Moving Towards National Reconciliation
Star, September 4, 2004
OVERNIGHT, it seems, there is a
sense of both relief and new confidence in the air.
Suddenly, the torn fabric of national togetherness seems
to have been repaired; national reconciliation finally looks inevitable.
The freeing of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim came as a shock
to many, for various reasons. And when the emotions had settled, the general
consensus was that it was the right move and gave the right tone to the
national agenda: getting on with building this nation to all that it is
capable of achieving.
For the last six years, from the day Anwar was arrested,
Malaysia has been doing a balancing act.
Certainly, it was not solely the so-called Anwar factor
that was the reason for the split in society, especially the Malay-Muslim
Yet, 1998 was a watershed year for the country.
A fair number of Malaysians found themselves on opposite
sides on a wide range of serious issues. When the 1999 general election came,
that chasm seemed to widen. National politics was going to go the way of
isolationist communalism, or so it seemed. The Malays were divided between
Umno and PAS; the non-Malays had no choice but to choose the Barisan Nasional.
An expectant need for change was in the air.
When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced his intention to
step down as prime minister after 22 years, many knew this was the change
needed; yet many were afraid to let go of what could be described as
Malaysia’s “golden age”—the country at its most prosperous and utterly
conscious of its international status and capabilities in the wake of the
financial crisis and Islamic terrorism.
Nevertheless, the changeover of the leadership took
place, and very smoothly. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Malaysia’s
fifth premier, and he immediately launched a series of programmes aimed at
restoring the people’s faith in their own country’s institutions.
However, there was still somehow a shadow over all the
good that has been done in the last 10 months of his premiership.
On Thursday, that shadow was cast away.
Some say that the integrity and independence of the
judiciary have been restored. That may be the case, but beyond the hard facts
of how that judgment of the highest court of the land was arrived at, Malaysia
now stands vindicated in the eyes of not only Malaysians but also among the
community of nations.
Malaysia no longer needs to be defensive, again not
because of that one man but because this nation has always risen above the
pressure of other people’s expectations—whether it was how to resolve a
currency or financial crisis or how to tackle a new kind of terrorism.
Malaysia has always had its own mind and acted in what
its leaders have thought to be in the best interest of all concerned—its own
people made up of all ethnic, cultural and faith groups.
Some problems may take some time to deal with, but
eventually they get resolved. That is how Malaysians have always handled
challenges—through consultation and making compromises. May 13, 1969 created
repercussions still felt today, but it taught us a lesson, one that we have
been using as some sort of benchmark in our national consultative processes in
all aspects of national life.
So, on Thursday, when the learned judges delivered their
judgments, they acted out of a long legacy of wisdom that this nation has
inherited to reinforce the values and ideals we have held on to so dearly.
This new sense of confidence that Malaysians feel and
which outsiders now regard us with is not about one man. It is about one
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