Everyday Matters: Closing ranks after historical change in power

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 11, 2018 - June 17, 2018.

That the BN politicians fought hard until the last minute is commendable but when the final results were announced, a graceful concession of defeat to a better opponent was not forthcoming.

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Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.

I’m with you, Mr President, and God bless you. — Stephen Douglas, upon his loss to Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 US presidential election


Closure. That is what we need after the bruising battle in early May that decided Malaysia’s government for the next five years. Rancorous, bitter and ungentlemanly were some of the kinder adjectives that were used to describe the 14th general election.

We had never seen that kind of battle for votes before. Hard-fought and unyielding, politicians derided fellow politicians at the stumps and even grave personal attacks were fair game. But in the end, the people spoke.

Driven by a great desire for change from the opaque, condescendingly transactional approach of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, the people opted to give Pakatan Harapan (PH) a chance to take over the affairs of government for the next five years.

That the BN politicians fought hard until the last minute is commendable but when the final results were announced, a graceful concession of defeat to a better opponent was not forthcoming. The closing of ranks, the submission of party loyalty for the greater good of the nation was missing. Malaysia needed that to close this hard-fought episode. And to move on as a united country.

While glued to the TV screen like many others in the early morning of May 10, I was reminded of the night in 2000 when Al Gore addressed the American people after his unexpected loss to George W Bush. Like ours, the 2000 US presidential election was a bitter affair. Although he won the popular vote, Al Gore was defeated by a technical glitch in Florida, a case of the hanging chad (a fragment from a punch-card ballot paper that has not detached fully, resulting in an incomplete and therefore invalid ballot paper).

Despite his evident disappointment, the former vice-president delivered a gracious speech that marked him as an honourable gentleman and opened the door for a possible rematch in the next four years.

His speech started with an offer to meet with the president-elect as soon as possible so that they could start to heal the divisions created by the campaigns and the contest. He admitted that what remained of partisan rancour had to be put aside for the sake of the unity of the people and the strength of the American democracy.

He promised to honour the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in the fulfilment of a greater vision. On a more personal note, he declared that despite his party’s sad defeat, they had to overcome it “for our love of country”.

He went on to say, “I particularly urge all who stood with us to unite behind our next president. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done. While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to our political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president.”

There, that’s how it’s done. Majestic, with heads held high. An historic closure to a hard-fought campaign. The Malaysian public was not offered that. And that’s a shame.

The world community was watching us then, and they continue to watch us even now. Malaysia has become the new symbol of the power of democracy — of vox populi, the voice of the people.

The incumbent government was not predicated to lose. Or so said the pundits. The odds were overwhelmingly stacked in their favour. But lose they did, and they must sweep that, however bitter, aside. They must show that this hotly contested affair was not a sign of systemic weakness. BN must reorganise and be a credible people’s opposition party, for checks and balances in the corridors of power.

The strength of our democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome. And the difficulties are many. The newly installed PH government must not squander the goodwill it currently enjoys and get on with the business of running the nation and fulfilling its campaign promises.

It has begun reviewing the mega projects that were initiated by the previous government and has found many issues that need difficult explanations. While the search for truth is commendable, let us remind the government that fact-finding does not equal fault-finding, and it is easy to drift from the former to the latter. It would be well advised to minimise that misstep.

I am particularly concerned about the speed of shake-ups that are happening in the various ministries and government-related corporations. Weed out well-known political appointees if you must but the present government must guard against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. There are quite a few good men in the ministries and government-linked corporations. It would be a shame to let them go simply because of their political beliefs. Ours is, after all, a nation that practises democracy.

Now that the political struggle is over, we must turn again to the unending struggle of governance for the common good of all Malaysians and communicate to fellow citizens across the seas, those multitudes around the world, that Malaysia is home, and we await their return.

You have shown your love for the nation by making sure that wherever you were, your vote counted. We thank you and salute your patriotic fervour. There is a long struggle ahead to put Malaysia back where it once belonged. We will need your untiring contributions. So welcome back, not just for the upcoming holidays, but for all time.

In the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan and Aidil Fitri, let us as a nation close ranks. Selamat Hari Raya and happy holidays all!

Zakie Shariff is a member of the board of directors at Universiti Malaysia Pahang. He is also a director of FA Securities, a boutique stockbroking firm in Kuala Lumpur.

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