Keeping March 8 alive

by Stephanie Sta Maria
Free Malaysia Today
Tue, 14 Dec 2010

FMT EXCLUSIVE The day had not begun particularly well for Kee Thuan Chye. A friend – once a staunch supporter of political change – had confided that he was contemplating reverting to the “devil he knew” in the next general election.

“I was very upset,” Kee said. “After staying for so long on the track of change, he is giving up because he has lost faith in Pakatan Rakyat’s ability to get its act together to govern this country.”

It was the sort of sentiment that the former journalist found deeply troubling as it preyed on a simmering disquiet that the tide behind the March 8 tsunami may be turning again, this time in favour of the ruling party. And that, in Kee’s view, would spell imminent political tragedy for Malaysia.

March 8 is a historic date that Kee holds close to his heart. Two years ago he paid tribute to it with a book entitled “March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up”, an anthology of the voices that believed in and voted for change.

Now a second edition of that volume has hit the shelves. Only this time it bears the title “March 8: Time For Real Change”.

“The new title is apt for these times and besides, the publisher liked it!” he said, the corners of his eye crinkling. “But seriously, the next general election is approaching and there is an urgency now to talk about real change. There is also a need to assess all that has happened in the past two and half years.”

“The real purpose of a second edition is, of course, to keep the March 8 spirit alive. That is extremely important because Malaysia has not been the same since that day.”

Defining moment

There is a marked distinction between the spirit of March 8 and that of reformasi (the basis upon which PKR was formed). In drawing a line between the two, Kee declared that the former was much bigger in that it involved the country’s future while the latter was intertwined with the “Anwar personality”.

“March 8 was the defining moment when Malaysians realised that they had been taken for a ride for decades and that it was time for change,” he added. “It was a very important watershed which has to be commemorated.”

“Our spirit is different now and we must maintain it because with it comes the spirit of standing up for our rights. Of defying with a cause and of even showing healthy disrespect for authority when it is necessary. We have been docile and unquestioning for far too long. March 8 changed all that.”

Some 60% of the second edition is new material that was cobbled together within an impressive five months. But if the earlier sentiment of Kee’s friend is any indicator of a waning adrenaline, then it begs the question of whether this new volume is a boon or a bane. Kee already knows the answer.

“I think the enthusiasm is still there though it may be flagging a little now,” he said quietly. “I asked someone the other day whether a book like this would still sell and he said that people are a little tired of March 8 because of all the politicking that followed it.”

Nevertheless, he forged ahead in fierce determination to do his bit in keeping the enthusiasm pulsing. To keep fanning that spirit that pushed people to raise and debate issues, exercise their rights and lobby for change.

“There are some very good and even brilliant ideas in this edition,” he promised. “And good advice for the next general election. There are good assessments of the chicanery that has been going on since March 8, and good summaries of how we have come to where we are now. The book will also remind people to think hard about their vote at the next general election.”

This hard thinking, unfortunately, may be sparked less by Barisan Nasional’s gaffes than by PKR’s recent antics. Even Kee voiced alarm over the less than savoury image that the BN is painting of the opposition coalition.

“Pakatan is losing ground and public confidence,” he noted. “Perception is so important in politics. DAP and PAS are very solid. PKR is the only weak link and it really has to buck up fast. There’s not much time left. It has to go to the ground to convince the people, especially the fence-sitters, that the opposition is still a viable option.”

Irrelevant concern

Many have questioned whether Pakatan is ready to take over the government but to Kee, this is an irrelevant concern. He believes that if one is thrown into the deep end of the pool, one will learn to swim. He also believes in giving the underdogs a chance.

“There is never a time when one is ready,” he asserted. “You have to approach the moment and when the moment arises you have to rise to the occasion. You have to give people a chance.”

“If it doesn’t work out there will be another election five years later. But it’s always worthwhile to take that chance because if you don’t, the change may never happen or it will happen too slowly.”

The most pressing need, according to Kee, is to remove a coalition that has been in power for 53 years so it knows what it is like to wear the other shoe. In the best-case scenario, that newly minted opposition will be forced to reform itself and the people would be presented with two stronger choices in the next general election. And in his opinion, two choices are enough.

“We don’t need a Third Force,” he said plainly. “It would be better for those who want to be part of this Third Force to offer themselves as candidates to Pakatan instead.”

“The Third Force here won’t be like the Tea Party in America. They had two years to build their profile and were very active and well organised. And even then quite a number didn’t get elected. Frankly I don’t know if the Third Force will do well because many of them will be unknown.”

Kee pointed out that many of the Third Force candidates would also be greenhorns in the political arena with only integrity for their sword and shield.

While he acknowledged that this would lessen the likelihood of defections, he warned that being person of integrity and a politician were two different matters altogether.

“It isn’t enough to just have integrity,” he reasoned. “You also have to be politically savvy. A person with integrity alone will get disillusioned very quickly. But if they want to continue with this Third Force, then they should make a pact with Pakatan. Even if it doesn’t win the next election at least we have a strong opposition.”

And if Pakatan stays on a losing streak? Kee, who has long refused to migrate, laughed.

“I’m still hoping that if there is a new government then perhaps the political reform can happen. But if there is still no change, I should really pack my bags and leave.”

  1. #1 by HJ Angus on Tuesday, 14 December 2010 - 10:13 pm

    March 2008 was only a beginning.
    Surely Malaysians have learned a lot since then?
    We had the Perak coup so shamelessly manipulated by the BN.
    The BN still grants mega-projects without open tenders and that is a major factor for our extra-expensive government.
    Just compare with Penang where good governance has turned around the state’s deficit budget within 2 years.
    Now when PR is voted into Putrajaya, don’t you think they will be more effective at curbing wastage.
    Now is not the time to falter. Malaysians need to be brave and vote for a change in government while you still have the power.
    If you have not registered, please do so in the next one week as your ability to vote in the next election will be closing soon.

  2. #2 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 14 December 2010 - 10:52 pm

    “I’m still hoping that if there is a new government then perhaps the political reform can happen. But if there is still no change, I should really pack my bags and leave.” by KTC

    I admit i felt the same if not for my parents,i should’ve gone oversee too.If BN still held the upper hand after GE13 then it’s really a bleak future for malaysian.What to hope assuming BN has been in control for >5decades with nothing bright in prospect and yet we still take the risk to allow our generation to hope for the lesser than what we’ve already being anticipating up till now.Change goverment.Now or probably never.Anyway i tend to forget and haven’t registered yet for some unexplained reason.

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 - 12:31 am

    D next GE will b a messy affair dat might favor UmnoB/BN
    Unlike 308 when PR was challenging UmnoB/BN, d next GE will not hv d following:
    No more a weak sleepy AAB as PM
    No more MMK cursing n swearing at UmnoB
    No more RPK n like-minded nonPR politicians speaking at public rallies 4 PR
    No more preGE Hindraf n Bersih demonstrations
    No more AI magic factor
    PR no more opposition in 4 states

    Moreover, there might b many 3-way contests dat may dilute/diverge nonUmnoB/BN votes, benefitting UmnoB/BN
    PR cannot ignore d pendulum effect, voters swinging fr 1 alliance 2 another

    Will we go back 2 d dark age under d dark force after d next GE?
    Beware the Ides of March! 2011?

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 - 9:20 am

    Now RPK has spoken: “D Opposition is not fit to govern d country”
    Jeffrey Kitingan is abt 2 do his favorite hop, step n jump
    A new a new political party, d Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement, is abt 2 b born
    ZI is abt 2 make a major announcement, tsunami or earth-shattering style
    Soon, d dynamics n scenario of our political front will b significantly transformed

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 - 9:44 am

    ///Kee pointed out that many of the Third Force candidates would also be greenhorns in the political arena with only integrity for their sword and shield///.

    As a general statement – that a political candidate must NOT only have integrity (alone) but also be politically savvy – is irrefutable especially in terms of winning a contest against one’s opponent and even surviving in politics.

    However the term “political savvy” is very wide. Some illustrations of it (to win elections) include: being good orator, using power of language to persuade often appealing to heart (emotions) than the brain; using spin, covering one’s own mistakes and exposing one’s rivals’, promising voters of what one could do for them (whether or not that can in reality be fulfilled) and what damage the opposite side can do to them.

    Can anyone say Tun Mahathir is/was not politically savvy to the hilt to be the longest surviving political leader of 22 years second only to dictator Fidel Castro?

    Be as political savvy as one can, there must however be responsibility to uphold integrity as priority.

    Integrity means that in spite of having ambitions to gain political positions and power – and in the process have to sometimes spin and even lie and be inconsistent in the fashion of ends (winning) justify the means – there must be an overall consistency of ends – i.e., to win power, and exercise it in trust for the well being and happiness of all sections and not just one or two sections of the people and the nation whom they lead, ie proper governance.

    Whilst this ought to be the case for politicians generally, however in the case of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, the standards expected are different, a notch higher, in the first case because he leads with the authority of national leadership, and in the case of the second, he supposed to replace the PM, if his party/coalition wins to execute that position of national trust.

    If both the leader of government – and the leader of Opposition – have integrity and/or baggage problems that cloud judgment, then the ray of hope is slender and Mr Kee “should really pack my bags and leave”. He doesn’t have to wait.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 - 9:46 am

    Mr Kee’s view Third Force candidates – ‘integrity yes but nonetheless lacking political savvies – must be addressed in context.

    The issue of ‘Third Force’ candidates has arisen because the leadership of Anwar/PKR has not evinced the kind of integrity expected when its polls are perceived conducted in a way that side his favourite and present not the fair level field against others like Zaid of competing ambitions and also making claims to greater competence to lead.

    This has led Zaid to form Angkatan Keadilan Insan Malaysia (Akim); even Jeffrey Kitingan may leave; it has led RPK and others like Harris Ibrahim to promote the Third Force, in the process fracturing the unity of the Pakatan Rakyat’s supporters and undermining PR’s greater cause for the rakyat in the coming GE.

    Now is ity going to be a repeat or stronger tsunami than March 08 or “the Ides of March! 2011” as wittingly tagged in #2 by boh-liao?

    If the latter, Anwar must bear a larger part of the blame.

    He is, as opposition leader, held to a higher standard of prioritizing PR’s & nation’s cause over favoritism (for whatever reasons).

    For the deputy president post the most popular man for perceived most competent by PKR’s voters should be determined by merits based on fair elections, not one perceived rigged to the advantage his favourite!

    It undermines PR’s moral right to condemn BN of rigging of elections – in the same way boasting of a cross over of over 30 “kataks” to enable the takeover of federal govt undermines PR’s moral indignation of BN subsequently doing the same to the Perak State Assembly!

    The unhappy state of affairs underscores the overriding importance of integrity over being political savvy.

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 - 10:04 am

    Is Mr Kee fair to be dismissive of Third Force candidates as “greenhorns in the political arena with only integrity for their sword and shield” with the object of buttressing the support for PR when the Third Force phenomenon in compettition with PR is direct result of Anwar’s/PKR’s shortcomings of leadership of PR, where political savvy and expdience is perceived by many in civil society and stakeholders as taking precedence over political integrity???

    Maybe its more convenient to deflect blame on Anwar’s leadership to Third force. (After all after him there’s no one acceptable by all to helm PR – which is also his doing!).

    However to take the convenient course is to postpone facing the truth of the matter much less pluck the problem at its root.

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