Wednesday, May 15, 2013

National Reconciliation: A New Malaysian Reality

Some have referred to the outcomes of the GE13 as a Chinese-Tsunami, whereas others prefer to call it a Malaysian-Tsunami. It is a tsunami nonetheless, but not a completely unexpected one. The tsunami warning bells have long sounded, but some parties have chosen to be oblivious and ignorant about these warning signs presumably out of sheer arrogance. At the wake of this, the Prime Minister called for a national reconciliation as part of a process to heal the racial and divisive politics that have taken place in the recent past especially building up to the recent 13th General Election.

Throughout history we have seen several national reconciliation initiatives in other countries. The parliament of Ghana for example, in the year 2001 passed an Act to establish a National Reconciliation Commission. The Act, which came into force in 2002, had highlighted that the objective of the commission is “to seek and promote national reconciliation among the people of this country by recommending appropriate redress for persons who have suffered any injury, hurt, damage, grievance or who have in any other manner been adversely affected by violations and abuses of their human rights arising from activities or inactivities of public institutions and persons holding public office. The need for a National Reconciliation Commission for Ghana arose in the wake of its historical election in December 2000, which witnessed, for the very first time post independence, the change of constitutionally-elected government via popular votes and not through violence. Ghana has had four military coups and several attempted coups. The unconstitutional governments resulting from these coups had resulted in massive abuses and violations of human rights. Therefore the call for National Reconciliation is perfectly justified given the anguish the Ghanians have gone through for decades and the concerted effort required for healing and mending the broken nation. Ghana achieved independence in 1957, and considering that we too got our independence in the same year, Malaysians can look back with pride knowing that what we went through may not be ideal, but it is still an enormous feat.

Another country that has had a formal National Reconciliation agenda is Liberia. In 2010, the government of Liberia made a request to the United Nations to place Liberia on the agenda of the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) in order to help Liberia consolidate its peace. The outcome of this is the development of a Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation. Accordingly the roadmap defines reconciliation in Liberia as “a multidimensional process of overcoming social, political, and religious cleavages; mending and transforming relationships; healing the physical and psychological wounds from the civil war, as well as confronting and addressing historical wrongs including the structural root causes of conflicts in Liberia”. The need for reconciliation on a national scale in Liberia is a step in the right direction to foster sustainable peace in the country that has been marred by civil wars and unrest throughout its history.

Many other countries have had some sort of National Reconciliation agenda, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, but like Liberia and Ghana, these countries are severely divided and are continuously in a flux of political instability that have, in the past, had civil unrest on a massive scale. However, the only other country, as far as I am aware, that has a National Reconciliation agenda but without the bleak political and civil state, is Australia. Australia has introduced a National Reconciliation week that is celebrated between 27 of May and 3rd of June every year. However, the purpose of the National Reconciliation week in Australia is very different from the ones we have seen in other countries. Australians have chosen to celebrate the National Reconciliation week to commemorate two very important events in the country, both of which relate to the aborigines. The reconciliation effort in Australia is very focused on creating the awareness and upholding the rights of the aborigines and necessarily to reconcile between the aborigines and the non-aborigines.

So what does national reconciliation mean for Malaysia ? What are we trying to reconcile ? Whom are we trying to reconcile with ? Shouldn't we be trying to reconcile with a new reality of Malaysia.

It seems to me that we need to reconcile with the fact that Malaysia is no longer the Malaysia we know of 10 years ago. We need to reconcile with the new political reality that democracy is alive and kicking in Malaysia. We need to reconcile with the new understanding that traditional media are no longer in control. We need to bring ourselves to reconcile with the power of the internet and the democratization of information. We need to bring ourselves to reconcile with the fact that Malaysians want more and deserve more. We have to reconcile with the reality of today that Malaysians no longer accept at face value what they are being told. We must learn to reconcile with the notion that a 2/3 parliamentary majority is a thing of the past. National reconciliation therefore has to begin from the top, by bringing themselves down to the masses. It is time that politicians reconcile themselves with the public. The reality on the ground is that, the more the politicians see themselves as masters, the more the public will be resentful of them. The more control and abuse the government of the day places on the media, the more skeptical the public will be of any information that comes from the government.

These are what we need to reconcile with. It is mainly a reconciliation agenda for the politicians and those in power, aspiring or existing. That's how I would define our National Reconciliation roadmap. And that's what I would like to see happen between now and GE14. I have been and will always be in the middle ground in an extremely partisan Malaysian landscape. Whatever happens between now and GE14 will dictate who gets my vote. So let the seduction game begin.

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