A new normal

The Himalayas can clearly be seen from Delhi for the first time in years. — Picture via Twitter
The Himalayas can clearly be seen from Delhi for the first time in years. — Picture via Twitter

COMMENTARY, April 28 — The rare leatherback turtles appear to be returning to the Thai beaches. In India, the Himalayas are clearly visible from Delhi for the first time in years. In Turkey, dolphins are seen closer to the shores in Istanbul.

In Malaysia, the skies are blue, the air is clean and clear, there is less noise and we hear a cacophony of the sweet sounds of nature that we would never have heard or noticed before. Our rivers have also never been so clean.

The universe is telling us something.

Humans had to be “incarcerated” to save nature and to reverse the damage we have done so as to restore and rejuvenate our environment. We read of the amazing natural repair of the environment that is taking place all over the world simply by restricting human activity.

I do not wish to detract from the tragedy that the Covid-19 virus has unleashed on humankind. The point I seek to make is that it has taken a tragedy of epic proportions like this to stop us from harming ourselves, our environment and our very existence.

Much quiet time and introspection has given rise to the realisation that our priorities must change. We can live with less and our excesses must be trimmed. Most importantly we must be more respectful of mother nature and understand that we have a shared responsibility to ensure our planet is safe.

This is the right time for us to seriously rethink the projects that have wrought havoc on our environment. For example, the indiscriminate land reclamations, the building of unnecessary and monstrous buildings, the wanton destruction of our forests, the cruelty to animals to a point where some have become extinct, the uncontrolled spewing of toxic substances into our rivers and so many other human activities that pollute the very air that we breathe.

It is greed, corruption, abuse of power and poor governance that have led us to this sorry state. Can we afford to continue on this path of destruction or should we stop right now and rethink our strategies? 

A recent Guardian article quoted the world’s leading biodiversity experts who warned that even more deadly disease outbreaks will follow unless the root cause — the rampant destruction of the natural world — is rapidly halted.

“There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic — us,” they said. “Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.

“Business as usual” is not an option. Making money at the expense of everything else, cannot be the norm any more. I am not an expert in economics, but I know that creative solutions and new ideas are needed so that building our economy can be done in harmony with nature and the environment. 

The political environment

As our natural environment heals, what of our political environment? The Prime Minister has said that at this point, the people are not interested in politics. I would go so far as to say most people are sick of the politics in this country.

The time will come for a conversation about how Perikatan Nasional (PN) came into power and how we have a government we did not vote for. However, right now, politics must take second place.

The PN government walked into an ongoing health crisis and has handled it commendably thus far. But far from setting politics aside, their every move has been about politics, from some putting their faces on food packages and others receiving special treatment for themselves and their children during the MCO.

While advising employers to retain employees, the new government prematurely terminated well-qualified GLC leaders (a large number of whom are women), just to accommodate their own government MPs. This even though they are less or not qualified for the post. Politicians heading GLCs revives the harmful practice of the politics of patronage.

The other clearly political move that was astounding is the one-day sitting of Parliament. Then there is the sabre rattling by Umno and Pas saying that their arrangement with PN is temporary.

Politics in this country therefore continues unabated and there is something particularly distasteful about its extent in a crisis situation. While the rest of us consider serious questions on sustainability and economic recovery, we see politicians settling back into familiar rent-seeking roles and just waiting for the MCO to be lifted to amplify such practices.

We are watching

The existence of the MCO however does not mean the government is not accountable to anyone. The MCO does not give them any immunity. The people are still watching. And we matter.

Who put PH in power in 2018? The people.

Recall the number of people who turned out in support of PH at every rally, sometimes in heavy rain. Who toiled and fought for more than ten years to bring change in 2018. Who faced teargas, arrests, jail and other forms of harassment because they believed in the cause?

What about the battles against the Election Commission, the Undi Rabu movement, the masses of people who trained to be PACA agents to try and mitigate the effects of a flawed election?

And not forgetting Malaysians overseas who made sure their votes reached home even if it meant paying for the flight of one of them to ensure they did. These are only some examples of the commitment, will power and passion of the Malaysian people who brought change in 2018.

It was no ordinary election.

Why do I recount these events?

Because many in PN were with us in this battle for change and they know exactly what we went through.

So, when they take any decisions and make any plans, I hope they will remember these efforts and allow the cause we so painstakingly fought for, to inform all their decisions. We cannot accept a BN style “business as usual” and the country certainly cannot afford it given the global challenges we will face in the next several years. The majority of voters want a new brand of politics, not the old style of divisive and toxic politics. The time to press the reset button is now.

This unprecedented crisis requires us to do things in radically different ways. The world will never be the same again, at least not till a vaccine is discovered. It is therefore time to bring the Opposition on board as a crisis like this requires all hands on deck. As is said over and over again: there is only one enemy here, the virus.

A third force

If the politics of this country does not change, then it is time to encourage the rise of a third force for GE15, comprising those who do not carry the baggage of the politics of the past.

The next generation must step up and claim their future. Let the third force be a party of new faces with new ideas and a new vision. I would suggest this group comprise those who are less than 45 years old. Young leaders across the globe have shown that they are capable of leading effectively, even in times of crisis.

Let them make their mark with a new brand of politics built on the bedrock of the rule of law, social justice and a humane ideology. Let them capture the imagination of the people who desperately need something fresh and new to look forward to. It makes sense that they have a say in their future which is being determined now.

Don’t forget. The universe is telling us something. It’s best we listen.

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