MALAYSIANS woke up on May 10 to a new reality: Pakatan Harapan (PH) claiming victory in the 14th General Election (GE14). This marks the first time ever that the nation sees a change of government at the federal level.
A new PH-led government will obviously be entitled to be jubilant in the first blush of victory. And, Malaysians must be thankful that a transition from one government to another happens in a peaceful and orderly manner.
This is as any democratic exercise dictates. And, we can congratulate ourselves for passing this test of political maturity.
To be sure, we have had uneventful changes in governments before but these occurred only at state levels.
A change of national government clearly has far more serious impact and implications as it affects all Malaysians at once.
Thus, the new Federal Government will not just start on a clean slate but face probably tremendous challenges and some odds. Opposition is a different ball game to governing.
The first challenge will be tempering public expectations once the expected political honeymoon of a new government starts to fade.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is, of course, no stranger to governing, having been our prime minister for over two decades before. Indeed, this fact alone probably played the decisive part in helping many Malaysians overcome the hesitation about political change.
It will thus, be of comfort and reassurance to both Malaysians and foreigners alike that it will be Dr Mahathir who will lead us through such a political transition into uncharted waters.
But, even Dr Mahathir must have realised that the nation’s political landscape has probably changed beyond recognition since the last time he was in power from the early 1980s to the turn of the new century.
For one thing, social media have come to play an increasingly pivotal role in democratic elections and, indeed, in our everyday lives.
It is a phenomenon that the powers-that-be everywhere are still trying to get a proper handle on.
It will be no big revelation to say that social media had played a crucial role to bring about the change that we are now witnessing.
The channelling of popular sentiments on a mass scale that social media today enable is unquestionably a double-edged sword that all democratically-elected governments today will need to contend with and fully appreciate.
This, in turn, has brought about a rise in political populism which we have also witnessed in GE14 as competing parties sought to curry favour with voters through electoral appeals with a clear populist tinge.
Any responsible government must resist the temptation to succumb to such appeals and promises made.
Moreover, the incoming national government must quickly decide on where to take its relations with Sabah and Sarawak.
Sarawak is now the most significant state in the opposition.
Although the nation-wide political wind against Barisan Nasional has had a more limited impact in Sarawak, the surge in voter sentiments in favour of greater state autonomy, as in Sabah, will have to be treaded ever so gingerly in the overall interest of national integration.
The hard slough is, therefore, just beginning for a new federal administration.
Dr Mahathir can no longer draw on his old ways of governing in today’s new political landscape. He will need to adopt a more collegial style of governance and be less of the “dictator” that he readily admitted to having been before. But, the nature of Malaysia’s fractured polity is such that the political comeback of Dr Mahathir now unfolding before us may be hard-pressed to not revert to type at some stage.
Thus, Malaysians may be well advised to buckle down for some expected political turbulence
as we attempt to ride out inevitable rough patches over the horizons.
This, despite the overwhelming majority of Malaysians, like voters and citizens everywhere, wanting little more than the
ability to lead a decent life with little hindrance from its government.
We live in interesting times.
The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak