Newsmaker of 2009
2009 was a tumultuous year. A rousingly colourful collage of days that saw the fulfilment of changes made imminent and the culmination of troubles long brewing. A bevy of events, stirred up and brought to be, by last year’s political tsunami.
In politics, we had the involuntary sneeze-change of prime ministers, the knee-jerks of crises in the ruling coalition’s component parties, Barisan Nasional’s takeover of Perak, and an apparent attempt at a coup in Selangor.
But the fledgling opposition coalition was not spared as it struggled with making good its election promises and ruling the additional states it gained in the last election.
It suffered agonising pangs and growing pains as the three ideologically different bedfellows were forced to make good and formalise their political marriage. A process that is painful to watch and perhaps more than painful in the making.
The year also saw more troubles with the royals as the monarchy was put before the public eye. Once more, for all the wrong reasons. The ruckus fueling calls for rules to regulate the royals. Some even advocating a straight exit to a monarch-less republic.
We also saw a slew of civil disobedience by the civil society and the attack of the killer disease once known as swine flu (now referred to by its politically correct moniker of H1N1). As well as a global economic downturn crippling economies and bankrupting nations.
Needless to say, this Gregorian year was filled to the brim with news events of gigantic proportions. The ripples, splashes and waves made by movers and shakers, almost giants and more than titans.
But this year’s newsmaker tops them all. Not only in how this particular person made headlines, but also because of the resulting aftershock which drastically affected the multi-layered landscape of our nation.
Standing tall amongst giants
Neither titan nor giant, nevertheless, this person stood tall amongst them.
He was the active, humble and pleasant 31-year-old political secretary to a Selangor executive council member, youthful, eager and full of anticipation.
To those who knew and worked with him, the late Teoh Beng Hock was an earnest, diligent and reserved person. His often expressed intention was to serve in politics and work towards a better Malaysia.
The second eldest of four children, he came from a humble family. His father was taxi driver, while his mother a dedicated home maker. He was the first in his family to have ever attended university.
Formerly a reporter for Sin Chew Daily, he was plunged into the heady world of politics in the wake of the March 8 political tsunami.
Approached by then political underdog Ean Yong Hian Wah of DAP, Teoh was asked to scout for viable candidates to serve as the newly-made politician’s aide. Instead, he eagerly volunteered himself.
When Ean Yong unexpectedly won in what was once the MCA stronghold of Seri Kembangan, he was sworn in as a state assemblyperson, and at 29, went on to become the youngest state exco.
Teoh followed Ean Yong in his sojourn at the state secretariat and became the latter’s political secretary.
Last seen talking on handphone
He is remembered often as a friendly person, albeit with the habit of often talking on his handphone, probably because the nature of his work.
Indeed, that was how he remained in the memories of many… talking on his handphone, while walking towards his date with destiny in the office of the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission).
Before him was a vibrant future, a bright career and plans of matrimony. He was supposed to tie the knot with his fiancee the next day. With a child already on the way.
But it all was not to be…
Teoh’s broken body was found on the fifth floor rooftop of Plaza Masalam the next day, scant hours after his ‘interrogation’.
His tragic death opened up a whole cans of worms on many spectrums – in politics, governance, and a myriad of other mentions.
His demise added fuel to rumours of an attempted BN takeover in Selangor, sparked the debate over the misuse of MACC as a political tool, magnified the issue of transparency in allocations to MPs and state reps, as well as highlighted cases of suspicious deaths in law enforcement custody.
Beng Hock’s legacy
His death is probably most poignant to many, for it echoes what the nation itself is going through.
His ghost continues to haunt us at the inquest into his death, news reports, coffee-shop talk, online chats and nationwide discussions.
Even in missives beyond the grave from a self-professed ‘medium’ and the ghostly apparitions, some claimed, to haunt still the hallways of Plaza Massalam.
More than 2,000 people attended Teoh Beng Hock’s funeral, but his travails touched more and affected many others. While he might not have lived to see it, his death did force the change that he so wanted to make.
His memory, a comfort to friends and family.
His name, the battle cry of activists.
His visage, a banner for justice.
His tragedy, society’s wake-up call.
His legacy, a spur to Malaysia’s ailing democracy.
Teoh Beng Hock, our Newsmaker of 2009.