Why May 9 should worry PH politicians

On this day last year, many Malaysians celebrated the fall of Barisan Nasional (BN) with almost revolutionary zeal. It was surreal, something unthinkable just a decade ago.

Many changed their social media profile pictures to Malaysian flags with all sorts of “born again” slogans. That night, Malaysians went to bed with happy thoughts, contented that they would wake up to the dawn of a new Malaysia.

Cynics were silenced, and even those who once forbade their hands to cross anything on the ballot paper other than the scale symbol, joined with those celebrating what was seen as a peaceful revolution.

The new Malaysia eventually came. Expectations were many, but they also revealed how divided Malaysians were despite rejecting BN. Unity in diversity takes a strange meaning here.

Those expectations also showed that Malaysians voted in Pakatan Harapan (PH) for various reasons. Some were convinced that it would herald a new era of politics. Others, especially those in the urban areas, were more delusional, expecting a change in the nation’s social, economic and even religious philosophy.

And then there were the honest ones, those who said they had just wanted to put to sleep a 60-year-old coalition that had been acting like a wounded tiger ever since its shock setbacks in 2008.

In the days running up to the first anniversary of the new government, ministers and their aides jostled on social media with their glossy report cards, showing their achievements of the past few months.

Special media sessions were arranged for frank talks with the press, to show how government leaders can flex their arms to give a pat on their backs for their perceived achievements.

Some ministers in charge of the more crucial areas, such as finance and economic affairs, found it too difficult to answer troubling questions, and so they slammed the door on an independent (and therefore combative) news portal such as FMT. Requests for interviews were turned down, leaving the critical but more pertinent questions unanswered.

But this short piece is not a bid to showcase media objectivity or independence by attacking the government in power.

The truth is that one year is not that long in politics, especially for a government that has tasked itself with sifting through the mess accumulated through decades of mismanagement by various prime ministers.

A lot of the flak that PH received on its performance so far has been due to its own delusion that it is here to change 60 years of social, economic, political and judicial mess.

It would have been much easier to be honest and tell the public that it went to the election simply to bring down BN, and in the process, teach its leaders and their wives the meaning of people power. It was not to put to sleep the China beast or to undo the social and cultural engineering that has either shaped or destroyed this nation.

BN’s fall marks the demolition of a major psychological barrier among Malaysian voters, particularly when seen in the context of Umno’s almost divine hold on the Malays.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself suggested this when he listed the ending of BN rule as part of PH’s achievement because it was what the coalition set out to do.

All other goals, including on the economy, racial discrimination, human rights and education, would be secondary.

Whether or not the government has failed and whether or not people regret the change they voted for is another matter.

For now, the hallowed status of the ruling party has been removed. In elections to come, people are more likely to replace the ruling party rather than try to reform and rejuvenate it, as they once tried and failed to do.

Seen this way, May 9 is bad news for all politicians, more so to the celebrating PH leaders who now walk the polished halls of Putrajaya.

Abdar Rahman Koya is editor-in-chief of FMT.