Our phones were right next to us the whole time. In between mouthfuls of rice, our fingers reached towards the screens, tapping a couple of times to refresh the outdated page (note: by 20 seconds). The numbers rose where we hoped it would, and our hearts made a little leap. 20 seconds more, and the other end was catching up. Our skepticism resurfaced, but we were hopeful all the same. Brushing aside conflicting emotions, we checked other sites, other sources – some tally, some, especially the mainstream, did not. Our focus was no longer on dinner or the people around us, and for once, no one seemed to mind. Eating became functional – there was something else far more important at hand – something way bigger than us and our dinner.
We would carry on this madness way into the night as our consciousness began to betray us by invoking tired yawns – even my three-year old nephew, who had no clue on what was going on, wanted to stay awake in solidarity with the rest of the family. He did not last though, poor thing was fast asleep come midnight.
Midnight. Tiredness was now accompanied by restlessness. When was this going to end? Why was it taking so long this time? Each televised press conference to announce the delay was met with even more frustration – even mainstream news caved. Newscasters and announcers started to incorporate jokes and sarcasm into their commentary. One of them even yawned on national television. This was getting ridiculous.
“No, I’m not going to sleep until they announce it officially,” my friend was drifting between consciousness and deliriousness over the phone. It was 3AM.
I must have been semi-awake too, for I don’t quite remember what happened in-between the wait and the dawn of a brand new day, a brand new country. The opposition had won, a new government was forming, and a new-old premier was sworn in by the King. We wished His Royal Highness would be a little bit more enthusiastic and did not keep a 93-year-old man waiting for hours – but what had to be done was done. Signed. Sealed.
And now, to deliver.
For once, we made international headlines that we could be proud of. We became the poster child for democracy. For weeks we would read articles gushing about the world’s oldest prime minister, the release of his ex-deputy who pioneered this change, how a small nation came together against all odds to deliver postal votes, the 100-day promise made by the new government, the new cabinet, and the transition of old enemies into new allies.
Malaysia was riding on a high. We wore our ink-stained fingers with pride.
Malaysia got really busy too. Ministers took a pay cut, the new Council of Elders comprising of an all-star cast was formed, GST was abolished, full-on investigations on the biggest scandal in the country was launched, the ex-PM became the most wanted man overnight, the country’s actual debts were exposed, and the revision and reconsideration of mega projects.
Heck, I caught myself reading local mainstream news again.
But it wasn’t just the government that has changed. In the age of big data transmitting in light-speed – forward-thinking citizens do not waste too much time celebrating short-lived victories. The general elections result was just the tip of the iceberg of a long list of change that the people have been waiting to see.
In short, this beacon of hope would be an extremely heavy torch to bear.
After all, is it possible for a government, headed by the oldest PM in the world, to evolve from the status quo established by the same man throughout his reign of over twenty years?
Some days, it seems like a double negative.
It would seem unfair, that the nation expects drastic changes of practices and norms established for decades in the span of a hundred days. But the benchmark has changed now. We are no longer looking inward and measuring against our own standards. The internet and more Malaysians exposed to life overseas (ie. studying, working, migration, etc.) has shed some serious light on the country that we aspire to – and can – become. For the older generation who has lived through the days since we attained independence, returning the country to its former glory days – those free from racist sentiments, rigid religious laws, oppression of freedom of speech – has been way overdue.
So do pardon us when we are not so keen on black school shoes, the renaming of SPAD, the “call me bro” sentiment, another national car project, or religious restrictions on how-to-dress-in-the-private-sector.
We are too busy being frustrated about child marriages, portraits of LGBTQ citizens being taken down, inequality of rights and the lack of female representation in the cabinet.
You made your promises, and we like them, which is why we voted for you. We want to be a part of the new Malaysia as equals. But does the new Malaysia, who promises to build an inclusive and moderate nation, want us all on equal terms? It may seem like just one issue in the 99 problems that we have, but it’s a big one.
Because how do we reform policies when they’re still not made the same for everyone?
Are we neglecting the ‘tough stuff’ because we are too busy nit-picking on things that do not really matter?
As a fellow citizen, I just want to feel like I belong. When we have all come down from the high of the general election, where do we land? Do we go back to our respective boundaries and labels?
Rome was not built in a day, many would argue, and I agree. Major changes within the country cannot be realized within three months either. I have never taken the 100-days benchmark seriously – I am just glad that the government has an aim to begin with.
And it hasn’t been all fluff. When a government achieves a 67% approval rate after 100 days, surely they must have done some things right. Credit must be given where it is due. Like the latest program to improve the English language standards of our civil servants. Or the setting up of the Election Reform Committee. The revision of contractors to ensure ‘open tender’ practices, ie. the “not who you know, but what you know” policy. More emphasis on climate change and new technology. A more solid representation in the Parliament based on facts and figures, and not pride and ego alone. The active efforts to recover the financial loss made by the previous government.
In all fairness, we are making more positive strides in these few months compared to the many years before. I have friends willingly leave their high-paying corporate jobs in order to serve the ministry, even if that means making long drives to Putrajaya, clocking in long hours and dealing with public expectations (and sometimes, flak) just to make a difference in the system. People like them inspire me to figure out how to do my part, too.
We have mixed feelings, fueled with praise, hope, and even frustration about the new administration – and coming from a generation full of opinions, I’m guilty as charged. However, it’s not a bad thing – it’s a sign of progress and empowerment because we are now allowed to care in the ways we know how. I remember vividly on day after the election results were announced that I felt a different kind of freedom. My shoulders felt light because I didn’t have to look over them anymore each time I spoke about my country. It wasn’t just because I was still in Penang then, it was because to a certain degree, freedom of speech has been retrieved.
Granted, there is a big gaping hole for improvement and it is impossible to please everyone – but we must give them the five years they’re due. We’re all a constant work-in-progress. If my parents perceived me based solely on the bad choices I’ve made in my life, they may constantly question the day they decided to bring me into existence (they probably do from time to time, but there are some things children do not need to know).
Change is tough, change is messy. There is no overnight, one-size-fit-all solution when it comes to governing 31 million people. But we know now that there’s a start – an ongoing action to an intent. Even if that means putting all the not-so-great stuff at the forefront so we can tackle them head-on. Maybe.
I carry the memory of post-election results day with me closely to remind me of the patience sowed, the courage reaped, and how lucky I am to be living in these times of change. 100 days down, about 1,700 more to go.
It isn’t really Malaysia baru. We’re not yet completely new or transformed. Old habits die hard just as new ones are harder to form. Much is still uncertain, and much is still to be done.
But one thing’s for sure – come August 31st, it will be Merdeka baru.
And I will be doing something I haven’t done since I was a child – to wake up early to watch the celebrations on national TV.