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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Spirit of March 8 for Real Change

BOOK Review by GEOFFREY YEOW, The Star

March 8: Time for Real Change
Edited by Kee Thuan Chye
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 363 pages
ISBN: 978-9814328333

AS a relative youngster, politics has always been like a love-hate relationship for me. We love how politics can ignite passionate debates about right and wrong, yet we hate how it manages to transform everything good into something evil.

So when I was asked to review this book, I took it up as a challenge to delve into a world that I admittedly do not know much about but always had a dormant interest in.

This was one of the first books to come out after the landmark March 8, 2008, elections, when the Opposition won an unprecedented number of Parliamentary seats. Back then, it was entitled March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up.

Time for Real Change is a re-issued edition with new content released late last year – and very timely it is, too, what with the number of by-elections that have taken place lately and rumours of the next general election swirling about the World Wide Web.

Let us get some things straight before we start off. March 8 is not a book about politics. It is a compilation of many thoughts that run parallel to a man’s dream of living in a nation where equality, justice and true freedom are the rule of thumb.

Is that too much to ask? In this day and age, it probably is. Here’s a quick re-cap of the events that sparked the first version of this book (for those of you who might have, by some wild chance, missed it all): On that fateful day three years ago, for the first time since the 1969 general elections, the ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional failed to secure the two-thirds majority in Parliament required to pass amendments to the Malaysian Constitution.

This represented a major shift in power, with the Opposition parties having a larger say in Parliament and greater control over amendments to the law. More importantly, it proved to Malaysians that the once-impenetrable has finally encountered kryptonite.

This book is made up of three main sections. The first, Where We Are Now,evaluates the significance of events in the aftermath of the general election. This includes the ruling coalitions’ attempts to instil change and reform.

The middle section, Back to the Beginning, chronicles the events that culminated in March 8, while the last, Where Do We Go From Here, discusses the future of our nation and the growing hope for change that seemed so bright on that fateful day.

Kee Thuan Chye, the editor (and also contributing writer) of the book, is a dramatist, poet and retired journalist. From the first page, it was fascinating to see him using his expertise in all three fields to pull us in with smooth-flowing sentences and words that are easy to understand (which is something most authors tend to forget).

His summation of events leading up to March 8 and its aftermath paint a clear picture, without our needing to go to Google and look up specifics details. Kee’s voice is always distinct amidst all the facts and statistics, his frustration with the current political landscape is clearly delivered.

In all the sections, a number of well-respected names share their thoughts on the historic general election and its repercussions. Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and controversial Malaysia Today editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin lead the voices in the call for change and democracy.

With most books, it is not unusual for us to feel as though we are reading behind a glass wall, with the author telling us the story. In this book, however, Kee writes with a personal touch, emphasising phrases such as “we have to do our part” and “we continue to support it”. We get the impression that he is on our side of the wall, pointing out to the world and telling us what is really going on out there.

As someone just starting to get the hang of politics, John Lee’s article, Youth Votes Count for Everything, speaks to me in particular. Lee states that although a minority of the younger generation cares passionately about the political landscape, most are just not interested.

He then goes on to argue that although this remains an issue, the March 8 general election has produced positive change by increasing the interest in the young as they begin to realise the power of their votes and, essentially, their voice. With the advent of political blogs, “Twittersphere” and social media, the point that Lee makes resonates loudly, as the younger generation could well prove to be the turning point in the next general election.

Some people may argue that this book was written with a pro-opposition bias. I feel the appropriate term should be that it was written with a pro-change and pro-democracy bias. As Kee says: “March 8 has gives us something precious for the next general election, and hopefully for longer into the future: Choice … It sure beats having a monopoly.”

Readers will find his book eye-opening as it drags you in from the very start and inspires you to believe that while real change and true democracy may be improbable, they are certainly not impossible.

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