"I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
– Howard Beale, ‘Network’ (1976)
It is the eve of this great election. ‘Great’ to me is an ominous word. So much hope has been put in this election by folks who want change. I do not fear the Umno state. What I fear is that the hope of change is but an illusion. That the people who claim to lead for change will not transform this country before it slips into the delusional dreams of Islamic extremism.
What I do know is that if we do not take this first step, we are really screwed. A first step that we have never been in a position to take and if we do not, we would have lost the single best chance to change this country. If we do not finally have a two-party system, then we will only be able to watch as our country slips further down the dark path of totalitarianism. You think it’s bad now, wait and see.
For the record, my definition of a two-party system is a system where two coalitions have had a chance to govern the country. We have never had this. Yes, the opposition has made gains and is a credible threat to the Umno/BN establishment but we have only known Umno rule and whatever permutations of it since Independence.
I know this man. A “pakar” Malay officer who worked his way up, as we say. He revered Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat and was a lifelong member of PAS, even back in the day. We reconnected in the heady days when PAS took to the streets after the ejection of then deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim from Umno paradise.
He still referred to me as “Tuan” and it was the happiest day of his life when PAS formally joined Pakatan Rakyat. With the passing of Tok Guru and the fragmentation of PAS, he quit the party. His family and most of his friends joined him.
Then former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad made his play with the opposition. This old sailor who had left PAS and was thinking of sitting out in this election was suddenly stirred. He can’t explain it. He knows for a long time that Mahathir was the “mahafiraun”. It was what PAS had taught him.
However, these days he sees PAS cuddling up with Umno and he hears how Mahathir wants to correct his mistakes that he made when he was with Umno. He sees Tok Guru’s family “manipulated” by Umno. He sees mothers turning against sons. He sees an old adversary not allowed to visit the grave of a religious scholar who once led the way. This old sailor is angry.
Now, of course, most of them (like my sailor friend) are retired but when they hear the call by their old prime minister, they understand that Umno is not to be trusted. They tell their friends and families. They make it known by going to ceramahs. They donate to the cause, even though they do not have much.
These are not the service personnel - the high-ranking officers who got fat from the gravy train. These are the men and women who served on the ground. Who understood that the state security apparatus was a branch of government and that there were some honour and dignity in serving.
He has repented, my old colleague says to me. “Soon, there will be many in PAS, who may have to repent as well.”
Anyone who has read my articles will know that my issue with PAS is not their Islamism. My issue with PAS is their Umnoism. My friend will not join any political party, but he will vote Pakatan Harapan in this election. From now on, I am independent, he says.
Now, of course, the “choices” in this election may seem identical but eventually, these will be refined or redefined. The first step is understanding that you have a choice. This is what Umno fears. This is what the former Umno prime minister is banking on - that people will take that leap of faith. That the Malay community realises that they have a choice. And because the Malay politics is defined by Malay institutions, he wisely chooses to directly appeal to those institutions.
Will things change? Who knows? I do know that after decades of being ruled by Umno, things have to change. I do know that after decades of being told by successive Umno potentates that they are the only ones who can rule this country, that things have to change. I do know that after decades of Umno rule, our country is heading down a dark path and it’s not because of the corruption or the systemic discrimination but because the underlying policies of Umno – using religion – has opened the majority to influences from the outside that would bring ruination to this country.
Could the opposition bring this change? I have no idea. I only know that we cannot carry on this way. We cannot carry on believing that this country is doing well when there are no political voices to dissent against the hegemon in Putrajaya. I know that if politicians think that it is their birthright to rule this country in perpetuity that this will only lead to sorrow.
I know that if politicians continue to think that they are not accountable to the people, they will continue suppressing voices of dissent. The Umno regime is doing everything in its power to stack the deck. They are doing everything in their power to ensure a victory that they do not deserve. This is politics, they say, so what has “deserve” got to do with it.
Fair enough, but every time the establishment does something like this, they make people angry. I am not talking about the vitriol that some opposition supporters display online. I am talking about the real-world anger that could manifest in so many ways.
In a Muslim-majority country, this is especially dangerous. I am on record as saying that the greatest danger to this country is the National Security Council Act. There is a reason for this obnoxious law. But I think that the state security apparatus understand that their role is to facilitate a smooth transition of power and not hamper it.
All I know is this. After decades of rule by a single party, watching the corruption, the bigotry and smug assurance of rule, I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore.
We can worry about how we are going to reform the system later. We can worry about how we are going to reform the institutions later. We first need to take the first step with people who say they are interested in doing those things and have never – well, the majority of them – had the opportunity to govern this country.
If the opposition carries out even a quarter of what they promise, that would be something that the country desperately needs.
Are you as mad as hell and not going to take this anymore?
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.