The turning point in the Malaysian's fight for political emancipation happened last year.
In a way, we must be thankful to the PM for allowing it to happened. Whether such allowance was a deliberate and calculated move, as opposed to a purely accidental one, will remain a mystery, at least for now. However, one fact is clear. Abdullah Ahmad's idea of democracy and his willingness to allow a freer expression of thoughts, whether in the form of speech or physical demonstration, was markedly different from that of Dr Mahathir's.
While Abdullah was more willing to allow a certain degree of latitude for expression of opposing opinions or views, Dr Mahathir would not allow such luxurious "western accessories of democracy" to be even thought of, let alone practised. Before I am accused of being an Abdulphile, I must add that Abdullah's soft approach towards freedom of speech in the initial days of his premiership was perhaps a conscious populist decision which was fueled by the euphoria of his historic landslide victory in the previous general election. I must also add that this "soft" approach has now vanished and replaced by a more "hardcore and traditional" approach, an approach which would make Dr Mahathir smile with pride.
Four years is not a long time in a political time scale. However, if we accept that time is a great healer, than we must also accept that time may also be a great destroyer. The biggest mistake Abdullah had made in his political career is to absolutely miss the significance of and the underlying current which precipitated his victory in the 2004 general election. For the record, he led the BN to a record 90.4% seats in the Parliament with a popular votes of 4.4 million representing 63.9% of the total votes. Out of that, UMNO garnered 2.4 million popular votes representing a staggering 36% of the total votes. The number of seats occupied by the BN increased by 51 from the previous election.
The achievement in the 2004 general election lulled Abdullah, and the BN, into a deep slumber, a slumber which they would ultimately be rudely awaken from, on March 8th this year. Abdullah failed to analise the reasons for his historic win. It was the first general election after Dr Mahathir had stepped down from the UMNO Presidency as well as Malaysia's Premiership. Dr Mahathir was not a likable person and leader. He personified totalitarianism and to describe his period of premiership as a period of totalitarian democracy would be flatteringly kind. If not due to the fact that that term is so widely used, I would even call the term an oxymoron-ic term. How could a democracy be a totalitarian? Or vice versa?
What Abdullah had failed to realise after the 2004 general election was the fact that his and his party's victory was due to the people's perception that he represented a new political order to Malaysia, a political order where Malaysians would finally achieve a certain degree of political emancipation, where opposing views would be respected, where opponents would be engaged in a civil manner, where tyranny would be banished, where the government would finally be accountable and responsible for their actions. Abdullah, in 2004, embodied the crystallisation of a Malaysian political dream, a Messiah of democracy, heaven sent. It was a result which belied the fact that Malaysians looked at him as a Mr Clean; Mr Religious and therefore Mr Upright, morally, religiously and universally; Mr Gentleman and Mr Right. His victory was not due to the acceptance, by the people, of the BN's policies. Nor was it a sign of Ketuanan Melayu. Or of the New Economics Policy or the continuation of the same. His victory lies in the fact that Malaysians finally felt unshackled from the egomaniacal grip and tyrannical antics of the previous Prime Ministers and his cohorts. That was the reasons for Abdullah's victory. He, his people and advisers together with his party FAILED to realise this.
He instead drowned in what he believed as a populist victory. So did his party. Almost as fast as his popularity had risen, he descended into at first, what was perceived as mediocrity, which later turned into a streak of self indulgences, self interest and self rule. Malaysians were disappointed and dejected as we realised that Abdullah, and his party, were slowly but very surely morphing into the anti-Christ of Malaysian politics. Visions of Dr Mahathir and his totalitarian approaches and behaviours loomed large. Allegations of corruptions, cronyism, arrogance, lack of transparency and accountability and sheer mediocrity surfaced. Once again, the ghosts of totalitarian revisited Malaysians. And we fought back.
The difference between the people's fight for democracy in Abdullah's post 2004 election and Dr Mahathir's 22 year rule is only one. Communication. The cyber world, and to a certain extent, and the advent in telecommunication services, provide a platform for Malaysians to share information and news in an effective, fast and cheap way. Ironically, it was Dr Mahathir's government which was responsible for these amenities.
The Lawyer's Walk for Justice in Putrajaya was, to me, a realisation by Malaysians that all of us must wake up from our deep political slumber and fight for our rights. It was to be a catalysts for people's power in Malaysia and for this, I salute all those who walked the short distance from the Palace of Justice to the PM's office that day. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong's famous words, it was a short distance for Malaysians, but a giant leap for Malaysia!
The BERSIH rally ensued. And then the HINDRAF rally. The battlegrounds were being drawn. The war fronts were being marked.
Here comes the second mistake made by Abdullah and his government. Probably misunderstanding the victory in the 2004 general election as a mandate for him and his government to govern in whatever manner he likes, his response to these events could have very well be taken from Dr Mahathir's lexicon of good governance. The Bar Council was labeled as behaving like the opposition parties, said Nazri Aziz. That of course presupposes that being an opposition is not good and that oppositions are also not a good thing. The BERSIH rally was met with water cannon and laced acidic sprays. It was also glossed over by the mainstream media which reported that it was only attended by 4000 people, probably mistaking the number of the policemen for participants! Nazri, in addition, screamed that the participants are "cowards"! Abdullah's spin doctor even had the temerity to say that people should not rally and that if "they" (the word of course signifies that the participants are people belonging to an unwanted group as opposed to "us", the good group) wanted changes, "they" should show it by voting for a government change in an election. That was a challenge to vote for a change in the election. They must be regretting that challenge now. The response to HINDRAF was even harder. The ISA was used to arrest and detain the leaders till this very day. Images of the infamous Operasi Lalang haunted the Malaysians. Here is the man, in whom Malaysians rested the hope of a political empowerment, at last showing his true colour, a colour which is not dissimilar to that of his predecessor's.
That fueled the people's anger. And on March 8th this year, a lesson was taught. But it is not a lesson learnt, as recent events would show.