Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Welcome to a born-again Malaysia!

SEPT 16 - This is perhaps the second Sept 16 so many Malaysians have been excited about. The first, of course, was 45 years ago, in 1963. Probably for simplicity sake, the coming together of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore as one nation was supposed to be on Aug 31, the same date as Malaya's independence.

But as fate, and opposition from Indonesia and the Philippines, would have it, Malaysia's formation was slightly delayed, leaving the new nation with two birthdays. Not surprisingly, Malaysians from the peninsula pay far less attention to Sept 16 than our Sabah and Sarawak brothers and sisters.

In 2008, we are on the cusp of history once more. It is not without significance that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim cleverly chose Sept 16 as a self-imposed deadline. He could have picked, say, the first Tuesday of December, but he went with the date on which our nation was truly born, a date that continues to serve as a point of contention for East Malaysians as representative of how Putrajaya has little regard for their interests, a date that remains a regular day for much of the country despite its significance, which also happens to be something Pakatan Rakyat wants to change. In other words, 45 years on, Malaysia could be on the verge of being born again as a nation. This time as a functional democracy, something that we put on hold in the name of stability and economic development at heavy cost.

Like 45 years ago, there is resistance and opposition. There is uncertainty, fear and tension, some real, some orchestrated. This isn't surprising. The status quo will never stand by idly waiting while change takes over. In fact, the status quo bets that Malaysians will retreat back into our suspicious ways once enough pressure has been applied, so it is choosing to crush the hopes of all of us who are optimistically dreaming of a new Malaysia by using the same old tactics. The best way to discourage Malaysia's maturing into a functional democracy less obsessed with race is to divide the people further and prevent us from uniting for a larger cause.

So we now have, on this Malaysia Day, new ISA detainees, fabricated accusations of religious interference, a clampdown on the media and many other unsettling developments. All of which, I believe, are designed to create a state of unease and fatigue among Malaysians. But we also have, on this Malaysia Day, a citizenry that is considerably more enlightened, one that is more likely to see through the cynical manner race is exploited like a trump card by those afraid of losing all power.

This Malaysia Day, Malaysians are saying, "Enough!"' Enough of using the ISA as a political tool. Of using real people as pawns in their game. Enough of politicians who cause hate among Malaysians, then exploit it for what it's worth. Enough to an entire nation being held hostage by the likes of Datuk Ahmad Ismail. Enough of Sabah and Sarawak being treated like second-class states. Enough of the blatant corruption, lies, mismanagement and downright incompetence. Enough, in other words, of Barisan Nasional rule - it is time for all right-thinking MPs to seriously consider crossing the floor as the moral thing to do.

This Sept 16, Malaysians have taken back Malaysia Day as a reminder of the struggle to make our country great again. ISA vigils are being held for the ISA detainees. The move to form a new federal government is underway. Even those from within BN, be they component parties or Cabinet ministers, are speaking out for what's right.

In 1963, we became Malaysia under volatile circumstances. Hostile neighbours, a problematic Singapore and the difficulty in holding together a diverse, newly formed nation were just a few of the challenges we faced. It's now 45 years later and the country is facing a different set of problems. Once again, we are called to believe in the concept of Malaysia, to believe that as different as we are from one another, we can come together. To believe that all Malaysians have a shared destiny, one that can only be fulfilled if we all stand brave in the face of the greatest of enemies, one that often tempts us to be less than what we are - ourselves.

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