Cowed no more

by Kapil Sethi
The Malaysian Insider
Mar 27, 2012

MARCH 27 — Till maybe a decade ago, the average Malaysian adult, when confronted with a political topic in a public place would shuffle uneasily, take a quick peek over his shoulder and either change the topic or restrict his response to a quick whispered sentence or two. Very Orwellian, but understandable in the context of realities such as the ISA, Ops Lalang, Special Branch and the Anwar black eye incident.

In the context of all the deeply intellectual prognoses by hordes of political analysts on the outcome of the next general election, it seems strange that there has been no acknowledgement of the profound impact of this loss of fear among the electorate.

From rumours of serial numbers on ballot numbers being used to identify and harass those who voted a particular way, to civil servants’ jobs and promotions being in jeopardy if they didn’t toe the line, to the full might of the law being used to finish careers of those who openly supported the other side, it seems everyone in Malaysia had a instructive story to tell of those who chose oppositional politics.

The advent of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration and his commitment to keep the Internet free of censorship set the stage for a large number of people to see the actual realities of Malaysia without the rose tinted lens of the Barisan-controlled mainstream media. The 2008 tsunami further helped the process along and fast forward to today, of the Arab Spring and closer home, Bersih 2.0.

This shift is much more than a passing fad and it may have changed the way Malaysians view their political system in a fundamental way. The idea that their participation in the political process has a real impact on outcomes that affect their individual lives is here to stay.

The proposed roll back of the ISA and UUCA, the formation of a Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reform and the Lynas rare earths project, the scrapping of the civil servants’ new pay scheme (SBPA), the rethink on the AirAsia-MAS share swap or even the resignation of Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil are direct reminders of the newfound power of the people to effect political change in matters that concern them.

Election predictions to date generally take the view that there is an even split between BN and PR for roughly 70 per cent of the electorate. It is the undecided 30 per cent that will decide the outcome. That 30 per cent is the youth vote, the Malay vote or the non-Malay vote, depending on who you ask.

In my view, that 30 per cent is best defined as the post-fear voter. The voter who is not necessarily ideologically committed or even overtly political, who will not campaign for a political party or even participate in activism, but who knows the power of her vote. This person does not indulge in a lot of political debate, but is aware of the fact that he can, if he so chooses. This person may not have voted in the past or even registered to vote, but will do so this time, because for the first time he sees the point of it.

This voter may represent the true awakening of Malaysian democracy that makes participation attractive to almost every adult, even if only once in five years. In my view what matters to this voter is growth in economic terms, protection of traditional values in cultural terms, a level playing field and an end to corruption in opportunity terms and an opportunity to hold her head high as a Malaysian in global terms. Paraphrasing Rabindranath Tagore: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where knowledge is free; into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake”.

So who is this person most likely to vote for? Sticking my neck out, my prediction is that in the current scenario, expect the DAP to win big with this segment as it champions a post-racial middle-Malaysia position built around the perceived success of Lim Guan Eng in Penang. Most notably his tom-tomming of the Freedom of Information Act, a level playing field in economic terms with open tenders that did not disadvantage Malay contractors and the CAT (Competence, Accountability and Transparency) mantra.

Let the games begin.

  1. #1 by negarawan on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 12:14 am

    Even if the support from the rakyat is strong for PR, the dirty tricks and gross manipulation of the electoral roll by the EC, under the influence of UMNO, could tarnish the coming GE13 and hamper the democratic process. We see many evidences of thousands of voters registered to the same addresses, the sudden and significant increase of new voters and postal voters in hotly contested constituencies and states, names of foreign workers in the electoral roll, and many other discrepancies. It is clear that the EC is dragging its feet to fix all these problems to meet the corrupt and unethical demands of its UMNO masters for the coming GE13. The fair-minded rakyat of Malaysia will never accept the corrupt and unethical behaviour of the EC and will not hesitate to support Bersih 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and so forth until there is a clean electoral roll and process. Shame on the EC and UMNO!

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 12:30 am

    Yeah, Lim Guan Eng has done a good job in Penang. Lately he said his administration has managed to cut the level of debt owed by the state by 95% from RM630 million to RM30 million. Selangor Menteri Bersar Khalid said his state reserves, with the help of economic adviser Anwar, have increased to RM1.9 billions. These are shining examples of what PR could do to the country when it takes over Putrajaya. PR must hightlight to the electorate in the coming GE its achievements in PR-led states of Selangor, Penang and Kedah which are high FDI states most sought-after by investors.

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 12:52 am

    SURE meh? COWed no more? Don’t forget still got COWgate, COWwitch, n lots of cows in condos in M’sia n S’pore – mooooooooooooo

  4. #4 by monsterball on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 5:17 am

    True true true.
    Malaysians are not afraid to speak out like before.
    Especially with papers and TV news…telling half truths and one sided..keep poisoning Malaysians minds…the smart young ones are speaking with no fear.

  5. #5 by k1980 on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 8:00 am

    Why not place all those MY2H retirees next to the Lynas plant in Kuantan?

  6. #6 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 8:44 am

    Look. Very soon we would fall behind burma. The opposition leader was given airtime by the government there to campaign. And here umno is still stuck to the old outdated methods of suppression and oppression. Worse, unlike burma umno absolutely refused to acknowledge the fact that ppl today are much much more vocal. That ppl today are much much more demanding when it comes to good governance and transparency and also accountability of those entrusted with power and authority. And more importantly umno completely failed to appreciate the might of the ppl. They can overcome threats and oppressions and can even defeat bullets and bombs. Marcos’ and suharto’s army had to bow. The burmese junta too is showing signs of easing. Meanwhile umno continues to orgy on.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 - 8:45 am

    Very interesting opinions in this website I just discovered

  8. #8 by Indran on Sunday, 1 April 2012 - 12:31 am

    Indeed, in Malaysia we have come a very long way…and the unsung hero in this change, I believe was Badawi….He may have been seen as soft but he had freed all Malaysians from the clutches of fear that loom large under Mahathir.
    It’s only when one is far away from home and make a comparison that we can appreciate the amount of progress made in Malaysia political scene…Gone are the days when we, Malaysians are cowed by politicians…the table has turned today and we must continuous reward good leaders who put in the hardwork to make a difference and punish useless leaders who just engage in rhetorics.

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