Changing mindsets

"SHOCK win" was spread all over most news headlines after GE14, but it wasn't a shock for many Malaysians. Instead, it was a long journey that was led by a coalition of people who educated the nation in different ways throughout the years. Credit has to go to the full-time activists who bravely created awareness and the quiet activists who supported their work. I admit I was sceptical of a Pakatan Harapan win.

In my line of work studying policies and politics, we try to look at situations in a pragmatic manner leaving emotion aside. I was confident of a stronger popular vote. Putrajaya, however, felt out of reach only because of all the obstacles and tricks.

Between the redelineation exercise, silencing of critics, gerrymandering, censorship of serious administration problems, voting obstacles, gift giving, blocked websites, biased campaigning rules, weakening of institutions, racial speeches, confusion of party logos, a weekday polling day, the long queues to cast votes, overseas voter hardship and the lopsided reporting, a win just looked and felt impossible. But just like that, Malaysia's narrative changed and our lives with it.

A friend in her 70s lamented that a huge burden had been lifted. My cousins who are much younger than her feel that Malaysians are now nicer to each other and are a bit more civic-minded.

There is a sense of hope in the air which transcends age, ethnicity, cultural, religious and economic lines. Something we seemed to have lost along the way but have maybe gotten back now.

I, too, feel this hope strongly but am conscious to not be unrealistic and to remember that this is a new government not a band of magicians. It will take time for promises to be fulfilled and one term, however, is not enough time to clean up the mess.

But this election has also increased our consumption for local news. Who would have imagined that so many would be listening to the local news on the radio or watch national TV shows for the latest updates and tune in to the interviews of political personalities and analysts?

In a turn of events, the very people who were not allowed to enter Malaysia or be interviewed are now the stars that bring in the ratings. It is good that we are experiencing a change in the reporting culture and I hope it only gets better.

But it is highly disappointing the number of U-turns these institutions, mainstream media outlets and different high-level personalities are making. I say this because in limiting the press and staying silent you abetted in the corruption and thievery that has robbed this nation of so much more than money.

If anything, this should tell us how important it is for the country's institutions to remain independent and for the media to provide objective nonpartisan reporting.

What is evident, however, with the sudden openness Malaysia is experiencing is the absence of critical thinking, investigative journalism and questioning skills. In the past, most reporting was curated and people were cautious not to antagonise the government. If there was space given for questions to be asked, they would be token questions that accelerated the dumbing down of society.

There was a systematic curtailing of thoughts, speech, cartoonists, academics, even yellow balloons were not spared. At times, even my articles were held back or sentences and words like submarine or Mongolia could not be published. But not too long ago, that was the Malaysia we lived in.

Until May 10, press conferences did not include a Q&A session making it difficult to hone a skill that was never going to be used. So when this new government is inviting questions and engaging people, there is a clear need for better, more broadminded questions and ideas to be put forward.

Because limitations were placed on such institutions that should have been independent, we now see a gap that needs to be addressed. Not only have they lost credibility, but Malaysia has lost many academics because their research interests and analysis have not toed the line of the previous regime. So many of our think tanks and institutes have been relegated to mortgaging their name because the in-house hires are not empowered to produce the studies needed.

All this has robbed us as a nation of thinkers, innovators and people of principle in every single field. We have lost talent because of the erosion of institutions and discriminating policies that have impacted the different sectors either by putting good people in cold storage or in many situations forced people to leave the country. Now what we are left with is a missing layer of Malaysians who in 20-30 years should be the ones serving on the council of eminent persons.

There is a laundry list of things that this new government needs to make right and another list of mechanisms that need to be put in place to prevent a repeat of an oligarchy stronghold. This is what might bring back our talent and inject good blood into our institutions. But it takes time to build a nation again and it also takes time to change mindsets that have been in place for so many years.

This cannot be done in five years and this is not something that is the sole responsibility of the government. While we experience this change, we as Malaysians have to learn to think differently in a new Malaysia and that is most exciting.

Natalie has found that there is a direct correlation between elections and her going back to university. She is a third-year PhD student of International Politics and Conflict Resolution and will fulfil her KPI in 2020. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com