I believe that every event and person can teach us a lesson. Life sometimes seems wonderful; and sometimes miserable. But whether it takes us to the height of elation or the abyss of misery, there is a lesson in there somewhere.
The 14th general election (GE14) has many lessons for us. Depending on your attitude, experience and situation in life, the lessons you learn may not be the same as those which I learn, but there will be similarities and some universal lessons that apply to everyone.
For instance, what is good for me may be bad for you. If Barisan Nasional (BN) wins, it is good for its chairman Najib Razak as he gets to stay in power, and he won’t face prosecution for any alleged misdeeds. It is also good for the many ministers, political leaders, heads of some government departments who have allegedly tilted decisions in his favour, and supporters. It is good news for citizens who want a continuation of policies and projects planned by BN.
But it is bad for Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, leaders of his coalition, the NGOs backing him and ordinary supporters. They can be certain that Najib and his friends will be gunning for them.
If, however, BN loses and PH wins, it is good for PH, Mahathir and everyone working for PH. They will get to decide the direction of the nation. The losers can also expect the PH winners to look for them. It is good for those citizens who are looking forward to a new dawn.
Another lesson is that in life, we have a choice and we have to choose wisely for our decision will not only affect us but our family as well. In the case of an election, it will also affect the direction the nation takes, how it is governed and what freedoms you enjoy.
The ability to make decisions – and not just act on instincts – is one of the factors that separates us from other animals. When we go to the shop, we make a choice about which brand of a particular product to buy. When we go to vote, we make a choice, too. The difference is that when we vote, the decision affects not just us but every citizen. That is why it is considered a sacred duty of a citizen.
If we choose well, we and our children can enjoy peace, freedom and prosperity; if not, we have to suffer the consequences.
There’s yet another life lesson that will be familiar to voters: when people need your help, they will even crawl before you and beg, but once they achieve their goal they may not give you a second look. In elections, voters are wooed by politicians, including Datuks, Tan Sris and Tuns. When you meet them after they win, they may consider it your good fortune that they have taken the time to see you or say “hi”.
A related lesson is that we have to take the promises of people – especially candidates and political parties – with the proverbial pinch of salt. And if we re-elect a candidate or party that does not fulfil its promises or reneges on them or makes our life difficult, we should look up the word “fool” in the dictionary.
We are also familiar with the fact that, in life, just as in politics, allegiances can change. Mahathir was the leader of Umno and BN and served as prime minister for 22 years. Today, he is working with his earlier political enemies – including people jailed during his tenure – to defeat Umno and BN.
A related lesson is that we sometimes have to apologise and make up with our enemies for what we consider to be the common good.
If hardcore political enemies can come together, why can’t siblings or relatives who have quarrelled with each other come together? Isn’t family unity worth keeping? If a man called a dictator by his critics can apologise for his past mistakes, why can’t those whose words or actions may have caused a family to split or friendships to break up apologise and make up?
In this election, we can see how a 92-year-old man is running around trying to achieve his goal. He has a purpose, he has a plan, and he is pushing himself to the ground to achieve that purpose. That should be a great motivator for the rest of us, especially the young men. If a nonagenarian can work this hard, why can’t the rest of us work as hard for the goals that we set for ourselves and our families? If he can come out of retirement and make sacrifices, why can’t younger people make sacrifices to improve their lives, that of their families and the nation?
We can imbibe the “never say die” attitude from not just Mahathir but also Najib. His critics have hurled all manner of allegations against him and called him all sorts of names – linking him to scandals involving the misuse of money and even a murder – but he remains unperturbed, and has continued to lead the government, weathering the turbulence well.
This general election, DAP has taken a big risk by agreeing to forego the use of its well-known rocket symbol for that of PH coalition partner PKR. Also, some of its leaders are risking their political careers by taking on tough candidates in BN strongholds. The life lesson here is that if you want to achieve something bigger, you must be willing to leave your comfort zone and take risks.
For Malaysia, the lesson is that racial unity is possible if there is a common purpose. This is clear when we see the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans and Kadazandusuns working together under PH to take power. We can see the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans and Kadazandusuns working together under BN to defend their position. There are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Taoists and others in both PH and BN, working together and not allowing their differences to divide them.
So, it shows that racial unity and religious understanding is possible if we have a common purpose and leaders who inspire us to hold to such a purpose.
I leave you to figure out other lessons we can learn from this and other elections.
A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT.