In this coming month of Merdeka, as well as the recently concluded PKR Convention, I wish to reminisce about the early days of Reformasi and two individuals I respect that symbolize what the meaning of struggle is and has been.
I wish to dedicate this article to the young Malaysians who did not witness these events 22 years ago when our country plunged into a pariah state that is still recovering and redefining itself for everyone.
It has been 24 years since Anwar Ibrahim was dragged to ISA with balaclava-clad men with machine guns amidst a sea of Malay dissidents against what appeared to be the dictatorial hands of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Those were the dark days when I lost faith in my own country and my prime minister.
It was also the day I saw all religious officials, like the muftis, with utter mistrust at the silence over the undignified ways Anwar was imprisoned, then kena belasah by police chief Rahim Noor, and charged with sodomy of his assistant Munawar Anees and his adopted brother Sukma.
Both the accused were detained under ISA and were said to be tortured to turn evidence against Anwar.
That day saw the sacred government of Malaysia, the institution of Islam and the integrity of the judiciary becoming lower than any hole on this earth as well as stinking worse than the filthiest filth imaginable.
Umno, the pride of the Malays, looked nothing more than a bunch of mafia hoods grinning from ear to ear at the act of dehumanizing a Melayu-Muslim using state apparatus.
For many young adults and middle-age Malaysians, these were the dark days of Malaysia that you never witnessed but will be etched in our memories till the day we die.
I have hundreds of CDs, magazines and books that I collected so that my children will be able to see what their beloved country had become under the dictate of one Mahathir Mohamad and one Malay party that likes to accuse others of immorality from the perspectives of Islam while it does the same immoral deeds.
The Anwar Reformasi may have died down but it is undeniable that Malaysia is where it is now with Umno at its weakest and the once powerful Mahathir, just an old man carrying a Pejuang T-Shirt.
As Parti Keadilan Rakyat begins a new page with Rafizi and his group trying to forge a working relationship with the old pack of Saifuddin and his group, I wish to send a reminder to all the young leaders in PKR to have a generous spirit for those that laid the foundation stones of where they are now standing.
I wish to single out Saifuddin Nasution and Tian Chua for this very purpose.
In the early days of Reformasi, there were three staunch supporters of Anwar: Ezam, Azmin and Saifuddin.
Ezam was the most vocal and passionate. Azmin was both a politician and the image of cunning and Saifuddin was more down to earth, pragmatic and strong.
I loved to listen to Ezam and Saifuddin but not so much Azmin.
Azmin did not seem sincere in both his speeches and handshakes, and that’s why I never took a picture with him.
I always liked Saifuddin because his speeches were concise and factual while Ezam’s were mostly like Anwar, emotional, repetitive and Islamic sounding. Ezam even sounded like Anwar in his nasal pronouncements of words.
But Saifuddin would come up and say, ‘Saya ada tiga perkara yang saya nak sampaikan kepada rakyat semua, pertama…’ and he goes on and on like that.
Secondly, Saifuddin is down to earth because once he read a long pantun that I wrote called ‘Mahathir Mudah Lupa’ after Mahathir wrote his uninspiring sajak of ‘Melayu Mudah Lupa’.
Saifuddin read my pantun to the crowd who found it both humorous and sharp.
When Saifuddin fought for the Lunas by-election, I followed the election closely until the night he was declared the winner and trounced Mahathir in his home state.
I still remember the speech by the late Fadzil Noor, the then President of PAS, in which he said, “Mahathir sudah menangis, dia sudah marah tetapi yang dia tak buat lagi, dia belum berhenti (resign)!”
When I met Saifuddin one day at the Kuala Lumpur airport, he was walking alone in his sandals and short sleeve kemeja with a rucksack strapped to his shoulders.
He was an ADUN of Kedah then. We talked and he said that he used my advice on a speech he made in the Dewan on the role of mosques as a community center.
A year before, I gave him my Malay book, ‘Peranan, Kurikulum dan Rekabentuk Masjid sebagai Pusat Pembangunan Masyarakat’ published by Penerbit UTM (1999) when he was a guest at my house in Johor.
At that time, I asked the PAS members who the ceramah organizer bringing Saifuddin to my house for a late dinner.
He obliged and arrived at 10.30 pm and sat down in my living room where the food was spread out.
I remember him taking sambal tumis udang and placed two of them on his plate and began eating even though my wife had not brought in a hot pot of rice.
He was so hungry, I imagined after three or four occasions of ceramah and meetings in the hectic days of Reformasi.
When he became a minister with the PH win in 2018, no one was prouder than me even though our paths never crossed after that until today.
The name of Tian Chua should never be uttered without the accompanying words like Reformasi, demonstrasi and water cannon.
On the Singapore TV where I resided in Johor, footage of the thin body of Tian Chua right in front of the water cannon truck of the Federal Reserve Units, Malaysians saw the courage of the young man no one knew.
Reformasi was a Malay uprising against the Umno party that violated the sanctity and dignity of Islam in the disgusting manner that Anwar was accused, incarcerated unfairly without bail and beaten to a pulp by a police officer fit to be called a gangster or kaki pukul.
No one in Reformasi, including me, will ever forgive Rahim Noor or ever forget his name and that one deed of assaulting a prisoner in his custody and amanah.
I have seen Tian Chua being roughed up, punched and kicked by the FRU in pictures and videos recorded all over the world.
The early days of Reformasi were extremely painful to watch on television and also to read in Harakah, Tamaddun or even The Times.
I remember meeting Tian Chua for the first time at a book launch in a restaurant.
I bought his book which was in Mandarin so that I could get him to sign.
When I sat down at the table with him, I told him my name. He looked up at me and said, “I know who you are. I have read your writings.”
I was so surprised that someone who is as famous as Tian Chua and a non-architect would have read my writing on architecture and society in The Star.
So, I asked, “Wah! Tian Chua you like reading architecture too?”
He smiled and replied, “Hey man… in prison you read EVERYTHING!”
Malaysians must never forget the foundation of Reformasi as it was the most important event that bared the soul of a sick nation.
The sickness is caused not just by evil and selfish politicians and corrupt civil servants but also our complacency, mistrust between faiths and also our refusal to acknowledge our own weaknesses.
The pain of one man and his family is the blood that was spilled and the sweat and strain of people like Tian Chua and Saifuddin have become the foundation stones of our new Malaysia.
As PKR which was born from this struggle began anew after the Convention, the blood and pain of the past had since moved into a new era of young politicians like Rafizi and his group.
For the new leaders of PKR as the hope of many Malaysians, one must always remember on whose shoulders one has to step on to lift the party and the hope of Malaysians higher.
(Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at a local university and his writing reflects his own personal opinion entirely.)