Best pic

Photo from @hannahyeoh

Just a month ago, Malaysians went to the polls on May 9, 2018, in what turned out to be a watershed moment in the country’s political history.

The people voted out the only government they ever knew, Barisan Nasional coalition, then led by Najib Razak. They chose instead the newly-formed Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Pakatan won by a simple majority of 122 out of the 222 seats to form the current government.

Hannah Yeoh was voted in as Member of Parliament in the recent elections. The party she represents is part of the Pakatan alliance.

Where does the country go from here and what can Malaysians expect? Hannah reveals to Salt&Light what a rebirth of the nation looks like from the inside.

What was most surprising about the elections results?

It took me a couple of weeks to process the outcome of the elections.

“Malaysia will never be the same again.”

For the last 60 years, we have been told that if you vote out the ruling Barisan Nasional, the races will fight, nobody can govern and there will be no peace in the land. However, the transition was very smooth and that surprised everybody.

Having the Mahathir factor has also helped because he had been the Prime Minister before. Earlier, there were many who were afraid that the Pakatan Harapan did not have strong leadership and people were worried about who will assume the Prime Minister position.

This election saw the people taking ownership, believing that status quo was no longer acceptable. The people realised they can play their part, moving from a mindset of being powerless to “we can do this” and see it happen.

That mindset shift has now taken place. I say Malaysia will never be the same again.

Nomination Day for Pakatan Harapan.

How does this change your outlook and hope for Malaysia?

This victory is so important for me to illustrate this point again: To have faith, believe and never give up, and all things are truly possible, even for a nation like Malaysia.

Many people could not believe that we can change a corrupt government. Now I can make that point as an illustration that everybody can relate to. 

In the last 10 years, I have been telling congregations to have faith, not just say: “We are powerless, that is Malaysia’s culture, we will never win because people cheat” or sit back, give up and be resigned.

I’ve always felt that change was not able to come in the last two elections simply because Malaysians didn’t believe it was possible. The mindset is so important. 

This will be how we will inspire the next generation, to never settle for status quo.

Hannah Yeoh with the community she serves.

Media reports say the people voted for reformation and a new type of governance. You have worked the ground, what is it that the people really want?

I think people just want to enjoy the basic things that the government owes to the people. For example, when I pay tax, I expect the government to manage the tax properly. I don’t expect my government to steal my money. I think that is a basic expectation.

Also, government institutions which are supposed to protect the people should not be protecting the wrongdoers. When clear injustice is staring you in the face, many people cannot accept that. 

Will they get what they want from this government?

The people have experienced that they can dislodge the ruling government if they are not good. So, if we are not good, in the next five years, they can make the change again.

“When people choose to do good in the face of injustices, that really reflects that righteousness exalts Malaysia.”

The present government is a multi-racial alliance with equal power sharing. That means there will be checks and balances within the coalition. The government has also appointed the Malaysian Council of Eminent Persons, a first for Malaysia, to work alongside the cabinet to push for reforms.

I think Prime Minister Mahathir, in his 90s, has a clearer understanding and he knows that time is not on our side. We do not have any time to waste, we have to push our reforms very quickly

Malaysians feel happy. They feel that this is a new nation, literally just in one day, there is a rebirth of a nation.   

Yeoh speaking with officials to resolve planning issues.

Historically, coalition governments have proved unwieldy, what is the biggest challenge for the government going forward?

The biggest challenge going forward now is for the politicians not to think of our own parties and to start thinking for the benefit of Malaysians. As we put our differences aside, you can see it is a different kind of government Cabinet working together.  

The new government is now realising that the previous Cabinet has not been truthful. Many of the statistics reported were inaccurate. Truth is starting to come out, so they need to fix the mess. Of course, we have the short-term hundred days roll out of the manifesto, but we also have the long-term goals. That’s another challenge.

The path ahead is to quickly put in place the reforms, to ensure that the system will be good and fair and never to rob the people of a fair election anymore. That is what we need to work towards. 

Some of the present members of the government were also leaders in the previous cabinets, is there a chance the government will revert to old ways of doing things?

The equal power sharing among the alliance will provide the checks and balances.

“This will also be how we will inspire the next generation to never settle for status quo.”

There is also a mix of new and old faces, and some of the new cabinet members are only in their early 40s. They are fairly young and will be able to bring some refreshing change.    

The council of the elders is also a very good initiative. Hence, it is not just the government but stakeholders, industry players, the practitioners, the coming together of people from all backgrounds, all working to save this country. It is very inspiring for Malaysians.

Prime Minister Mahathir was known to be a maverick politician. Can the people trust him?

I say you must judge people by their actions. It is a fact that he left his comfort zone and stood with us in the opposition. Consistent with what he had said, he has done. 

Mahathir had committed to ensuring there will be no abuse of power and that the Finance Minister and Prime Minister portfolios must be under different persons. He worked on it and he delivered. The actions and words match this time.

We also see the repentance. Repentance is seeing someone turning from his old ways to move in a new direction I think people can see that in Mahathir.

Yeoh with Prime Minister Mahathir.

You have said that righteousness exalts a nation. Is this a reality now for Malaysia?

If you look at the 14th General Election, it is really about the clean coming out, the good has prevailed over all the dirty strategies employed by the previous government. For all the racial and religious arguments which had torn the nation apart, people were able to put them aside and say let us pursue good governance and vote out the corrupt.  

When people choose to do good in the face of all these injustices, that is really the reflection of the tag that righteousness exalts Malaysia.

There was a big call for prayer leading up to the elections, what is your impression?

There were many people who were praying for a change. The Christians, as well as people of other faiths, were also praying.

“People have a part in praying for the good of the nation.”

But for us, the Christians, we know that the spiritual battle was very real, and corruption is a stronghold in our land. You need people on the frontline, you also need people on their knees praying for this land not to be known as a corrupt nation any more.   

The prayer that was going around meant that for once the people believe 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If the people who are called by My name” refers to the church. “People must turn from their wicked ways” – their wicked ways before was unbelief. This previous unbelief was seen in the last two elections where people did not pray, or they did not believe what they were praying for.

This time around, there was a rallying call for prayer, people genuinely believe that our prayers can change, can uphold righteousness and ensure that the good will prevail.  People prayed and took it seriously; some were even doing a 24-hour prayer chain. The people realised that they have a part to play; the intercessors also have a part in praying for the good of the nation.    

What are the roles of believers in this new era?

In this new dawn, believers must be careful not to fall back into the religious and racial arguments again. I think we must stop labelling people because of their faith and start judging them for the fruit of their work. It is biblical to say that by the fruit you will know whether it is a good or bad tree. We must ascribe fairness to people and not pre-judge them.

Believers also have a role in nation-building. That’s why I encourage many young people to enter public service. For the longest time, Malaysians have given up on public service because they say there is no chance for them to excel and do well. They say there’s no hope for change, so let’s migrate.

There must be a mindset shift to say migrations are no longer an option. Instead, think about what I can do now and here.  

I also wish Malaysians will believe in the power of the tongue to speak life over the nation.

About the author

Karen Tan

Karen was a producer at Asia Business News (Singapore), Bloomberg News and CNBC Asia. She subsequently joined the Far East Organisation to oversee corporate social responsibility. Karen is now Associate Editor at Salt&Light.