Friday, January 9, 2009

If I was a Malaysian Chinese…

…from Kuala Terengganu, I’d be very excited about the prospect of being a part of something historic in my home state, which would also be of national prominence. In addition, I would be excited for my country.

But the prospect of being part of a significant by-election would actually only be the most obvious reason for why I’d be excited. More importantly, my excitement would be coupled with a very fundamental question, which I hope others like me would also be asking: Could we ever have imagined Lim Kit Siang at a ceramah alongside Nik Aziz Nik Mat campaigning for the same candidate? Here in lay the essence of what would be most dramatic and transformative to me. Not because they are Kit Siang and Nik Aziz, but rather, for what they have stood for.

One, I would see as a strong democrat who has been a stalwart defender of a secular Malaysia. The other, I would define as an ardent advocate for a theocratic state. Hardly the kind of political ideas and vision that would lend itself to a common cause. But therein lies the genius and beauty of the transformation that Malaysia is undergoing. We would be lying if we said we knew this would happen someday. The fact is, I doubt most of us could have even imagined it. And I would also include Kit Siang and Nik Aziz among those who could not have envisioned such an eventuality.

This then begs the question: how has this become possible?

The brief answer is that like me, a great number of Malaysians have woken up from a long spell. The longer version is somewhat more complex but not difficult to comprehend. It is the realisation that anything is possible through cooperation among equals. Such cooperation, you see, is defined by an ability to seek commonly agreeable solutions among equal partners. It is not based on threats and intimidation; it is not based on taking the other for granted, and it is certainly not based on a master-servant relationship between the parties.

No. It is based on a respect for each other as co-equals who bring to the partnership a willingness to work together by adopting a pragmatism that aspires to put the will of the people above all.

If I was a Chinese from Kuala Terengganu who favoured a secular Malaysia, I would not be the least bit concerned about supporting PAS in this by-election. For one, I’d rest assured that Lim Kit Siang would not be getting into any kind of bargain or quid-pro-quo with PAS to make Malaysia an Islamic state. That has not happened even in the states controlled by Pakatan Rakyat – and I can be certain that the DAP has no intention of enabling such an eventuality. That is why I find the hudud controversy to be the biggest red-herring of this by-election thus far. Even if PAS remains committed to its ideal vision of an Islamic state, any reasonable person can deduce that this by-election has absolutely no bearing on PAS’ ability to dictate such an agenda.

If I was a Chinese from Kuala Terengganu, a victory for the PAS/PR candidate would be a victory for a new formula – and mindset - for moving Malaysia forward. It would be a formula which reflects more competition in the political system; it would be a formula where we were not taken-for-granted by the establishment; it would be a new formula where, despite our differences, we can seek to cooperate – we can stand on the same platform and be committed to pursuing agreeable solutions. And it would be, in other words, a rejection of the old legacy of being dictated to.

If I was a Chinese from Kuala Terengganu, who would I trust to be an advocate for a secular Malaysia and to be a firm check and safeguard against PAS: Kit Siang and the DAP or an UMNO candidate whose party will rule supreme over the MCA?
As a matter of fact, we have already seen DAP’s tenacity and persistence not to let PAS or PR off lightly on matters about the separation between religion and governance.

Indeed, having Nik Aziz and Kit Siang on the same platform means that a large number of Malaysian are moving closer to embracing a multi-racial political framework for addressing problems of poverty, affordable housing, employment, our failing education system, and other concerns. Having them at the same ceramah means the country is moving forward.

Frankly, the choice is obvious not only for the Chinese of Kuala Terengganu, but rather for all who seek more democracy and equality in Malaysia.

G. Krishnan