It was an arduous, uphill battle for the people, especially for those who had dreamt of a brighter future for the country. Many were pessimistic, frustrated and beginning to lose hope. The hurdles seemed insurmountable, and the only weapons we had were a pen and a vote.
We knew that it was going to be very tough. For decades, they silenced political dissidents, monopolised and controlled the media, and shut down oppositions using oppressive and draconian laws. Cash was king then. They bought votes and support from the people with money and giveaways, and many were lured.
The Election Commission was clearly with them. On the nomination day, many were denied the ability to contest for absurd reasons. During the campaign period, all TV stations and mainstream newspapers covered only stories from the ruling party; just a day before polling opened, PM Najib Razak tweeted his final insult to the people, believing that money could buy everything:
“To all young people aged 26 years and below, we will give an income tax exemption from the year of assessment 2017 and subsequent years with immediate effect.”
The polling ended and the counting started. I was calmly sitting in front of my computer checking the live results aired by Malaysiakini, an independent local news portal. At 9.30 p.m., things were getting intense. Barisan Nasional (BN) so far had secured 54 parliamentary seats, while the opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan, was chasing with 52 seats.
The number of seats won by Pakatan Harapan quickly increased, and by 11.00 p.m., the coalition had reached a simple majority. I took a moment to scroll down my Facebook timeline, and, as I had expected, it was bombarded with news, speculation and live reports from friends and official media.
“We are winning the election!”, “Unofficial: Kedah falls to Pakatan Harapan”, and “Negeri Sembilan has fallen”.
“Ridiculous!,” I thought to myself. How could one be certain? We all saw the deliberate delays at many polling stations, which led to many voters, who had been queuing for hours, being turned away and excluded. And a few days before, in different places overseas, Malaysians were having trouble with the postal vote. Many had to volunteer to transport their votes back to the country, and only some made it on time.
I took my bike around town, tried to figure out what was really the situation. In Georgetown, Penang, excitement filled the air. The town was packed with cars and motorbikes with Pakatan Harapan flags, honking each other joyously, celebrating the early victory.
At 12.13 a.m., the Minister of Youth and Sports and UMNO youth chief, Khairy Jamaluddin, finally said that the people of Malaysia had spoken and their voice was final, the signal that he would have noticed long before but turned a blind eye on. He tweeted “All the best Malaysia and thank you to all voters for exercising your responsibility”.
The next morning felt surreal. I was breathing the fresh air of a new Malaysia – the moment that none of us could imagine would happen. After six decades in power, BN fell to the “people tsunami”. It was the day that Malaysians knew the power of their votes.
People from all walks of life thanking and congratulating each other. On the streets, in coffee shops and markets, with joy, people were celebrating the fall of the long reigning party. Utusan Malaysia, the official organ of the party, for the first time sold out within just a few hours on the newsstand. People read the historic declaration by the newspaper, announcing the victory of Pakatan Harapan and, more importantly, the people.
But the happiness was more than just witnessing the party’s fall and its leader, Najib Razak, stepping down and resigning from the top party post. It was indeed the mark of the end of the country’s old politics, the politics in which the people were made to believe that only BN could govern and develop the country.
May 9 was the day that people reclaimed their power. The soul of the nation is restored, and the path of our beloved country is redrawn. We were overwhelmed by the dreams that were sealed shut before, and the imaginations of the new country that we thought of shaping. The work cannot be delayed. People cry to end the filthy racial politics, we yearn for more freedom in expressing our voices, we demand better education, and we want to bring those who had failed the country to justice.
The day marked the triumph of reason over ignorance, of people over the corrupt government. People altogether walked pass the gate of the prison that had been locking them in intellectual darkness for decades. Malaysians are now ready to take another step forward, painting new stories on a new clean white canvas.
Mohd Izzuddin Ramli is a writer and translator. He works as an analyst at Penang Institute, a think tank funded by the Penang state government