Friday, January 2, 2009


As we ease into a new year following upon BN's spectacular loss of its two-thirds parliamentary majority last March, many of us are resigned to an uphill stretch ahead - at least where economics and politics are concerned. Looking back over the decades, I realize I have been anticipating this exciting phase in our evolution for nearly forty years. I'm talking about the mass awakening that's occurring across the spectrum on this planet right now (aided by Pluto moving into Capricorn on 26 January 2008).

In exactly two weeks all eyes will be on the Kuala Terengganu by-election. The outcome will provide a fair indication of whether we're moving forwards or backwards. A win for PAS will signal that the rakyat has truly had enough of being bamboozled by Umno/BN and is ready to venture into unknown waters on a new political adventure called "participatory democracy."

On the other hand, a win for Umno will indicate that a large number of Malaysians are still driven by fear and greed... and that the long dark night of Umno-style "guided democracy" will linger on a while more before the New Dawn finally breaks, as it eventually must.

While some are already aligning themselves with the Najib Razak camp on the assumption that he will succeed Badawi as our next PM (shudder), others are praying for a miracle - a spontaneous lifting of the curse of misguided pragmatism passed down through countless generations. What we're looking at isn't just the ill effects of 51 years of BN misrule. The problems go much farther back in time...

Somebody left a book in my van a few months ago. I stuck it in the glove compartment and immediately forgot about it... until last week when I spotted it just as I was about to drive to Tanjong Malim and catch a bus to Ipoh. So I brought the book along to read on the journey. It was an illustrated "People's history of Malaya" titled Where Monsoons Meet - published in 1987 by the Institute of Social Analysis (INSAN). A socialist primer aimed at secondary students, the comic-style book was designed for easy reading and I finished it in less than an hour - but it had significant impact.

Looking at our recent history from a non-elitist perspective reminded me how thoroughly brainwashed my parents' generation was. I recall that my mother and father thought very highly of the Brits. In the early 1950s goods produced in Hong Kong still carried the imprint "Empire Made" even though the sun was swiftly setting on the British Empire. Where Monsoons Meet effectively demolishes all notions of a benign imperialism. The colonizers emerge smelling quite foul.

The "Independence" we were granted in August 1957 was but in name. Before leaving Malaya the Brits had rigged the system so that it would always favor the capitalist elite comprising the Malay aristocracy and a handful of Chinese entrepeneurs. When the rakyat began to demand better working conditions and more rights, they were brutally suppressed through heavy-handed police action. The Communist bogeyman justified the introduction of a slew of repressive laws. The truth of the matter was: Malaya was a fat milk cow sustaining the Anglo-American economy and they couldn't afford to lose control of the country's rich natural resources.

In short, British rule wasn't quite as halcyon as it may appear to the present generation of middle-class non-Malays. Every dirty trick in the book of governance as practised by Umno was learnt during the ruling class Malays' long apprenticeship with the British Colonial administration.

In the time of the British, indentured laborers imported from India were paid 12 cents a day for their back-breaking work in the rubber estates and on the railway tracks. Even if the local currency in prewar days was worth two hundred times more than it is today, these debt slaves only received the equivalent of RM20 a day. They had to dismount from their bicycles and tabik (salute) whenever a White Tuan crossed their path. The ones who spoke a smattering of English were made mandors and were given the authority to horsewhip insubordinate workers. Rebellion against injustice in the form of trade unionism was roughly and swiftly dealt with. The word "rakyat" was as little tolerated as the word "Communist."

What happened in May 1969 with the coup d'etat masterminded by Abdul Razak Hussein (right), Harun Idris, Syed Jaafar Albar, Mahathir Mohamad, Ghazali Shafie and a few other young Turks in Umno was that a new breed of educated middle-class Malays managed to wrest a measure of power from the traditional aristocracy. In doing so, they also adopted the self-aggrandizing tendencies of the hereditary elite, hence their fondness for unwieldy honorifics and exclusive "VVIP" treatment.

Forty years down the line, we are poised on the brink of another major coup - this time involving the overthrow of a diseased and dysfunctional feudalistic concept of leadership, in favor of a more decentralized, more democratic, more egalitarian, more accountable, more interactive form of management. And we intend to accomplish this feat bloodlessly and through entirely legal procedures.

What is called for at this juncture is optimum clarity of focus and supreme resoluteness. We the people cannot waver for a moment in our desire to shake off the yoke of tyranny and reclaim our civil rights and individual authority as free citizens of a free country. Each of us now has a sacred duty to embody all the qualities we cherish - courage, honesty, compassion, integrity, wisdom, and the ability to love more and more inclusively.

We can endorse and lend our wholehearted support to leaders whose visions align with our own - but we must never become entirely dependent on them. Otherwise we will only experience disappointment and disillusionment when these leaders reveal themselves to be just as fallible as anyone else. No use pointing fingers, scapegoating and foisting the blame for failure on others.

We are the redemption and salvation we have yearned for throughout the ages.

Happy Regime Change, folks!