Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sek kali farn*, or the end of the politics of fear

[*Cantonese for ‘to eat rice with curry’]

This general elections, Malaysia’s 12th, saw a political tsunami, a phrase used first by veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party in his blog last night as the first unofficial results rolled in, indicating that a wave of change was sweeping across the country.

The opposition alliance of DAP, PKR and PAS not only made huge strides in the parliamentary elections, denying the ruling party its well-abused two-thirds majority, but also swept into power in five of the more populous and important states in the peninsula.

This is significant for many reasons, but to me, the most telling was that it signalled a defeat of the politics of fear.

In one of the rallies I attended, one speaker (whose name I did not get, so apologies Mr. Speaker) talked about how, when he stood on the opposition ticket in the 1980s, he had come up against the ruling party’s fear mongering. Vote for the opposition, they would tell Malaysian Chinese, and your vote could be traced, and soon you will spend many years eating rice with curry, a Cantonese colloquialism for being thrown into jail.

“But people are different now,” he continued. They are more sophisticated and these tactics no longer work. Many have voted for the opposition, indeed, many have joined the parties and stood up for what they believed in, and have not been a guest of His Majesty’s Prison Service.

He is only partially right though. Folks continued to be gripped by a more mundane, yet real and insistent fear; that if the opposition swept into power, the world will turn upside-down, and there may perhaps even be violence and death. One well-educated ex-classmate of mine said of the three opposition parties: “I can't imagine them forming a coalition government assuming they won more than 50% of the seats between them. There'll be absolute chaos with each side going their own way.”

At the same time, folks holding that view believe that stability could only be guaranteed by the current ruling party, which has a monopoly on institutions of armed power.

I have to confess that even we were not immune to the politics of fear. As it became clear what was happening last night, my brother and I rushed out to withdraw some money from the ATM, just in case.

The best thing then that happened this morning was, well, nothing. No victory rallies, no chaos, no race baiting – the latter in large part because significant portions of ALL ethnic groups in the peninsula turned against the ruling party. The opposition party leaders were not gloating; the outgoing Chief Minister of Penang conceded gracefully while the Prime Minister acknowledged, without hints of retribution, that the tide has turned against them.

This morning, Mum and Second Sis went to Tesco in Puchong. There weren’t any instant noodles left on the shelves – there must have been a run on Malaysia’s favourite fast food last night (this particular supermarket closes at midnight). But the situation was calm this morning as they went about their shopping – no panic buying; very few worried faces.

No more fear.


The Star seems to have taken a shine to the phrase 'Political Tsunami' as well. Tsk, tsk. People will start talking, you know, if the MCA-controlled paper starts using the rhetoric of its sworn political enemy! ;)

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