I will briefly touch on the main thesis of the book, especially those essays written collaboratively, and those that capture the book's general theme. The driving question is: as we approach the next general elections – a ritual in a hypermodern and flawed Asian-styled democracy – is there light at the end of the tunnel? Or, for Malaysians already is despair, is the nation's politics still a high-speed train nearing a head-on collision?
The central theme of the book is one of hope in the face of Malaysia's complexities as a multicultural polity. The last essay, a collaborative one, seems the best, offering hope grounded in realism, describing what is happening on the ground, and stating what voters need to know before they choose who to represent them – those who will be servants of the masses first and foremost.
These essays clearly laid out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for Malaysian politics.
On the Deep State, Covid-19, and hope
In the first section of the collection, the authors assessed the overall state of Malaysian politics. The common theme in this section is the workings of Malaysian democracy. We must first understand how the "deep state" operates. The neo-feudalist ideology dominates Malaysian politics, with the "Ketuanan Melayu" ("Malay dominance") framed and deployed as superstructure, using a Marxist term that signifies foundational ideas governing a modern state.
Murray Hunter's expose' of issues in Malaysian politics is enlightening. He scrutinizes the deep Malay-Islamic state, laments the fate of Sabah and Sarawak, questions the "bodek" (political buttering and greasing in return for favors) culture of, essentially, Malay politicians, questions who Anwar Ibrahim really is, and asks us to imagine a "third force" in Malaysian politics.
Lim Teck Ghee's essays, also in the first section, are a tribute to the Democratic Action Party (DAP)'s "political stalwart", as many would call Lim Kit Siang. Teck Ghee writes about Kit Siang's selfless contributions and why the DAP is still in business. Another four essays are devoted to the work of this seasoned politician and his strong-willed party. Both authors reward close reading: Murray Hunter's essays not only for the theme of deconstructionism and the Malay-Muslim deep state but also the constellation of issues surrounding Malaysia as a failing polity; while Lim Teck Ghee's firsthand tribute essays help us to understand what "democratic action" entails and why most of the analyses put forward by the enemies of DAP can be considered faulty.
The second section is an exciting read, addressing how Malaysians confronted the global pandemic of Covid-19. The essays were written during the pandemic, and the authors provide an ethnographic perspective on how the country has dealt with it.
From Teck Ghee's caution that we must not criminalize China for the alleged Wuhan origin of the global pandemic in the same way the issue of the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang is misrepresented, to Murray Hunter's excellent thoughts on how lockdowns are politicized and used by the government to police and put the citizens under unnecessary surveillance, this section gives readers a contemporary socio-political and problem-managing take on a nation dealing with a "black swan event", exposing the level of preparedness for managing a crisis of such proportions.
Each essay is in this section is a gem.
But what will hope look like?
Two essays conclude this volume, both using the word we love most when describing political change: hope.
In the Introduction, we read:
" ... Ours is the hope or aspiration of what is needed to take on the dark forces and to spark Malaysians towards real change. We hope that the afterword offers some optimism to Malaysia's politics in the spirit that some of the new political groupings are trying to put across today. A new vision, a new mission based upon equality, secularism, and consensus, where people are not divided or manipulated by race or religion or other concocted cleavages can unshackle the nation's youth for the long journey to the Malaysia that they deserve. ... "
These are fine words of encouragement to readers, in tune with what the essays have proposed throughout. Hope for a new coalition, for cleaner blood in the old parties, for a "third force", hope that the buying-off of politicians ends, hope for new beginning bringing something better -- the authors had these in mind.
Hope is an elusive sentiment, but in this section the authors made hope seem readily achievable.
The Finest Passage
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