What Malaysia Means

I woke up on Tuesday morning in London on edge, thinking about Malaysia. A general election was due to be held the next day, Wednesday May 9, and I had not slept well. The campaigning had been outright dirty, even by Malaysia’s already chequered standards. We all knew this would be a crucial election – our country could not go on as it had. With Malaysia’s soul being fought for, it felt wrong to be so far away.

The crazy idea entered my head that I ought to go back. I began searching the Internet for flights and tickets and found that if I took a flight on Tuesday evening, I would arrive in time for the election results. It would be a thirteen-hour flight on a trip I had not even planned, but so what? I had done mad things before.

At the last general election five years prior, I had sat glued to screens in London, flipping between sites on the blogosphere. I was cautiously optimistic at the outset (see blog-post Malaysia’s Election Eve) and bitter by the end. I felt profound disappointment, not because what I had hoped for did not materialise, but because I believed that a small win had been stolen from the opposition.

There were reports of a dodgy electoral roll, washable indelible ink, mysterious ballot boxes and non-Malaysian voters. As I sat and watched the numbers trickling in it was clear, even from London, that the results were being massaged. Incumbent wins were reported quickly while opposition wins were delayed. At some point I remember a convenient power breakdown at Radio Television Malaysia. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks, but that is what I recall. Would it be different this time?

I did not know; I knew only what I felt – that I could not stay away. No matter what the outcome, I had to be there for these critical hours.

I packed hurriedly. I was surprised by how full the flight was, crowded with returning Malaysians like me. We landed just after polls closed. Kuala Lumpur, though calm, had an element of tense excitement.

It felt right to be back. Up in the air at thirty seven thousand feet, I finally understood how much Malaysia means to me. The bond I have with this land is unbreakeable. I carry Malaysia inside – it doesn’t matter that I’ve lived longer elsewhere.

If I had stayed away at this seminal moment in Malaysia’s history, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.

The past forty eight hours have been exhilarating and sleepless, if a little worrying, but I would not have exchanged them for anything else. Yet, when I made the decision to come, we did not know how things would turn out. Some friends thought I was flying into trouble.

We know now that the opposition coalition of hope, Pakatan Harapan, led by Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad, secured an unequivocal win . The transition to a new government is not over and there is plenty of speculation about attempted chicanery by members of the previous government. But they are now dust; I don’t want to talk about them. What I’d rather focus on is that even if you aren’t Malaysian and haven’t visited Malaysia, my country can still be a beacon for you.

Because we Malaysians have achieved what once seemed utterly impossible.

We have managed to vote out a government that was tyrannical, rotten and so corrupt by the end that I’m told its cronies were seen openly bribing voters on the streets. Despite this and despite using every trick in the book – the gerrymandering of boundaries, an Election Commission unfit for office, an electoral roll on which as many as 15% of voters did not have addresses – they lost. Malaysians voted them out. The odds were stacked against us, but we did it.

We did this together, we Malaysians of all races and faiths. We came together as Malay, Chinese, Indian and everything in between; we came together as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, atheist and whatever else; we came together for the common cause of saving our beloved country. We did this without bloodshed, riots or unrest.

This is something we can truly be proud of.

As I write this, the euphoria has not settled. We are still celebrating. The road forward will be hard – we know that. But it does not detract from what a great thing we Malaysians have done. And if we can do it, others can too. God bless Malaysia.


Filed under Identity, Malaysia

10 responses to “What Malaysia Means

  1. Siu Fun Hui

    Hi Selina, your words captured my feelings very well. The day after the elections, a friend sent me Negara-ku on WhatsApp and I felt really emotional when I heard it. I have not heard our national anthem for many, many years.

  2. Jit

    You have expressed adequately the angst many overseas Malaysians feel about the impending failed state Malaysia was becoming But now there is hope now

  3. kuoklisa

    It looks like our new govt has been caught sleeping. Najib and Rosmah are taking a private jet out of Malaysia for a “holiday”.
    Their passports haven’t been impounded, they’ve not been the subject of any “no fly” order. Once he’s out of the country, he’s not coming back. And that the end of the credibility of the new govt because they claimed to have so much evidence against Najib but they still let him leave? Malaysians want to see Najib and Rosmah investigated for 1MDB, two murders, corruption, bribery, abuse of power, misuse of public funds… (long list) then jailed, especially for 1MDB.
    https://www.malaymail.com/s/1629904/former-malaysian-leader-wife-leaving-country-for-indonesia-astro-awani-repo?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook (the “tomorrow” being today)

    • Fortunately, the above reports turned out to be inaccurate. Najib is more or less under home arrest, with Rosmah; he subsequently resigned as UMNO chair and President. And Tun Mahathir confirmed at a press conference that Malaysia’s favourite duo are forbidden from leaving the country. https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/424475

      • kuoklisa

        He’s not under any sort of house arrest and never has been. He was leaving on that plane as reported, no inaccuracy in any of those reports. Najib made social media posts himself about going on holiday to spend time with his family.
        There was a travel ban which was mysteriously lifted before it was reinstated.

  4. I am so happy for Malaysia – voting out a party after 60 years of uncontested rule, this is something to be proud of! Congratularions!!!!

  5. merly miner

    Thank you for updating me on Malaysian current events. Hearing from a Malaysian and your opinion and keen insight was very interesting! In fact, I forwarded this to my family! A congrats to the people of Malaysia for taking things into their own hands and changing their future! Now if only the American people can follow suit…!

    • Thank you! You have several advantages: a longer history as a mature democracy, a culture of debate and self-expression and the checks and balances already in place institutionally. I have every confidence in America’s ability to overcome attacks on the values that remain cherished by a majority.

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