Last edited: September 06, 2004

Moving Towards National Reconciliation

The 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 community.

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 nation.

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