What The Malaysian Election Means To Me
The year 2018, it was 9th May – I went into the day with much hope for the future of my country, Malaysia. I voted, I volunteered at the polling station and then I waiited the whole night for the results with my brothers and friends. By 1am on the 10th of May I was knackered and I woke up again at 4am to learn we will most probably have a new prime minister and a new government. Yes! I exclaimed!
My heart went through the day hoping we will carve a moment in history with this transition, for there is a moment here where this country can make history and enter a transition and deal with its past – as painful as it may seem to some.
This election more than any others meant a lot to me because I saw my country descending into fear of our own elected leaders. We succumbed to hero worshipping to an extent that we were losing our own individual identities and seeking our validities through leaders around us – exemplary and otherwise.
Further we were being emotionally and psychologically divided on creed and race and not on values. As people, we were mostly grappling with the remits of right and wrong, norms of good and bad, and on each of these counts our extreme margins kept moving based on our sense of security and prosperity. Political debates tore friends and families alike. Whilst healthy, I would argue that these debates were not able to succinctly articulate the Malaysia that should be for anyone I have met – they just knew they no longer wanted what it is!
The state we were in was unsustainable and given time we would have lost our best brains and best people and suppressed the souls of good people for fear of rebuke and censure by the more privileged in authority. We would have disintegrated as a nation.
I have friends who had businesses here, who were simply fed up with the unhealthy bureaucracies and gate keeping to the powerful that they left taking their businesses to a less developed country. They are prospering there I must add.
What brought us here – I searched my own soul. How was I a part of this making – I asked. We make our leaders. We make our societies. We are the creators of the boundaries of our prejudices, our societal rights and wrongs. We deserve the fate we get and the leaders that reign us – my own faith has taught me. Our own hands do us wrong!
11th of May 2018 – when the new government was sworn in. Jubilation followed and cries for accountability from the past became louder. Many of my close friends – both here and abroad – were elated with the seemingly new landscape ahead. But to me the fear is that we were piling all this on one man, and one man alone. Our new prime minister – a great leader we are blessed to have again.
But this is not about him. This is about us as peoples of this country called Malaysia. We got to where we got to because we allowed and approved unhealthy behaviours and practices in our public sector and private sectors. We collectively allowed and practiced for our own personal benefits when it suited us the whole “ampu-bodek” ( i.e. sucking up, fawning) culture and not questioning authority in the name of culture. We turned a blind eye when our government-linked companies splashed our tax monies on exotic board meeting locations for as if having a board meeting in Bali or Perth would have one make better decisions than having it in your office canteens. We allowed gate-keepers to leaders and lapped and pandered to them as valuable contacts for our sustenance. We as a society allowed this. We were creators of this culture for way too long.
This is not a one person’s problem, this is a cultural problem. Sacking people will not solve a cultural problem. Transformation and transforming a company and imbuing culture is the toughest part of change. That requires time and resources. Requires patience. Having done transformation work in both public and private sectors, I can safely say sacking people and putting in YOUR people who root to your allegiances and loyalty is not the solution. It is not change. It is camouflaging change. It is actually the same thing with different faces. It is just doing what the other did and you are no different. Sacking those who were taking orders from their leaders and/or shareholders is not transformation. It is just a means to replace the old with the old with a tag of new as a disguise.
There is a real chance for these newly elected Malaysian leaders to carve their names in the global arena by bringing order back into this new chaos in Malaysia. Leadership with magnanimity is what we need now. Yes, for those who have clearly transgressed – prosecute but do not persecute. Rule of law should be the order of the day as our 7th prime minister has committed.
Why would those whose jobs were directed by greater powers be removed unless they have clearly erred by law? It is the culture that enabled an apolitical public sector. Removing persons will not solve the prevailing problem – and that is having leaders in the public sector who will say NO to their political masters. We had this once and of those the most recent who left us was Tan Sri Ishak Tadin who dared say no to powers when they erred. Even central bank governors once put their foot down to political masters.
Why is Salahuddin Ayubi the conqueror of Jerusalem deemed so great until today? It was not just how he brought the Muslim forces together in reconquering Jerusalem, but also how he treated his nemesis and foes and the Christians with such magnanimity post conquering Jerusalem. The same with Emir Abdul Qadir al-Jaziri of Algeria – he protected the French Christians in Algeria during a war – i.e. the very people who persecuted him and imprisoned him. What was the first things that our own Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) – did when he was freed from prison – he said “today there will be no account for you” to his own siblings who betrayed him – the very thing our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said when he re-entered Mecca.
I am not calling for prophetic behaviours – but this country of mine and its people need reconciliation. I was blessed to have served Malaysia in transforming the public and private sector entities. Key to transformation is new culture and a leadership that will support it. The time is now to bring the public sector back to where it should be – heads of government must have the guts to say NO when the answer should simply be NO. They must not fear persecution as a result. We need clear lines of authorities between public servants and politicians. We do not have many leaders in the public sector of Malaysia anymore who dare say NO to a political master. This has to stop.
When I served in the public sector of Malaysia, we had a breed of leaders who simply had the guts and credence to say NO to politicians – who come and go. That culture and quality of leaders have eroded. Do you blame the politicians? Or do you blame the public officials? Go figure!
When the 5th prime minister won his first two thirds in 2003 there was jubilation yet five years down the line he was rebuked for failure. What went wrong? Culture. Then the 6th prime minister was sworn in with much hope and now we see a 7th prime minister who ran on the cards of much needed change. But the change remains unclear to many. It is clear in my mind having seen two transitions – the change is in the culture – not only people.
Great companies go through successful transformation not by putting in people who hold allegiances to the new leader, but rather they transform processes and cultures and retrain people from the past era as well. That is why many of the greatest countries in the world today are still great because they do not discard the old and out-of-favour, but rather embrace and bring them back into the folds of reconciliation – which my country desperately needs now.
We are at the cusp of great hope and victory in Malaysia with fantastic new leaders. But these leaders themselves must be accessible to public and not surround themselves with their own gate-keepers and advisors hence perpetuating the past cultures. In the haste of change for a somewhat jaded society, do not forget that a country is only as strong as its people and their values. You need to rebuild values – good ones from bottom right to the top. You need to make sure as a society we unlearn bad values and relearn good values and ensure these values are deeply inculcated in our souls for generations to come.
That is why this election means a lot to me – for if we cannot find it in us to change values in this society – we can never change no matter how many elections may pass us by.