Last night I had a dream. I dreamt that it was 2010 and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had handed power over to his deputy Najib, putting an end to his pointless and rudderless rule. Malaysia was now in firmer hands and the country had passed a defining fork in the river of time.
As I dreamt on, time seemed to be compressed into fast changing glimpses of unfolding events. The nascent opposition had failed to take over the federal government in 2008. Anwar Ibrahim was languishing in prison, convicted of sodomy in a scandalous show trial without an iota of credible evidence. The government shrugged off the torrent of international condemnation as ‘meddling in internal affairs’ and carried on business as usual.
Najib stamped his mark on Malaysia as an authoritarian in the mould of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Democratic space which allowed the opposition to flourish under Abdullah’s rule was severely curtailed. Political blogs were outlawed and control over the mainstream pres tightened. The ISA was liberally used to quell dissent.
Social reforms proposed for the judiciary, the ACA, the police and the AG’s chambers during Abdullah’s time were stalemated and never saw the light of day. The rule of law had broken down with the acquittal of all accused in the murder of a Mongolian lady.
The economy went into free fall under the onslaught of massive corruption and the implementation of unproductive mega-projects which did not benefit the rakyat but were vehicles for enrichment of a small group of elite. Foreign investment dried up, the ringgit depreciated drastically, the gap between rich and poor widened and people’s lives became harder.
When the time came for the 13th general elections, the ruling party pulled out all the stops to win. Free and fair elections were impossible with the total control of the mass media by the ruling party and the use of threats, intimidation, vote-buying, repression of the opposition and massive cheating. The ruling party won with a handsome majority in parliament..
Meanwhile, the shrinking economic pie led to a resurgence of Malay nationalism instigated and nurtured by Umno leaders. Chinese, Indians and other non-Malays faced a slew of racially-based polices which imposed new limits on their education, employment and economic opportunities.
The best and brightest of human capital fled overseas to escape the racial discrimination. On their heels were to come maids, labourers and other unskilled workers seeking work overseas as unemployment soared.
But for the ordinary Malays themselves, life did not improve. They were deceived by the nebulous notion of Ketuanan Melayu , Malay special rights and NEP which did little for them except to benefit a ruling oligarchy. They had begun to realise the deceit but it was too late to turn back the clock. A pseudo-democracy had replaced real democracy in a political system which the ruling party could never lose.
Deteriorating economic conditions led to widespread social discontent but suppression of public demonstrations had become more brutal. I watched as intimidating-looking red-helmeted FRU men armed with clubs and shields beat a defenseless crowd demonstrating over a surge in inflation.
The air was thick with the acrid smell of tear gas and a short distance away, a water canon was spewing a powerful gush of chemically-laced water as the crowd ran helter-skelter. Amid the noise and the commotion, I heard a sharp crack and an old lady fell in front of me, her weary face lined with pain as I woke with an abrupt start with her scream of pain reverberating in my ears.
Moonlight filtered through the windows and rain pattered on the roof with a steady rhythm as the wind howled outside. I was drenched in cold sweat with a feeling of extreme disquiet. The alarm clock read 2 am, it was too early to get up so I had a drink of water before settling down again to try to sleep.
I thought of Malaysia, the future of the country and the reality that social injustice and authoritarian methods always lead to economic decline. I drifted off again and was soon again in the dimension of dreams.
It was a sitting of parliament and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was addressing the lawmakers in the presence of the King and Queen. He promised a new Malaysia where all races were equal partners in the economic and social life of the country while the special rights of the Malays guaranteed under the constitution will remain protected.
Corruption will not be tolerated, social justice upheld and emphasis given to reviving the economy. His first act was to lower the price of oil to assist the wheels of economy which he asserted Malaysia could afford as an oil-exporting country.
Under the new government, wide-ranging reforms were made to repair severely damaged democratic institutions. The judiciary, the police and the ACA benefitted from reforms which accorded them true independence from the executive. An independent police complaints commission was set up, the powers of the attorney-general clipped and good men were appointed to helm all these institutions. A host of oppressive laws such as the ISA, OSA, UUCA and PPPA were repealed.
On the economic front, open tenders were conducted for all government contracts and non- productive projects which do not benefit the rakyat were cancelled. Unfair one-sided agreements with toll concessionaires and IPPs were re-negotiated. The billions saved were used to subsidise oil prices and spent on projects with real benefit for the people.
Foreign investments flooded in following open market policies without race-based restrictions and the ringgit appreciated.
In the new climate of meritocracy and equal opportunities, the ‘brain drain’ which had afflicted Malaysia for decades reversed itself. The country no longer bled its best and brightest youth to foreign shores and local professionals and specialists who had gone overseas made a beeline back to the country they still called home to contribute their energies and skills.
The much abused NEP was replaced by the Malaysian Economic Agenda which channels affirmative action based on need instead of race. Help flowed to those who really needed it..
With proper economic management, foreign inflows and a stronger ringgit, the per capita income of the people increased and poverty was drastically reduced.
The end of race-based policies and racial politics brought the various races closer together. In schools and colleges, in work places and entertainment outlets, people of all races mingled and interacted in the spirit of genuine friendship. Malaysia became a shining beacon of democracy where the various races lived together in harmony and a true ‘ Bangsa Malaysia ’ began to emerge.
The cheerful sound of big band music sliced through the clear morning air as Malaysia celebrated its Independence Day. It was a joyous occasion which saw an endless parade of colourful uniformed bodies marching proudly past a spellbound crowd.
At the grandstand, Prime Minister Anwar lifted a ceremonial keris high in the air to shouts of ‘ Merdeka!’ as trumpets blared and a shrill ringing became louder and louder until it cut through the reverie to wake me from my slumber.
Outside, the rain had given way to a cool breeze rustling the leaves outside my window. Night was slowly receding to the pale light of a new day, a full moon looked down while the faint barking of a dog could be heard in the distance. I looked at the new dawn breaking above the horizon and dared to hope.