Has the country changed?

FOR many, going through the past two weeks post GE14 is like passing through a period of time that spanned a whole generation.

Several much-anticipated changes have already been made and these included the release of de-facto PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim via a Royal Pardon, the formation of a new PH cabinet under former Prime Minister-turned opposition leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, the full investigation of IMDB amidst calls to re-open other cases of corruption and malfeasance, the cancellation of mega projects and the zero-rating of GST (for the moment).

The return to the Rule of Law and the separation of powers for the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judiciary), as promised by the PH government, will go a long way to restoring public confidence in good governance, especially for the judiciary.

The foreign media have commented positively on the courage of Malaysians to bring about a change of government after more than six decades under Barisan Nasional (BN) rule.

There are also academics who believe Malaysians have stepped out of parochial politics and are marching towards national politics, based on rule of law, free and fair elections, human rights, freedom of speech and other tenets of a democratic society.

Of course, such statements are encouraging but whether they reflect the actual situation in the country is another matter.

Renowned artist and social activist Fehmi Reza did an online poll on his Facebook page and twitter recently on the topic “PH government – should Bumiputra and Non-Bumiputra status be abolished.”

The results are thought-provoking.

Among 3,202 respondents to Fahmi’s twitter account, 63 per cent believed the Bumiputra status should be maintained while 37 per cent believed it should be abolished.

Under his Facebook account, of the 3,500 people who voted, 54 per cent supported the Bumiputra and Non-bumiputra status while the rest believed it should abolished.

To a large extent, the poll reflects the actual situation in Malaysia. Even with the change of government, many still favour the status quo on preferential treatment.

This can also explain why Dr Mahathir used the word Pribumi (of indigenous descent) when he formed his new party two years ago – Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) or Malaysian United Indigenous Party.

Racial politics has been around in the country for the past 60 years. While helming the government for 22 years, Dr Mahathir had, from time to time, ridden on the wave of race-based politics to stay in power. As such, he has to take certain responsibility for the polarisation of race relations in the country, and introduce reforms to address the issue as promised by the PH government.

This is no easy task and will take time as the newly-minted prime minister himself had said in an interview with the Financial Times “splits between the main ethnic groups – Malays, Chinese and Indians – still run deep. At the top level, there’s less racism in this government. But at the ground level, the racial feeling is still very strong.”

Many are still cautiously optimistic about another term under the Mahathir administration. People could not help but feel slightly worried as it’s still too soon to know if all the promised reforms will be implemented. Moreover, reforms should not only be said to be implemented but also seen to be implemented.

However, from his efforts in forming the new cabinet, facing the scrutiny of the people and honouring the PH manifesto (thus far) to abandoning the education portfolio and expressing disapproval over police reports lodged to charge his critics, he has demonstrated a leadership style that signals a departure from the past.

To many, Dr Mahathir who has been in office for 22 years, is the only person capable of solving the problems faced by the country. At least, the actions he has taken during the transition of power have a stabilising effect.

For the new government, there are huge tasks ahead. Time is needed to uproot deeply entrenched racial politics. Admittedly, after May 9, there have been some visible changes to the body politic of the country. However, to shape a new generation with a truly Malaysian identity, the PH government has a long road to travel.

As ordinary citizens, we can start working intrinsically within ourselves towards achieving a national identity. And in this connection, we should not continue to identify ourselves by race but as Malaysians in the new dawn promised by the PH government. Hopefully.

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