Passionate Malaysians Down Under
OCT 19 — In May this year I received an invitation from the Malaysian Students Council – Victoria Chapter, Australia to speak at the Malaysian Aspiration Program 2011. I was excited as I have never had the opportunity to visit Australia before.
After confirming my attendance, I contacted friends and supporters of Pakatan Rakyat there and thus arranged a semi-working, semi-holiday trip with my wife to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. As a politician, I have spoken to Malaysians in the US, UK and Singapore. I thought I’ve seen it all. Furthermore, I graduated from a British university and typically held the snobbish view that Malaysians in Australia have too much fun and were less interested in current affairs back home.
I was proven wrong. From the Malaysian Aspiration Program where I sat in a forum with Umno’s Dato’ Zaki Zahid (one of the more rational voices in the party) and Bersih Australia’s David Teoh to my lectures at the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and the Australian National University as well as meeting Malaysians informally throughout my week-long trip, the Malaysians in Australia showed a greater level of passion and enthusiasm than Malaysians overseas that I’ve encountered before. There were even Australians, Singaporeans, Vietnamese who through mixing with Malaysians develop a passion for the country that was simply amazing.
Each of them has their own story to tell. The older ones came ages ago – in the 1970s university fees were free for everyone and thus parents had to only fork out living costs. Some fell in love with the locals or for one reason or another postponed their decision to return to Malaysia. One PJ boy wanted to return only to be turned-off by a major private company in Malaysia that openly tempted him to return by getting involved in corrupt deals. Others needed to earn the higher wages here in order to support their family back home. As they keep postponing their return to Malaysia, they develop deeper roots in their adopted home, making it difficult for them to return when they eventually could.
Thus the common refrain that Malaysians who choose not to return are unpatriotic is definitely false. We live in a global world after all, where people can easily move to different countries where they feel it is better for them and their families to eke a living. Definitely, home is where the heart is but everyone has different circumstances that lead them to where they end up in life.
Yet after the historic changes from the 2008 elections, many found a reason to believe that change is possible in Malaysia. Finally there is a fledgling two-party (or more accurately, two-coalition) system that is emerging and a generation of multiracial Malaysians that is spearheading the struggle for a better Malaysia. Web 2.0 is allowing them to follow developments back home in real-time.
Furthermore, while it is unlikely that the older Malaysians who have established themselves in Australia to return, we can still tempt the younger ones who are still idealistic to make a difference in Malaysia – the Reformasi and now, BERSIH Generation.
Unfortunately, there are still those who turn them off by resorting to old politics. While the Malaysian Consul General in Melbourne Dr Mohd Rameez Yahya came to my talk at the university and politely introduced himself, another government official in Sydney pretended he was a self-employed Malaysian in Australia when I greeted him as a colleague of his took photos and notes of my programme.
These tactics, that are reminiscent of the Cold War and authoritarian regimes were typical up to my time as a student overseas, are fortunately less potent today. In these days of Facebook and Twitter, Malaysians from different backgrounds showed their courage in standing up for change when thousands turned up across the world in support of BERSIH on 9 July.
Surely, if the government is serious about transformation than they must stop these bullying tactics. As it happens, this might come from overzealous mid-ranking civil servants trying to impress his higher-ups or an insecure politician but it does not work and only make a mockery of Malaysia’s democracy in this day and age.
At the end of the day, the system is facing a more powerful force that unites these Malaysian citizens, former Malaysians and Malaysians at heart: the desire for a better Malaysia. They have achieved incredible things in Australia: some have become top businessmen, corporate executives, politicians, activists and academicians. Rather than turning them away, Malaysia should take advantage of this passion. Whether by physically returning to the country, investing in the Malaysian economy or simply sharing their expertise and experience back home, Malaysia stands to benefit enormously from the 100,000 Malaysians down under.
In fact, I learned much from meeting this exceptional group of Malaysians. Their enthusiasm reminded me of the reason I got involved in politics, away from the rough realpolitik back home. As for the younger group – many of whom plan to return to Malaysia at one point or another – I tried to reach out to them by saying that each of them matter in making a difference in Malaysia. Change after all may seem part of a grand historical design but at the end of the day happens when enough people do whatever possible within their individual capacities to make it happen.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.