“Semboyan telah berbunyi” is Malay for “the bugle has sounded”. The date for the next Malaysian general election has been announced. The contesting parties and coalitions will be, well, blowing their own trumpets. We are already in the midst of a media cacophony that will only get worse, so let me pen down some thoughts before they get drowned out.
We are not stupid. If I were to choose a candidate or party over another, it doesn’t mean I think that one is good and the other evil. I have long agreed with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he said:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere
insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate
them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and
evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to
destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
Do we really believe that one side is completely on the side of the angels and another on the side of the devils? The difference, if any, is a matter of degree. The media are divided and have chosen sides, which means they will demonise the other side. Followers of Jesus should step back a bit from the fray and not get completely sucked into the media wars.
However, at a given point in history, I will have to make a choice. I believe it is my Christian duty to do whatever I can to help make this world a bit closer to God’s values. But I am under no illusion that the person I choose will be completely pure and his or her opponent completely evil.
This also means that we must not descend into the politics of hatred. There are followers of Jesus on both sides of the political divide. I may not agree with my brethren on the other side but I must never forget that we are brothers and sisters. As much as I am frustrated and sad that he or she has chosen another path, the fact that we have a common Father means I cannot hate the other. Indeed, God calls us to love even our enemies, so while we may hate evil we are not to hate people.
We are not stupid. We vote not because we are sure that our party/coalition will win in the coming elections. With many reservations I still choose to vote for the opposition, for Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope). I understand why some are so fed up with both parties that they choose not to vote at all. But to not choose is to choose. I choose the opposition because I feel we desperately need to arrest the slide to corruption, racism, and the increasing assault on human rights. But am I confident that the opposition will win? Well, God and history have surprised us. Few of us would have expected the results of the 2008 Malaysian general election. But I have no guarantees for who will win in the coming election.
Still, my decision is not based on my certainty that a side will win. My decision is based on certain values that I hold. Maybe we should think more in terms of direction rather than decision. We will continue to walk in a given direction based on our convictions. Maybe it will take a number of general elections more before we get to some semblance of a Malaysia that we want but we will keep on walking. We are in this for the long haul. We must be.
Buoyed by the results of the 12th general election, many worked hard for change in the 13th general election. Though we won the popular vote, the ruling coalition remained in power. Many were disillusioned. So we need to ask ourselves: is our political activism based on the hope of the emotional euphoria of winning or is it based on values that we hold close to our heart? As Martin Luther King Jr. (probably quoting Theodore Parker) reminds us: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
We are not stupid. As followers of Jesus Christ we do not believe that the hope of Malaysia, or Singapore, or America, lies finally in the hands of politics and politicians. We remain utterly clear that the root cause of the problems of humankind is sin — that humanity rejected the rightful kingship of their Creator King, and the only cure for that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore we must not be distracted from our commitment to evangelism. We all long for that leader who will save the world and put things right. Will it be Obama? Trump? Najib? Mahathir? Let’s get real here. While we need to work with the leaders we have, the fact that all human leaders eventually disappoint us should be a constant reminder that there is only one Messiah.
So, while I strongly believe that followers of Jesus should play their part in the democratic process, I am also concerned that we do not get carried away to the extent that we appear to be more concerned for political change than for the changing of hearts that only God can do. I understand that for Malaysians, the next few weeks will be dominated by the coming general election and we must do what we can. But we shouldn’t be stupid.