October 16, 2009

For ordinary Men and Women

Posted in Malaysia, Tricia's Writings at 2:23 pm by egalitaria

I wrote a review recently in the Sun on Liew Chin Tong’s book…  Here it is!

For ordinary men and women
Tricia Yeoh


SPEAKING for the Reformasi Generation by Liew Chin Tong (Bukit Bendera MP) compiles the author’s writings between 2003 and 2009. It traces the thoughts and struggles of a Malaysian’s political awakening birthed out of the Reformasi movement of 1998. His views, sometimes frustrated but mostly rational, epitomise those of his comrades, making this book an important read since many who were bitten by the “reformasi” bug in their youth are today significant public figures.

This sentiment is captured perfectly by Liew in his personal recount of his participation in the protest against Anwar’s arrest. He states that the “cramped pilgrimage for justice” is “the deepest common bond among the leaders of Pakatan Rakyat”.

However, far from romanticising a singular event, Liew demonstrates incredible grasp of political realities. His passion for political governance is shown through prolific writings from party politics to administrative reform. In my conversations with Liew I have found a rare combination of idealism and pragmatism.

With pride, he says that “Malaysia has been in search of an alternative to Barisan Nasional, and Pakatan Rakyat is an idea whose time has come”… and is “likely to survive for a long time”.

This prediction is an optimistic one – rightly so, written by a Pakatan member – but nevertheless warrants attention. It is a stark reminder amid arising doubts that Pakatan needs to prove itself as a “viable alternative” by succeeding in its state governments.

According to Liew, though, co-operation among the three parties has improved tremendously. The “day-to-day working relationship” forces each member party to think along national lines instead. “The cultural breakthrough that sees PAS accepted by non-Malays and DAP by the Malays is gaining momentum,” recently culminating in the first Malay DAP (Democratic Action Party, of which the author is a member) branch formed.

One respects Liew’s boldness in being one of the few Chinese to study PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) with great interest. An entire section is dedicated to PAS – not only in a rigorously analytical manner, but in a genuine attempt at understanding their religious philosophies. His inclinations towards the Erdogan faction are clear, while his respect for PAS is evident in a column dedicated to the late president of PAS, “In Memory of Fadzil Noor”, whom he attributes as providing the reformasi movement “one of its most important organisational supports in the early days”.

The relationship among the three Pakatan parties is key, and this book underscores the importance of forming common objectives subsequently informed to the public. The Pakatan convention in December may be an appropriate avenue for this.

Lest he is accused of mere “politicking”, Liew presents clear government reform measures. He repeats the mantra of “a better Parliament”, through increased budgetary Parliament allocation to improve its facilities, and live telecast of its debates. The reader finds it shocking that these fundamental needs are not provided for.

Liew also raises important reforms on public transport and for Kuala Lumpur to have an elected government.

Liew succeeds in planting a question in the reader’s mind: “How much longer can we be complacent about Malaysia’s dire situation?” And indeed, he has taken up the responsibility of being an elected representative, the less-trodden path of his peers. Through his writings, a strong sense of idealism seeps through, although he admits that “politics is about perception”.

And perception seems to be the name of the game these days. Most prominent, however, is Liew’s opinion of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. His Achilles heel lies in his very heritage, which is “(his) political blue blood and … inability to comprehend the common man’s life and needs”. This observation is visibly contrasted against his own raison d’etre where “reformasi was not just about Anwar; it was very much about us.”

Perhaps then, this is what the reformasi generation has sought to represent. The needs and dreams of the everyday Malaysian. It is my hope that Pakatan Rakyat can encapsulate exactly this: the lives of “ordinary men and women”, as Liew so accurately writes.

Tricia Yeoh serves as research officer in the Selangor State Government. The views expressed here are her own.