The day ‘reformasi’ lost its meaning

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

The meaning of the ‘reformasi’ movement Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim started in the 1990s is dwindling, especially after Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was granted a DNAA on September 4. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 10, 2023.

SEPTEMBER 4 was politically serene when Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was declared a free man.

Strangely enough, there was no ruckus or elation celebrating the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman’s freedom, which normally typifies an environment where a high-profile politician has won a court case.

Nor was the expression of Zahid that of a man now revitalised, merely relieved the criminal charges were finally behind him.

However, the day’s tranquillity was mostly contributed by Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders’ deafening silence as they were unable to explain how the Attorney-General’s Chambers could grant Zahid a discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) after a prima facie case was established by the court.

No one from PH, except for maverick Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Karim, cared to comment on Zahid’s DNAA.

For most PH backbenchers, September 4 was just another slow news day.

It was precisely this silence from PH that sent chills through my spine and left me thinking perhaps PH, by striking a faustian bargain with BN and Zahid, had truly lost the will and capacity to pursue reforms it had once promised.

And to be brutally honest, we all knew why there was an unsettling silence from PH while virtually everybody was expressing an opinion about Zahid’s DNAA.

Deep down, PH knew this was a manoeuvre that ran against what it had campaigned for and had very little to hide behind.

PH may “blame” then AG Idrus Harun who insisted Zahid should be free for now, but equally, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim could not entirely absolve himself of responsibility when he still has the power to appoint and dismiss the AG.

A free Zahid equals an acquiescent Umno that is more than willing to give Anwar its unflinching support, at least for the rest of the parliamentary term.

That is why Anwar may play innocent about the decision made by AG, but his position is now more secure because of the court decision and he has benefited from the deputy prime minister’s newfound freedom.

The excuse also epitomises how PH has always resorted to passing the buck whenever the government faces difficulty.

However, it is not just the prime minister’s credibility being dragged through the mud here; the decision has also irreversibly damaged the “reformasi” movement he started.

Initially, the spirit of “reformasi” might well be no more than demanding the end of BN’s one-party rule in 1998, but because of the tireless and thankless campaign led by ordinary but hopeful Malaysians, it morphed into something beyond demanding the resignation of Dr Mahathir Mohamad or defending Anwar.

Throughout the struggle, many aspiring Malaysians – including myself – began projecting their vision of a better Malaysia into “reformasi”, and it has continued to grow as a social movement to accommodate myriad reforms ranging from economic justice to good governance.

Nobody could properly define what “reformasi” was and yet most of us knew what it mostly entailed.

This is why, unlike most parties, PKR or “reformasi” activists had the ethical commitment and crusading zeal to sustain them during difficult times when BN’s rule seemed indomitable.

To its credit, PKR never stopped believing when the party was left with only one parliamentary seat nor when the split of Pakatan Rakyat looked set to hand Najib Razak another term in office in 2015.

It was also this quasi-ethical belief and reform appeal that led me to identify as a PKR supporter.

However, what transpired on September 4, coupled with the total silence from PH, had most certainly shattered that belief. Good governance was sacrificed on the altar of compromises.

Worse, this did not happen under the rule of Najib nor Muhyiddin Yassin, but under the current prime minister who remains the symbol for “reformasi”, along with his enablers in government and parliament who know better but are mute out of self-preservation.

September 4 was the day those who once started “reformasi” saw fit to discard the movement.

With this, it brings me great sadness to conclude that the term – which has sustained a generation of activists and campaigners to never stop believing – may have lost its meaning forever. – September 10, 2023.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

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