Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 9 September 2020

It is refreshing to hear about new political initiatives in Malaysia after the proven sameness of the two coalitions. MAJU has announced they intend to field independent candidates in the next elections while a new youth party is in the process of being formed. The Malaysian parliament was beginning to look like a senior citizens’ club… Can we sense a new spring, or will it all end with the same old two-coalition political circus?

For many progressive people in Malaysia, the most depressing news before GE14 was Pakatan Harapan’s choice of Malaysia’s infamous autocrat and nonagenarian Dr Mahathir as their “interim Prime Minister”. Besides being a slap in the face of the mainly young Reformasi Movement that had emerged in 1998 in response to Mahathir’s sacking of Anwar Ibrahim and his 22-year autocratic rule, the appointment of the nonagenarian ex UMNO politician as their candidate for PM was not “the audacity of hope” the nation had hoped for.

Antique furniture in the august House

After Pakatan Harapan’s unexpected victory, the “interim” PM decided that he would unpack his suitcase and hang around just a little bit longer. Then, just when he seemed to have lost the plot, he handed over the reins of power to the old dark side by unilaterally resigning the premiership. And just as Kak Wan had announced that Anwar would be the likely leader of Pakatan Harapan, some Amanah members of the PH coalition decided once again to coax the nonagenarian former PM out of retirement! It was like an episode out of the old soap opera ‘Dynasty’!

But he is not the only antique furniture in the august house. There are other MPs who have been around for more than four terms and delude themselves by thinking that this privilege is an honour. They simply will not let go of their seats, but it is no coincidence that such political leaders maintain a tight rein of patronage over their own political parties in which all prospective candidates are beholden to them. They also hog the federal as well as the state seats under the delusion that they are indispensable.

Let us face it, the number of available seats in the federal parliament and state assemblies is strictly limited. To have served four terms in parliament is a reasonable limit and allows new candidates to make themselves known to their constituents and have a go at representing the people. Term limits for elected representatives will create the opportunity for younger people to get elected to public office. Will we see such a reform in our lifetime?

In other democratic countries, we also see responsible and honorable politicians resign at the slightest failure of judgement on their part or when their term has reached a convenient point for some other younger leaders to pick up some experience and have a go at taking politics forward instead of performing in the same old political merry-go-round.

But just being young is not enough

Being young may be a necessary condition for a change of political scene, but is it a sufficient condition to drive our nation forward on the progressive path? You can be young and passionate about politics. But what exactly do you stand for? What principles do you adhere to? What policies are you proposing for the nation? Let us see them.

Throughout the Anwar-Azmin feud in PKR all these years, the “Reformasi” party did not bother to let the people know what they were fighting “for”. What were the ideological or political-economic differences between the two camps? No one from either of these two factions thought it was important to let the people know the basis for their righteousness. All we witnessed then was a feud that seemed to be all about grabbing political power and influence within their party, regardless of the people’s interests, the nation’s progress, or the state of the environment.

In contrast, exciting young progressive leaders in the world have been elected because of their transparent purpose and principles in service of their constituents and that provide a clear accountable compass for policy direction.   

Are the young incorruptible?

As we have seen only recently, even within just a two-term service, corporate interests including those in property and finance can provide inducements to an incumbent Chief Minister especially when they have developed familiar relations over time. There is clearly a correlation between the length of time a politician serves and the degree to which he/she has opportunities to engage in corruption. The principle of term limits has always been applied to the civil service which is why civil servants and police personnel are transferred every so often to prevent the acquisition of power and inducements to corruption in any one post. So, how can the young hopefuls assure us that they are different from the legendary corrupt politicians?

Are the young courageous enough to eschew racial populism?

Only recently, we had a youthful politician who joined a Pribumi-only party and went on to become a minister in the PH government. The justification for joining a one-race-only party was oh so yesterday. Would our new young politicians even consider such an option? If not, why not? Let us hear some progressive adherence to equality, justice and democracy for a change.

The young must inherit our planet earth

Because our electoral system functions on a five-year time frame, this limited time frame tends to put the brakes on serious efforts to honour our 2015 commitments to the 17 sustainable development goals centred around Climate Change and effectively tackling our global ecological emergency. Political parties and MPs are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage, and calculate their policies based on potential media and public reactions, as measured by opinion polls. This means politicians often feel unable to propose the bold changes necessary to address the emergency. Some are induced by developers to pass environmentally destructive projects through corrupt methods. Malaysian politicians and political parties have a long history of being in the pockets of the big developers when we see how many of these socially disruptive, environmentally destructive and economically dubious projects are passed by the respective authorities.

Young, green, and progressive

We need to carry on the fight for a safe living environment with potable water, clean air, sustainable soil, and nutritious food free from radioactive and toxic contamination. This struggle has shown us that direct action is about empowering people to unite as individuals with a common aim, to change things directly through our own actions. More importantly, it is time for people in communities to form a solidarity and activist network for a ‘People Before Profit’ green movement in Malaysia. I believe the young who will inherit the earth can and must drive this movement.

After the disappointments over the last two years, it is time for jaded politicians to make way for new young and progressive leaders. The climate crisis demands a commitment to addressing the urgent need for long term change via institutions like citizens’ assemblies to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, and to collectively co-create a regenerative future. Malaysia needs service-oriented young people in different elected positions, providing diversity and strength to the citizenry. But if this is not going to prove to be another false spring, how do our young hopefuls assure us they are incorruptible and sworn toward making Malaysia an equal, socially just, and democratic society? 

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