Keeping March 8 alive

“We don’t need a Third Force,” he said plainly. “It would be better for those who want to be part of this Third Force to offer themselves as candidates to Pakatan instead.”

By Stephanie Sta Maria, Free Malaysia Today

FMT EXCLUSIVE The day had not begun particularly well for Kee Thuan Chye.

A friend – once a staunch supporter of political change – had confided that he was contemplating reverting to the “devil he knew” in the next general election.

“I was very upset,” Kee said. “After staying for so long on the track of change, he is giving up because he has lost faith in Pakatan Rakyat’s ability to get its act together to govern this country.”

It was the sort of sentiment that the former journalist found deeply troubling as it preyed on a simmering disquiet that the tide behind the March 8 tsunami may be turning again, this time in favour of the ruling party. And that, in Kee’s view, would spell imminent political tragedy for Malaysia.

March 8 is a historic date that Kee holds close to his heart. Two years ago he paid tribute to it with a book entitled “March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up”, an anthology of the voices that believed in and voted for change.

Now a second edition of that volume has hit the shelves. Only this time it bears the title “March 8: Time For Real Change”.

“The new title is apt for these times and besides, the publisher liked it!” he said, the corners of his eye crinkling. “But seriously, the next general election is approaching and there is an urgency now to talk about real change. There is also a need to assess all that has happened in the past two and half years.”

“The real purpose of a second edition is, of course, to keep the March 8 spirit alive. That is extremely important because Malaysia has not been the same since that day.”

Defining moment

There is a marked distinction between the spirit of March 8 and that of reformasi (the basis upon which PKR was formed). In drawing a line between the two, Kee declared that the former was much bigger in that it involved the country’s future while the latter was intertwined with the “Anwar personality”.

“March 8 was the defining moment when Malaysians realised that they had been taken for a ride for decades and that it was time for change,” he added. “It was a very important watershed which has to be commemorated.”

“Our spirit is different now and we must maintain it because with it comes the spirit of standing up for our rights. Of defying with a cause and of even showing healthy disrespect for authority when it is necessary. We have been docile and unquestioning for far too long. March 8 changed all that.”

Some 60% of the second edition is new material that was cobbled together within an impressive five months. But if the earlier sentiment of Kee’s friend is any indicator of a waning adrenaline, then it begs the question of whether this new volume is a boon or a bane. Kee already knows the answer.

“I think the enthusiasm is still there though it may be flagging a little now,” he said quietly. “I asked someone the other day whether a book like this would still sell and he said that people are a little tired of March 8 because of all the politicking that followed it.”

Nevertheless, he forged ahead in fierce determination to do his bit in keeping the enthusiasm pulsing. To keep fanning that spirit that pushed people to raise and debate issues, exercise their rights and lobby for change.

“There are some very good and even brilliant ideas in this edition,” he promised. “And good advice for the next general election. There are good assessments of the chicanery that has been going on since March 8, and good summaries of how we have come to where we are now. The book will also remind people to think hard about their vote at the next general election.”

This hard thinking, unfortunately, may be sparked less by Barisan Nasional’s gaffes than by PKR’s recent antics. Even Kee voiced alarm over the less than savoury image that the BN is painting of the opposition coalition.

“Pakatan is losing ground and public confidence,” he noted. “Perception is so important in politics. DAP and PAS are very solid. PKR is the only weak link and it really has to buck up fast. There’s not much time left. It has to go to the ground to convince the people, especially the fence-sitters, that the opposition is still a viable option.”

Irrelevant concern

Many have questioned whether Pakatan is ready to take over the government but to Kee, this is an irrelevant concern. He believes that if one is thrown into the deep end of the pool, one will learn to swim. He also believes in giving the underdogs a chance.

“There is never a time when one is ready,” he asserted. “You have to approach the moment and when the moment arises you have to rise to the occasion. You have to give people a chance.”

“If it doesn’t work out there will be another election five years later. But it’s always worthwhile to take that chance because if you don’t, the change may never happen or it will happen too slowly.”

The most pressing need, according to Kee, is to remove a coalition that has been in power for 53 years so it knows what it is like to wear the other shoe. In the best-case scenario, that newly minted opposition will be forced to reform itself and the people would be presented with two stronger choices in the next general election. And in his opinion, two choices are enough.

“We don’t need a Third Force,” he said plainly. “It would be better for those who want to be part of this Third Force to offer themselves as candidates to Pakatan instead.”

“The Third Force here won’t be like the Tea Party in America. They had two years to build their profile and were very active and well organised. And even then quite a number didn’t get elected. Frankly I don’t know if the Third Force will do well because many of them will be unknown.”