities in Malaysia forces one to reexamine that posture at least during this election.

Within that limit, we’ll have to see what the parties they represent stand for. Of course, manifestos and promises abound…. and there will always be an element of risk for our choices. Even without taking sides prematurely on any particular party … for the sake of the long term health of our governance in the nation and a more mature political process …. we CANNOT have a ruling government which is TOO powerful. And if the one who are in power are not in touch with the changes and struggles of the common people, especially the poor and marginalised, or even showing insecurity to engage with a more maturing informed middle-class – these are warning signals especially for fence sitters to bring some balance.

Sure the Opposition is not perfect, and there are many complaints on their choice of candidates or the perceived lack of cohesion. And it’s encouraging to see people rising up to keep them accountable for what they want to do.  But, I get the sense is that the energy for that exercise needs to be redirected even MORE towards those who have governed is the last 50 years.

A good development that has emerged from the civil society is as represented by The People’s Voice & The People’s Declaration. I find this effort empowering people like me who are not a member of any political party.  And this is one way forward from being torn always on both sides of the political poles in our country.

But it’s just a few more days, and I find theoretical and academic discussions while important, are less urgent.  With a greater awareness of the political realities present, I would agree with what was said yesterday at the Forum on General Elections: Dialogue with Dr. Farish Noor & Malik Imtiaz , we are indeed in a transitional period.  And when a closing statement ended with, "Help the Government, Vote Opposition", there was a rousing applause. It seems to me that was what they wanted to hear, or needed to hear depending on where you are in the spectrum of decision making.

A significant number of the Opposition parties have endorsed the The People’s Voice & The People’s Declaration.  So, there is a point of reference for the civil society which to me would include churches and religious organization who seek to be non-partisan to engage them with in the future. This would need an experimental period for us to see where this will take us.

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And the picture accurately describes what change – even small change will involve … more time, more effort, more concern, more engagement from all parties so that a non-race based politics can emerge and blossom fully.  As a Christian, I fully endorse that direction. It’s more than saying whether we are giving the opposition parties a chance, it’s whether we want to give ourselves a chance to do something (even though we can’t do everything) in our lifetime.  That would make the BARISAN RAKYAT idea more meaningful when it realistically includes the common people, civil society initiatives and those in political parties.

Does that mean those in the Barisan National or linked with them are all crooks or totally unable to make a difference? Is the current governing system totally corrupted and beyond redemption? Did they not do anything good? Well, I spent sometime listening to conversations getting stuck over these questions by sincere people who both desire change.

What would interest me more is what exactly do people want to do to make the changes, or what have they done to move the climate of our beloved country forward? Debating ideals while maybe stimulating … but when we are put at the crossroads of decision … a pause is necessary, and a prayer would help, and being prepared to live with the consequences of our choices not just for ourselves, but also for others.

I realize my vote is not just for myself.  It’s also part of the bigger picture of realigning what for many of us is direction our country is heading off track back to what is most helpful and beneficial for ALL people in Malaysia. Some faces are emerging right now in my mind

… the Hindu Indian young man who repairs our photocopy machine,

… a new found Ustaz friend whom I met at a forum,

… the Kadazan military personnel whom I taught English years ago,

… a young man who has learning disabilities working in A & W,

… the Malay boys playing sepak takraw across the street,

… the politican whom I am disappointed with

… the little Sikh boy whom my daughter calls her friend 🙂

… The young Buddhist lady whom I met in Parliament

… the intellectual Malay academic who’s frustrated

…the senior citizen who’s mostly forgotten by us, but has stories to tell we need to hear.

…add to the list everyone you can think of, I know I have surely missed out on people. So this is a VOTE for ALL the People of Malaysia.

For years, I was like most people … indifferent and doing my own thing.  Last elections, there was some improvement I voted. But, as my eyes are more open, and ears listening to the ground, I realize that I cannot be drifting along … it’s been a long process and in many ways I feeling ashamed of how at times I have been "domesticated" by the media,  and falling into the temptation of a "corrupted" way of thinking which allows the living environment and relational-intellectual space to be hijacked by those strategically seeking their own gain, or those so called "blindly" sucked into the "system"  portraying themselves to be powerless (more like "gutless").

Reading about Tan Chee Khoon did me some good over the weekend. It also made me aware of the earlier struggles of Malaysians during his time. I never knew about Perkemas until last Saturday.

Pekemas (Parti Keadilan Masyarakat Malaysia, or Social Justice Party of Malaysia) was co-founded by Tan Sri David Tan Chee Khoon (1919-1996), the Opposition leader 1964-1978. He was co-founder of Gerakan, but later left to form Pekemas. Tan Chee Khoon and Onn Jaafar were 2 persons ahead of their time – they did not believe in race-based parties, rather multiracial (like Berjaya & PBS). Therefore when Gerakan cofounder Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu led it to join the race-based BN, Chee Khoon felt disillusioned.

When he was disillusioned, Tan Chee Khoon tried to form a new way forward in the form of a political party which never took off the way ideally some of us would have liked it to (I need to read up more about Onn Jaafar someday).  Political realities can often be very ruthless.

But whatever it is, I was encouraged to draw encouragement from one of our own in Malaysian history to "do something".  And this is seen in this story which moved me and I shared it with my church last Sunday from Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon – A Life of Service:

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Tan Chee Khoon was no superhuman. When he was 13 years old, he was attempting to carve his name on a rubber tree, using a tapping knife. While trying to carve the straight limb of the letter D, he must have applied too much force and the next thing he knew was that the knife, which, of course, had a very sharp cutting edge, had been plunged into his left eye. Sadly, Chee Khoon lost the use of that eye from then on. At various junctures in his life, this handicap threatened to hamper his progress. When he first applied to the College of Medicine, his application was rejected because of that handicap. Were it not for the intervention of the Headmaster, Mr C.E. Gates, and his eye surgeon, he would probably not have been accepted.

Fortunately Chee Khoon did rise above that handicap, and the many other obstacles that he encountered on his life’s journey which ended on October 1996. Many Malaysians are the better for him. It may be the poor makcik on Batu Road whose son was cured from malaria and was given free treatment because the family could not afford it. It may be the recipient of the Tan Chin Ghee Scholarship who, as a result, could finally afford to study at university. But undoubtedly, Tan Chee Khoon has touched the hearts of many Malaysians. Perhaps this story from 1964 sums it up best.  At a customs checkpoint at the Singapore railway station, Chee Khoon paid a duty of $25 levied on his goods. As he was walking to the train, he noticed, to his horror, that the receipt noted ‘$3’. So he went back to the officer to point out the error, but the officer blandly insisted that he had only paid $3. ‘You watch out’, said Chee Khoon. Upon his return to Kuala Lumpur, Chee Khoon reported the incident to the Minister of Finance. Many years later, when Chee Khoon was eating at a restaurant, a man approached him, shook his hand and thanked him. ‘For what?’ asked Tan Chee Khoon. ‘I was the Customs Officer whom you reported in 1964’, said the man. ‘I was transferred in 24 hours. You put the fear of God into all of us’.

He has run the race, he has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith – Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Tan Chee Khoon was truly the Conscience of the Nation.

I’m not superhuman, and I think many of us who managed to read until this closing paragraph will dare not claim "superhuman-ness".  We are just learning to be human, and do what is right as a human being … before putting a healthy fear of God into people, we need a good dose of it ourselves.  That helpful  kind of "fear" (or reverence) can help us overcome the harmful kind of "fear" of uncertainty and insecurities which often paralyses us into inaction and indifference.

Saturday will be polling day … a Vote for ALL the people in Malaysia … and a side benefit a Vote to overcome our fears!

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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