By P Ramakrishnan
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were not the best of candidates for president. Neither inspired the nation and neither fared as predicted.
Perhaps a historic opportunity was lost when Clinton was unexpectedly defeated. After more than 200 years, America could have elected its first ever woman president and created a precedent for future elections but it was not to be.
This was the only regret – not because Clinton lost but because a woman could not be elected.
That said, few expected Trump to win. However Trump remained confident and defiant to the end, dismissing the opinions of political pundits and so-called expert forecasters, who predicted it would be a walk-away victory for Clinton.
There is a lesson for Malaysians in Trump’s victory: it holds hope for Malaysians who despair that our country is beyond repair.
Everything, as it were, went against Trump. He did not have political experience or any administrative experience in government, having never held an elected position. He was very much an underdog in this contest.
Clinton was First Lady for eight long years when Bill Clinton was President of the United States. Even before that, she was the First Lady of Arkansas for more than 10 years when Bill Clinton was Governor. She was a US senator for New York for eight years and was part of President Barack Obama’s cabinet for four. She wielded vast and formidable experience and expertise in government to take on Trump.
Clinton’s team demonised Trump for his lack of demeanour and exposed his sexual escapades – hoping to turn women voters against him. But the majority of non-college educated women voted for him anyway.
All attempts to undermine Trump and derail his campaign did not work simply because white Americans, men and women, the middle class and the jobless lower class were fed up with the elite establishment. They had heard a lot of promises and rhetoric but that did not change their condition or benefit them. It was business as usual for them – a very hard life trying to get by.
Trump tapped into the deep-rooted anger and frustrations of these Americans aggressively and often in an alarming manner to seek their support. He rode on their perennially neglected grievances and provided a glimmer of hope for change. And that was precisely what they wanted.
So they revolted and struck back at the establishment knowing that they had nothing to lose in electing Trump. They must have decided that a new change would not be worse than their present situation, which was hopeless.
This is very much like Malaysian politics. Umno ministers and leaders have derided the Opposition for their lack of experience in running the government. And as such, they warned that the country would be in ruins if the Opposition formed the government. They have earnestly urged Malaysians not to gamble with their future by electing the Opposition.
What makes them think that suffering Malaysians won’t take the plunge this time? What have they to lose by doing so? Will their lot change by sticking with the Barisan Nasional? It hasn’t, these past 59 years.
Like in America, there is much unhappiness and suffering among the lower-income group who form the majority in Malaysia. Since Independence, their lot has not changed though they have stuck with the BN ever faithfully.
To add to their misery, the government introduced the GST (Goods and Services Tax), which has hurt the poor gravely. The GST is helping the government rake in billions of ringgit but it is the poor who are hit the hardest when everything costs more and makes their lives even more unbearable.
The elected politicians voted for themselves a raise of several thousand ringgit every month while trying to dupe the poor with a meagre BR1M handout once a year that hardly helps them to sustain themselves over the year. In today’s climate, what can a thousand-plus ringgit do to alleviate the suffering of the poor who struggle to subsist with a few hundred ringgit monthly?
Housing has posed a pressing problem for the urban poor. Present escalating prices have put house ownership beyond their dreams. If only the money that is being squandered and plundered is available for common use, affordable houses can be built to house the homeless. But this is a dream shattered with this establishment in governance.
The level of corruption is beyond belief – indeed it is staggering. Money goes into private pockets without being seen. It is only a bank transaction. It is hard to imagine how much and how often money has gone into personal accounts.
However when mind-boggling corruption was unearthed recently in Sabah, we saw boxes and boxes of money in their millions being stashed away in rooms. That indelible image takes our breath away as it shows how much money can be made by the corrupt in government service.
But how many corrupt officials have escaped being caught? How many billions have been lost by the country to the detriment of the poor who deserve more welfare assistance? How much better off our public healthcare would be if more money was channelled into it?
So many laws have been passed just to control and weaken our democratic process. Honest comments and criticism are not tolerated. Journalists are harassed, news portals are raided, and people cannot demonstrate peacefully.
People are unhappy with the courts. Some of the judgments are so appalling and disconcerting, it has left us wondering what has happened to our courts.
Many issues of concern deeply frustrate the people. They realise that their freedom is being curtailed and denied; they can be pulled up for questioning on the basis of a report lodged with the police, however ridiculous that report may be.
The people are more conscious now that they have been betrayed and deprived for decades by the establishment and politicians. We have been promised reform and good governance at every election but sadly, promises made are hardly kept. Promises were made to be broken, as it were.
By now, Malaysians should realise – and indeed they do – that nothing will change with the present regime. It will be status quo under Umno. If 59 years of Umno rule has not made much difference to rural folks who are still in a miserable state, another 59 years of Umno rule will not solve their misery.
It is time for Malaysians to learn a lesson from Trump’s victory and vote in the Opposition to run the country. It is time for action. This is the historic opportunity we have been waiting for.
We must vote against the establishment – like the Americans; only then will change come.
P Ramakrishnan is a member of the Aliran executive committee.
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