After almost 10 years ago, the call for reformasi (reform) can still be heard from the streets and fields of Kuala Lumpur.
Indonesia, our nusantara neighbor, did succeed in this reform movement. Soeharto was removed by people power (makal sakti to borrow this phrase from the Malaysian Indian community) in May 1998. Unfortunately, reformasi in Malaysia did not even reach its climax. This happened after the detention of Anwar Ibrahim on the night of September 20 on the same year. That unfortunate night also saw Anwar, once a Deputy Prime Minister of our country beaten half-dead by then Inspector General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor who was later gaoled.
I was still raw at that time, a 13-year old boy. But the frustration, anger and passion of felllow reformasi protesters who conquered the streets of Kuala Lumpur every weekend can still be seen in video tapes and VCDs. At that moment, the rakyat started to give more attention to the Internet. Websites such as Mahazalim (Extreme Cruelity), MahaFiraun (The Great Pharaoh) and Marhaen (The People) became a new source of information for them. Mainstream media controlled by the Umno/BN regime were boycotted. Harakah, Tamadun, Detik, Wasilah and Eksklusif were among those newspapers and magazines that were the source of information in our house. I became much more enthusiastic in my reading. The dark side of the Mahathir regime had been exposed. Many saw Mahathir as a man possessed by the evil spirits of absolute hegemonic power and will.
Now (and since 2004), Anwar has his freedom. But his freedom– like the rest of us –by a police state which was initiated by the first of its kind strong man. In 2003, in fact the end of October that year, Mahathir stepped down after 22 years in power. As if in vengeance, he appointed Abdullah Badawi and thus began the slow, weak and sentimental leadership of this new appointed premier.
Four years ago, Abdullah was celebrated with joy by the rakyat who had hoped for betterment and enlightenment for the country. But until now, hopes remain hopes. If Mahathir pioneered a draconian tradition and reinforced it throughout his reign of power, Abdullah not only inherited that tradition but used it in more cynical ways.
Looking back to 2005 which was when I started to venture into serious thinking and developing my consciousness, I began to realise I had a lot to learn. I read voraciously about political, economic and social issues, reform movements and their agendas, and debated ideas which were expressed by some thinkers and writers whose concern for reform awed me. Last year (2007), my intellectual journey became more serious and urgent with my direct involvement with this group of thinkers, the Telawi (named after a popular street in Bangsar) School as I would call them, in coffee-shop discussions, intellectual forums and philosophical discourses.
By befriending with these critical thinkers, I began to open up my mind to infinite possibilities for reforming our country to achieve justice for all. I also began to realise that change is real promise, but never easy. It required passion and commitment to an ennobling mission. I am grateful to these fine individuals of the Telawi School. It is headed by Khalid Jaafar of Institute for Policy Research (IKD).
Fathi Aris, a liberal thinker, said to me yesterday during our discussion,, “Reformasi is not about political changes. It is not only to topple down a regime. It is wider and more inclusive than that.” The call for reform must be filled with full consciousness by all branches of knowledge, that is, culture, arts, literature, philosophy, and the sciences and religion. Khalid Jaafar, as written by Ayu Utami in ‘Khalid’, complained about the lack of intellectual thinkers of reformasi in this country.
My concern seems to vanish little by little as I reflect on my intellectual journey which is an ongoing process towards self understanding and discovery. The optimism of my friends and fellow traveller is very inspiring. Changes will not happen as fast as we hope. But the process of raising consciousness and our attempt to win hearts and minds of the rakyat must continue. It is a movement, not a “flash in the pants” phenomenon. My iconic friend, Ernesto Che Guevera, said nothing is achieved without passion. Reformasi is a thing of passion.
This reform movement in Malaysia is not about a personality named Anwar Ibrahim, although there is no doubt that he is the catalyst and its charismatic leader. But it is also not because of the weaknesses of Abdullah Badawi in handling and managing this country.
Reformasi is a movement for the future, a movement to enlighten the rakyat to the realities of our existence in a competitive 21st century. There is a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities out there and we, as intellectuals, must open its doors for them. In that way, no government can stupify and mislead the rakyat.