Great things happen to those who dare

March 9, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Great things happen to those who dare
Singapore Democrats

Many of us in the opposition rejoice vicariously in the electoral victory of our counterparts in Malaysia. As we bask in the reflected glory from up north, many of you hope aloud that a similar change will take place in Singapore.

Unfortunately, it will not.

For change does not come with timidity. It belongs to those who dare. And the opposition and people in Malaysia dared greatly.

The historic victories by Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) in the elections did not come about because they opted to work within the rules set by the Barisan Nasional (BN).

If they had done so, none of what happened yesterday would have taken place.

Instead, they told the ruling coalition what they wanted – a political system that is democratic and one that respects the rights of the Malaysian people. They called for Reformasi.
More importantly, they worked – and made huge sacrifices – for the change they wanted to see.

Starting with Mr Lim Kit Siang who was an ISA detainee himself for years. The leader of the DAP was also convicted and jailed under the Official Secret’s Act.

His son Mr Lim Guan Eng, now the Chief Minister-elect of Penang, spent 12 months in prison for criticising the government’s handling of a rape case involving a BN official.

Mr Anwar Ibrahim, the one who broke away from former prime minister Mahathir and led the reformasi movement in 1998, was himself jailed for six years.

One of those who rallied around Mr Anwar in his dark years was Mr Tian Chua, Chief Information officer of PKR. Mr Chua suffered ISA detention for two years. He regularly graces the pages of our newspapers with photographs of the police dragging him away during protests.

Mr M Manoharan, a brand new member of parliament, was elected from his prison cell in Kamunting camp, Malaysia’s version of the Whitley Road Detention Centre. The DAP man has been detained without trial after he led the Hindraf protests.

For every one of those who gained high profile in Malaysia’s democracy movement, hundreds more made sacrifices that didn’t make the headlines.

Folks like Dr Syed Hussein Ali, Ms Elizabeth Wong, Mr Rasiah Sivarasah, and so on, have been doggedly doing battle for democracy for years.

None of them advocated for reform by working “within the law”. Instead they pushed the limits, they challenged the rules, and they spoke up when told to shut up.

They did not seek just to survive in an autocratic system by trying to appease those that held the reins of power. They put the people first, themselves second.

Yes they were often bloodied in the process of fighting the BN and there were times when they seemed all but obliterated. But they were never cowed.

Even Mr Lim Kit Siang, official Leader of the Opposition, was often seen in the frontlines of protests calling for change in Malaysia and in his own words, the “voice inside and outside of Parliament.” (empahsis added)

Today, they reap the bountiful harvest that their years of collective sacrifice has produced.

Activism and electioneering

There is one more important lesson to draw from the earth-shaking political change in Malaysia: These newly elected MPs were once looked down upon by the BN as trouble-making, law-breaking, good-for-nothing human rights activists.

And yet, the Tian Chuas and Elizabeth Wongs didn’t ride the high horse of “respectability” by shunning human rights work. They knew that in an autocratic system, one needed to engage in activist work while running for elections at the same time.

This is why they got together in the hundreds of thousands during the Reformasi Movement ten years ago and why they continued to march for change in Bersih and Hindraf protests last year.

The real lesson to learn is that we need to dare and dare greatly. For freedom and justice do not belong to the timid.

Even the Malaysian lawyers Walk(ed) for Justice when a couple of thousand of them marched down the streets of Kuala Lumpur, demanding the rule of law for their country.

The one thing that all these MPs and lawyers had in common – they all broke the law. But they broke the law in order to uphold the rule of law.

Mr Edmund Bon, chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the Malaysian Bar Council, was one of those who took part in the lawyers’ protest and was arrested.

He was recently in Singapore to help conduct a workshop on Nonviolent Action. Asked why he broke the law when he himself was a lawyer, Mr Bon said that sometimes governments leave law-abiding citizens no choice when they abuse the laws to deny the people their rights.

“I came to the conclusion,” he said, “that I was willing to take the consequences for standing up for the rights of Malaysians.”

Our Malaysian friends have repeated the time-honoured practice and reminded us again that the dissidents of today become the leaders of tomorrow.

If there is anything that Singaporeans should learn from the watershed elections in Malaysia, it is not the if-it-can-happen-in-Malaysia-it-can-happen-in-Singapore-too thinking. This is daydreaming.

Without working for change, change will forever elude us.

The real lesson to learn is that we need to dare and dare greatly. For freedom and justice do not belong to the timid.

The Malaysians have had to work and pay the price for their achievement. They have shown us that it can be done.

Singaporeans now need to begin our own climb to the top where democracy and freedom awaits. Starting this Saturday, 15 March, at 2pm outside Parliament House. Join us, won’t you?