PETALING JAYA: Filmmaker Arul Prakkash documented the change which swept across the country in the May 9 general election but now warns that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition risks being booted out unless it does better.
In an interview with FMT, Arul said many were sceptical about the “new Malaysia”, adding that PH appeared to have become nonchalant since taking over Putrajaya.
He said PH had already made many U-turns on issues championed during its election campaign, and accused it of turning a deaf ear to the people.
Giving the example of the goods and services tax which was zero-rated in June and replaced with the sales and services tax in September, Arul said the people had been given barely enough time to prepare for the new tax system.
“What is the point of democracy if we are not allowed to participate and be part of the mechanism that affects change?
“Let the people be directly involved in decision-making on issues that affect their livelihood,” the 38-year-old told FMT.
He acknowledged that PH had many issues to tackle including the country’s finances and civil service, but asked why grassroots members and stakeholders who had worked for reform were not consulted after May 9.
He listed the controversial appointment of Education Minister Maszlee Malik as president of the International Islamic University Malaysia, the ongoing struggles of the Temiar Orang Asli, and the sedition probe on activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri.
“We voted you in because we hoped that a new government would stop these things from happening.
“You hear of issues like this all the time when it comes to race or religion, or curtailing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights – when will it stop?”
Ever since the Reformasi movement in 1998, he said, there had been a consistent call for the country to be more democratic.
“There needs to be respect for each other through a rights framework, but that’s not happening. We’ve always had to struggle against the big powers.”
He also criticised government appointments which had not gone through Parliament, saying such people were “still doing things the old way”.
While Malaysian culture was such that the people were easily willing to forgive, he said, there was no point having a new administration if it could not move forward with their interests in mind.
According to him, the challenge now was for the authorities to listen to civil societies, whether liberal groups or those from opposition circles.
“When I talk to some people about institutional reforms and whether PH will make good on this, they tell me if they don’t do it within their first two years in government, it will be too late when they start in their third and fourth years. They won’t see it through.
“I personally have hope in PH. But there’s only so much we can tolerate. Listen to us when we try to keep you in check.”
He credited groups such as Bersih 2.0 and Hindraf for PH’s historic election win, saying they had contributed to the change in mindset among the people and championed the need for reform.
“The collective protest by the people on May 9 has them to thank. That is how PH won.
“Sure, Najib Razak and the 1MDB scandal was the tipping point but we got there because of the change in people’s thinking.”
Arul also praised PH for doing well so far on issues such as media freedom and recognising the discrimination against the LGBT community.
However, he said PH needed to do better in repealing laws deemed as archaic. He gave the example of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act and the Sedition Act, which PH promised to repeal within its first five years in power.
Arul’s documentary, “Melawan Arus”, highlights the role of the people in bringing an end to Barisan Nasional’s rule and the challenges for the country post-May 9.
It airs on Oct 6 at the PJ Live Arts in Petaling Jaya.
The screening is part of the FreedomFilmFest (FFF), an international human rights documentary film festival held yearly in the region, which runs from Sept 29 to Oct 6. Tickets are available on the FFF website.