Prime Minister Najib Razak built his image on an economic and political transformation of Malaysia and though while many were sceptical of this early promise, others had hoped that this transformation would take root.
However, as events have proved in the aftermath of GE13, Umno has moved to shed its veneer of democracy with great alacrity and without embarrassment. The loss of majority support in the recent election has exposed Umno’s vulnerability and its leadership has reacted badly, accusing voters of betrayal and demanding those not accepting electoral fraud to “emigrate”.
These attacks escalated into arrests of opposition leaders and activists charged under colonial-era sedition law. Ironically, Prime Minister Najib Razak promised to repeal the same sedition law last year, once again exposing the emptiness of Najib’s lofty pronouncements. Now government bureaucrats have shockingly threatened passport revocation of overseas Malaysians who exercise their democratic rights to speak up against electoral fraud.
It seems that the Malaysian story is following a script of a wayang kulit performance. The first Act saw the rise of Najib accompanied by the resurrection of Anwar Ibrahim. The second Act features the ferocious national elections complete with phantom voters, fake indelible ink and blackouts during which ballot boxes mysteriously appear to deny the heroes of a fair victory.
We are now in the second last Act, where the bad guys are getting away with all sorts of wicked behaviour. Our earlier scepticism of Umno’s transformation is validated as Umno has shed its mask of pretend democracy.
The audience rise to their feet as the villains gloat over the election victory achieved by cheating. The people are aggrieved by electoral fraud and want to see justice. The audience is screaming out to the heroes to watch their backs. But alas, the heroes are tied down by unfair means and only the people can restore order.
Of course, what we see today in Malaysia is no wayang kulit but a true-to-life drama that’s playing out in the real world. While Umno has got its claws out, it will not find it easy to restore the old order.
The campaign to end electoral fraud has led to a greater engagement in the election process. The loss of majority support for Umno has led to its legitimacy being questioned. Umno was expecting opposition forces to retreat and crumble with the recent arrests but to its shock, civil society organisations and opposition parties have stood firm and resolute.
The protest of many thousands outside the Jinjang Police Station where Adam Adli was being held is a case in point. Touch one and you touch all. The public have lost their fear of Umno’s intimidatory tactics and the people show no sign of sounding a retreat.
In fact, all the evidence to date has shown that the best way to tackle government intimidation is to stand up to them. Mohd Noor Abdullah, former Appeals Court judge, who accused the Chinese of betrayal in voting against Umno, has gone silent in the face of the public backlash against his racist comments.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who had earlier called on the opposition to “emigrate elsewhere”, lost all his bravado and even claimed that he knew nothing of the arrests of activists and opposition leaders. Even the threat to revoke passports of citizens residing overseas engaging in legal democratic activities was made through a bureaucrat. No Umno leader was prepared to front the media to justify such a preposterous suggestion
The series of huge rallies around the country show no sign of assuaging the people’s anger. Now the call has gone out from Anwar Ibrahim for a 500,000 people march to demand the resignation of the Election Commission.
Umno has never been under such sustained pressure and its leaders are desperately trying to find a formula, a strategy to overcome the anger of a stolen election. With its legitimacy under threat because of the loss of the majority vote, Umno is no longer able to control the agenda of the national conversation.
Like the rest of the country, the Umno leadership is wondering how this wayang kulit will end. Umno leaders feel nervous as they realise that the people will not be denied their choice and eventually, justice will seek them out. They also know that the longer the final Act takes to play out, the greater will be the retribution of the people.