Notes on a New Nation, Day 7

Notes on a New Nation
Day 7 Post GE-14 (16 May 2018) and Concluding Thoughts (for now)

How apt it is to end the week with what most would consider to be sweet justice. Just seven short days following the 14th general election on 9 May, Malaysians witnessed history come full circle with the royal pardon of Anwar Ibrahim and immediate release from imprisonment today (16 May). He met with the Royal Pardons Board at 11am, was released at 11.30am, and made his way immediately to the Palace to meet with the Agong alongside Wan Azizah, Nurul Izzah, and Azmin Ali. The pardon was a complete one, meaning that all convictions have been reversed, and he can therefore immediately enter into politics again. In a video where Anwar was informed by the prison officers that he was exonerated of these, Wan Azizah can be seen to be emotional; and her joy at reuniting with her husband is visible. After a press conference, he went back to his home in Segambut, where he met with numerous local and international media for interviews. That evening, he met with an overflowing crowd of supporters celebrating his release at Padang Timur, in Petaling Jaya, at which other PH leaders spoke including Wan Azizah, Nurul Izzah, Saifuddin Nasution, Rafizi Ramli, Mat Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, and Muhyiddin Yasin.

At his press conference, Anwar said that he would take some time to rest and recuperate and spend time with the family. He would also be accepting speaking engagement invitations from renowned universities around the world, including Harvard, Georgetown and Stamford, as well as play a role in sharing about the voice of reason in Islam, ensuring there is freedom and justice for all citizens. It is expected that he will do what he did when he was released in 2004, travelling to shore up international support while speaking in various countries, and then return to Malaysia in active politics thereafter. It was a joy to see him reunited with his family, especially well-timed before the start of Ramadhan and the fasting month for Muslims. A specific timeline has not been set for his return into politics and government, but a one to two year period is what the leaders have repeated, which allows for stability and a smooth transition between the prime ministerships of Tun Dr. Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, it is hoped.

The night before (15 May), the Auditor General’s report on 1MDB was declassified under the OSA and released on its website. The page was accessed by so many people that the site crashed. Many have already summarised its contents elsewhere, also in the news, so it shall not be needed here. This is a good layperson summary of the report’s contents: http://says.com/…/the-1mdb-audit-report-was-declassified-ye…

The other big pieces of news today (16 May) were that first, the GST rate would be reduced from 6% to 0% on all items, beginning from 1 June 2018, as announced by a press statement by the Ministry of Finance. On the same day, the federal government also issued a gazette to amend the Goods and Services Tax (Rate of Tax) Order 2018. This was slightly surprising, since the day before, Zeti Akhtar Aziz had said that the PH government would probably need more than 100 days to remove GST. The removal of GST would mean that the government will revert to the original SST (sales and service tax) regime. Accounting consultants and companies will probably need to scramble to make these changes quickly. This move will probably boost confidence in business, and although prices may not necessarily fall, they will stabilise somewhat and inflation rates would be curtailed for a time period. The day after the PH win, the share prices of FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) rallied, likely for this reason.

On the same day, Tun Dr Mahathir also announced that the current fuel prices would not change. If required, the government would subsidise to maintain the fuel prices. The previous government had set the prices of petrol and diesel on a weekly basis since March last year. The combination of the GST and petrol announcements have come as welcome news for especially the working class. Of course this means the government will need to ensure that its fiscal balance will not be detrimentally affected.

In a press conference yesterday, Tun Dr Mahathir also made several other announcements, including that all official slogans of “1Malaysia” and “Negaraku” (the previous government had combined the two to be “1Malaysia Negaraku) would be removed from all government premises, and that the practice of welcome statements like “Salam 1Malaysia” and so on would stop. In the same PC, he also said that as many as 17,000 political appointees’ contracts would be terminated, but positions like lower-level drivers who are not political appointees would be maintained. My understanding is that these 17,000 people are those who were brought in to implement political projects under certain agencies set up by the political leaders, for instance projects like 1M4U. It would be excellent to have a full list of these 17,000 people and what agencies or projects they were actually assigned to, though. The termination of these staff would help reduce government expenditure on salaries, according to Tun.

The Registrar of Societies (ROS) yesterday announced that it now formally approves the formation of Pakatan Harapan. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin also said he was informed that PPBM’s status has been restored. So Pakatan Harapan is now an official political coalition, officially in government. Things are falling into place.

The final big news of the day (night actually, hence the reason this write-up comes the morning after instead of during the day when it is usually published) was the raid on former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s homes. At least five of his numerous homes in Kuala Lumpur were raided late last night, where updates started streaming in on the usual social media platforms that police cars and Black Marias were surrounding his home. It was later confirmed that the raids were conducted up to 4.20am, in the early morning of 17 May. His lawyer confirmed that the raids were done on the basis of anti-money laundering laws and that some personal possessions were taken, including handbags and clothes (source: http://www.scmp.com/…/malaysian-police-raid-ex-prime-minist…). The rumours on social media were that Najib would be arrested the same night, but these turned out to be false.

The one other state update is that in Sarawak, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) has expressed its support over the proposal for all Sarawak Barisan Nasional parties to leave the coalition and form a new locally-based political alliance. Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari had said that PBB would meet its three partners in Sarawak BN to decide whether to stay or leave the coalition and form a new united alliance among state-based political parties. (source: https://www.nst.com.my/…/prs-supports-move-pbb-leave-bn-for…)

The past one week has been a living dream for many of us who never thought we would be alive to witness the fall of the corrupt regime. This must be especially true for those who had worked to challenge the system for decades on end. Of course, we must remember those whose struggles contributed to the cause, but who have left us: people like Karpal Singh, Tok Guru Nik Aziz, and political victims like Teoh Beng Hock and others. Their families will always remember, and so must we.

That we had a smooth and peaceful democratic transition from one government to another is a miracle in itself. Many had predicted that were BN to fall, there would surely be unrest on the streets – but nothing happened. This is a testament to the people of Malaysia’s firm belief in peace, and of course credence must be given to the police and army for ensuring stability in a time of what most would consider to be an unsettling few days, just after the election results. The role played by Tun Dr Mahathir and his company of seniors cannot be underscored, since the civil servants and law enforcement officers would have given them the due respect owed as the new government of the day – other less senior leaders might not have commanded the same level of allegiance, of course this is merely hypothetical at this point.

In Anwar Ibrahim’s press conference yesterday, he said that the most significant value that he learnt while being in prison is the value of freedom, and that nobody should be allowed to undergo the same travesty. These are powerful words that must resound with all. In an interview I gave, I said that it was not just about Anwar Ibrahim, but about the rest of us common citizens. If the court of law was allowed to be interfered with politically for one man, what is the assurance that the same would not take place for any one of us? The independence of the courts, the legal system as a whole, is what we as citizens must depend on, to ensure we are treated fairly when the time comes. This is the real meaning of the ‘rule of law’, that phrase so often quoted these days ever since Tun Dr Mahathir began using it; that all citizens should be treated equally before the law, without any political intervention or otherwise.

Over the last week, I have attempted to document the events of each day, alongside some minimal commentary, mainly because things took place at such a rapid pace it was hard to keep up. This was done mainly for my own future reference (I would have done it anyway, perhaps in a separate Word document), but realised that many others were also struggling to keep up with the news, hence my decision to share them publicly on FB. I hope it has been helpful to wade through the almost hourly updates in the news. Seven days is not long enough to capture the tremendous change that is bound to take place after this. But I shall have to move on to other things. If there is interest in my continued updates, perhaps I should transform this into some paid subscription platform that will go into my child’s future education fund (not really kidding).

On that note, yes, my first child will be born into a new Malaysia, one that I can hopefully use to convince her that upholding the values of honesty and integrity do amount to something after all. That it is not always the thief and liar and cheat who get away with their wrongdoings. That sometimes, just sometimes, it is okay to dream of a better place. We will not always succeed, but for that one week, Malaysians experienced the sweetness of victory, and I will always relish that feeling even when, in the future, things go down the drain once again. This ends my notes on a new nation (for now). Thank you all for reading.

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