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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

- Maya Angelou

COMMENT | We now have a measure of calm with the Confidence and Supply Agreement (or is it a memorandum of understanding?) that has been signed between the government and most of the opposition MPs. It gives us time for valuable introspection.

We should start with the 14th general election (GE14). It was historic and was the result of years and years of hard work and sacrifice by ordinary people and opposition politicians. 

Civil society was responsible for moving the masses to demand change. The people responded, but faced tear gas, arrests and detentions. They never gave up, even though change seemed to elude them election after election. 

Then came 1MDB and Malaysians here and all over the world galvanised to deliver GE14 to the opposition. The rest, as they say, is history. GE14 was truly a people’s election.

Pakatan Harapan set up an inclusive government. The appointment of good women with impeccable credentials to key positions was sensible, refreshing and rewarding for the country. The appointment of non-Malays to key posts was meritorious.

Fresh from the election win, Harapan moved towards reform. Many committees and much work were done by many volunteers. The people felt invested in this path to reform that Harapan had promised. 

So many qualified Malaysians from abroad offered to come home and help. Unfortunately, although a few reforms took place, Harapan dragged its feet and faltered in delivering key reforms. 

Even the dreaded Sedition Act (the use of which continues unabated) was left intact. The feeling of frustration among the people, because of this, was widespread.

Then came that incessant and open bickering within Harapan, which preceded the infamous Sheraton Move. Whilst there is no doubt that the Sheraton movers were directly responsible, it was the instability of Harapan that allowed it to happen. 

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the Harapan administration

In my view, the Sheraton Move could not have happened if Harapan had been united and strong. They were after all in power! As it stands, Harapan does not appear to take any responsibility for losing the government painstakingly handed to them by the people. 

They failed us and do not even have the humility to admit it. They did not just make mistakes, they lost the prize. More worryingly, they have shown no desire to change.

The Sheraton Move government is, without a doubt, the worst violator of the people’s mandate. Coming in by stealth, they showed a complete disregard and disrespect for the will of the people and for the electoral process. It was an utter breach of trust. 

Umno was back. PAS was in. Both were rejected in GE14. This change came at a great cost to the people, many of whom felt an acute sense of grief and betrayal. It also came at a great cost to the country and its institutions.

What we have since the Sheraton Move is not an inclusive government representative of all Malaysians but a 95 percent male, Malay government. The women and non-Malay members of this government are mere tokens. 

It may have been somewhat tolerable if appointees to key positions showed a modicum of competence. That was not, however, the focus or the agenda.

There is enough evidence around the world (and even here) to show that women are equal to, or far superior as leaders than men. It was nonsensical to reject competent women in favour of some wholly incompetent men. We are also so much better when all the races work together and we exploit the full benefits of our diversity.

The government of Malaysia should be just that, ie Malaysian. It should be inclusive and truly representative of all its people with full participation by East Malaysians at the top.

Malaysians have been through a lot in the past two years. Apart from Covid-19, our unnecessary suffering was entirely caused by politics and politicians. Covid-19 brought out the worst in our political leaders. Furthermore, they were incapable of handling the crisis. How did these two years make you feel?

"We’ll be back!"

Unfortunately, all these same leaders who gave us grief are poised to come back.

This brings me to the key questions. Why should we vote for any of them when they have all failed to put the people first? 

Do we have to continue to be caught up in the politics and bitter rivalries of old? 

Do we want to be stuck with the same rhetoric and the same old feudal politics of the current parties? 

Are we doomed to having the same actors following us from the 20th century into the rest of the 21st century with all their baggage and archaic notions in tow?

Perhaps we are suffering from something akin to the “Stockholm syndrome”, where after years of abuse, we have begun to believe that these leaders deserve to be there. How else do we explain the acceptance of leaders who abuse their positions, are abusive of our rights or have criminal tendencies or criminal records? 

What does it say about us that appointments to the government are made of the most flawed personalities who would not even qualify to work in the most menial of positions in our offices?

Undi18 (barring any U-turns) is happening, and 18-year-olds will vote in the next election. The politics and ideas of old do not fit in with their hopes and dreams yet they may be saddled with the toxic politics of the past.

Nothing will change unless we wake up to the possibilities before us. Rejuvenation is needed and we have to break the old political moulds that have brought us to this sorry state. 

The next generation of leaders in the existing political parties must be allowed to take over in the next general election if we are to have any chance at a brighter future.

The current leaders have negatively impacted the psyche of the whole nation. They should all step aside. The despair, despondency and frustration they have wrought upon us must lead to our asking for, and making, better choices. 

We need new leaders who give us hope. We need an honest and competent government that puts the people first.

When we vote next, we must remember how these leaders made us feel. We must choose leaders who never make us feel that way again.

Happy Malaysia Day!

AMBIGA SREENEVASAN is former Malaysian Bar president.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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