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Don’t let darkness prevail

Updated on 9 Oct 2008 at 6.40pm

IN September, I attended the launch of Kee Thuan Chye’s book March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up at Times bookstore in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur.

This engaging slice of Malaysian history chronicles a momentous general election that, some think, heralds the emergence of a two-party system in a political arena long dominated by the Barisan Nasional.

In the book, Kee attempts to distil the impact and possible ramifications of the March 2008 general election. The seasoned journalist interviews prominent personalities — including the irrepressible blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, who is now under Internal Security Act (ISA) detention — towards achieving this end.

He also relies on essay contributions from a cross-section of Malaysians, including political analysts, bloggers, writers and academicians.

Kee’s new book tries to capture the voices and
thoughts of Malaysians after the 8 March
elections results
Kee wanted to capture the voices and thoughts of Malaysians who, after 8 March, woke up to a new political dawn, one where there was renewed hope for democracy. To a large extent, March 8 succeeds in doing just that.

Hope flowers

What really struck me about the book was its hopeful tone. Within the book’s chapters was a Malaysia free from the memory of 13 May that has weighed heavy on our collective consciousness like the smell of belacan that won’t go away. It seemed that 8 March banished this terrifying spectre — hopefully (there’s that word again) for good. 

Some of the more interesting articles include A Tale of Two Malaysias by Wong Chin Huat and Oon Yeoh; Malay Identity? Yeah, Right by Anwardi Jamil; The Mother of All Ceramahs by Lucia Lai on the DAP ceramah on 6 March 2008 at Han Chiang High School in Penang; and We Walked United in Hope by Mohammad Khairie about the 10 Nov 2007 Bersih rally.

I found the interviews especially enlightening. The encounter between Kee and Minister for Human Resources Datuk Dr S Subramaniam, apparently an old friend, had me grinning from ear to ear. I could almost see the minister squirming as he tried to sidestep issues related to the MIC’s poor electoral showing.

The other interviewees included Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng; PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa; former Tenaga Nasional Bhd executive chairperson Tan Sri Ani Arope; former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim; academic Dr Lim Teck Ghee; Malaysiakini founder Steven Gan; and theSun acting editor-in-chief Chong Cheng Hai.

Lost in transition

March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up, published by Marshall Cavendish and retailing for RM39.90, belongs to a genre of Malaysian political publications that looks positively to the future. Compared with political books released in 2007 and even in early 2008, it is apparent the mood and tone are worlds apart.

Take for instance, Ooi Kee Beng’s Lost in Transition: Malaysia under Abdullah, about Malaysian politics and regional trends. Published by the Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD) and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the RM30 book is a collection of commentaries by the political analyst and academician that appeared in various publications from early 2006 to late 2007.

It’s a damning critique of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s leadership — or, as the book posits, lack thereof — and fleshes out the writer’s concerns and outlook for the future in the run-up to the 12th general election. 

Ooi looks at the hope Abdullah’s administration first sparked when he took office, and the gradual realisation that the iron will needed to make real the pledges of reform was sadly missing.

The book also looks at Malaysia’s tearing social fabric and deteriorating race relations just as the country was celebrating its 50th Merdeka in 2007. All in all, a bleak picture.

(© Siew Lian /

A failed nation?

Equally distressing is Failed Nation? Concerns of a Malaysian Nationalist, also published by SIRD. The book, retailing at RM25, is by the late academician, newspaper columnist and poet Rustam A Sani.

Rustam’s English op-ed pieces, published in various newspapers and his blog Vox Populi from 1986 to 2006, offer penetrating insight into the arenas of local (specifically Umno) politics, education, and culture, especially in relation to the media.

Compiled in this manner, the apparent missteps taken along the road to “nation creation” in Malaysia seem well signposted. Among some of the more jolting examples of our failure in nation building, according to Rustam, are the rise in money politics within Umno, and the dying perception of political leadership and activities as a form of self-sacrifice.

The rise of money politics within Umno: politics is no longer a form
of self-sacrifice (© gimbok /
He also ticks off the increasing use of the race card by politicians; the headlong quest for economic growth without taking into consideration its impact; and the contrasting/conflicting styles of leadership between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah.

Rustam’s commentaries paint an increasingly gloomy picture of a nation at odds with itself. They also tell the story of politicians who will not acknowledge their flaws in the interest of a united and progressive nation that embraces citizens’ hopes and aspirations.

Rustam’s Malaysia is one that is in danger of being overwhelmed by the weight of its burdens — many of which remain unnamed. 

Rustam, who passed away on 23 April 2008, at least lived to see the sweeping changes caused by the 8 March elections. With Abdullah now fighting for his political survival, and the faint possibility of a change in government, Malaysians are finally learning that they are the country’s real stakeholders. And that is, perhaps, the most important thing of all.

N Shashi Kala believes that we desperately need a positive vision of the future — not only to look forward to, but to work towards. To quote a line from Hellboy: “In the absence of light, darkness prevails.”

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3 Responses to “Don’t let darkness prevail”

  1. Christine chong says:

    HI Shashi, the price of March 8 is RM39.90 and not RM39.

    Just to let you know. Website looks interesting enough. Looks like I’ll be reading more of your comments and reviews!


  2. Aneesa Rahman says:

    I think the optimism of 8 March has been dampened by the political instability that has gripped the country since then. The mood is slowly reverting to gloomy. Still, it was nice to believe we could all be agents of change, even if it was for a little while.

  3. John Oh says:

    I find your review of Thuan Chye’s book is full of hope for Malaysia in its quest for national pride and identity. As a lifelong friend and childhood buddy of Thuan Chye, I will certainly be looking out for his book in bookstores in Melbourne where I now live. I congratulate all Malaysians who had the courage and good sense to vote for change on March 8.

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