On the eve of May 9, I received and shared with others this quote by William Shakespeare from his timeless political drama Julius Caesar, which lawyer Tommy Thomas had used at the end of an article run by Malaysiakini:
“There is a tide in the affairs of man, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Thomas was urging Malaysians to seize the moment before us to do what was right for the nation. It was shared over WhatsApp to send the message that the time had come to, in the words of Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, change the contractor who had failed us. Many people were confident. Most were hopeful but doubtful.
But change we did.
It was not a Chinese tsunami nor was it a Malay tsunami. It was a Malaysian tsunami dari Perlis sampailah ke Sabah that brought down the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that had ruled uninterrupted for 60 years.
BN’s share of the popular votes slumped from 50% to 36% while its parliamentary seats were almost halved from 133 to 79. It not only lost the federal government but also the states of Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Trengganu and Johor, in addition to Kelantan and Selangor, which were already under Opposition rule. As we go to print, BN may lose power in Sabah and Perak as post election realignments are still unfolding. Umno/BN may be left with only tiny Perlis and Pahang.
How did it all go so wrong for Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who took office in April 2009 with so much promise and hope?
From what we now know, which we didn’t then, the rot started in September that year, just five months after he became prime minister, when he seeded 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) under the guise of creating a new sovereign wealth company. In just six years, 1MDB collapsed after accumulating over RM42 billion in debt and with billions more unaccounted for, according to an audit by the Auditor-General, which was never made public. Investigations by the US Department of Justice laid out evidence of how 1MDB money was spent on purchases of various assets by a handful of people like Jho Low, Riza Aziz and their cohorts from Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Money also went into the private accounts of Najib and for the purchases of jewellery for Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
When the shenanigans were first exposed in 2015 by The Edge, Sarawak Report and The Wall Street Journal, we were accused of publishing lies and attempting to bring down the government. We were harassed and threatened by those who lied with a straight face.
But while 1MDB was the biggest, it wasn’t the only financial scandal that happened under Najib’s watch. There have been a number, and on a scale Malaysia has never seen.
The consequence was a government whose finances were in dire straits, forcing it to cut subsidies and introduce the Goods & Services Tax (GST). We can debate about the merits of the GST, but the fact is that people and businesses were hurt by it, thus the anger that we saw at the ballot box.
Now that the general election is over, it should be a time of healing and reconciliation, a time to bring the nation together again after a robust period of campaigning.
We couldn’t agree more.
But reconciliation does not mean we cover up the various issues that triggered the people’s wrath. That would not be what Malaysians want, and it would not do justice to the people who suffered because they dared to stand up to the wrongdoings of the government that has just been booted out. Men and women of integrity in the Attorney-General’s Office, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Bank Negara Malaysia, to name a few, became victims of a government bent on covering up criminal wrongdoings.
Back then, the rakyat could only watch in shock.
On May 9, they acted through the ballot box and those who had loudly defended the indefensible, such as Tan Sri Shahrir Samad, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Datuk Salleh Said Keruak, were punished, losing heavily in seats that were traditional Umno/BN strongholds. Ministers who chose to say nothing, such as Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, Datuk Mah Siew Keong and Datuk S Subramaniam, were also sent packing by the voters.
It is now, ironically, left to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — who must take responsibility for some of the ills under BN’s rule — to fix and reset Malaysia so that we can become a truly inclusive nation with a government that is clean, efficient, fair and just.
However, reconciliation and recalibration can come only after the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is fully disclosed. Here is our short list of what Mahathir and his team must investigate thoroughly and quickly:
1. 1MDB and SRC International
2. FELDA, Felda Global Ventures and the purchase of Eagle High Plantations in Indonesia
3. The National Feedlot Corp
5. Tabung Haji
6. The East Coast Railway Link project
If we add them up, the amount of money involved runs into hundreds of billions of ringgit. Malaysians expect nothing less than full accountability of how our money was spent. We will hold the Pakatan Harapan government accountable if it fails us.
Ho Kay Tat is publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group