Changing the rules of the game for Malaysia

SEPTEMBER 16 — Malaya celebrates its 63rd independence this year, while Malaysia celebrates its 57th anniversary. 

Perhaps peculiar numbers to consider, given that Malaya gained its independence in 1957, and later together with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. 

Conspicuously, they occur in the year 2020, where Malaysia was supposed to celebrate a much-prophesied ascension to a high-income developed status.

But that is yet to be. 

For many fellow Malaysians across rural kampungs, low-cost homes (PPR), and suburban terraces are still struggling to make ends meet while facing never-ending stereotypes of laziness and “poor mentality.” 

This has been the case despite promises made from both ends of the political spectrum, each pledging to provide lower cost of living and better overall welfare.

We live in contradiction of our presupposed values, where we often call ourselves an open, trading economy yet we suffer the paradox of being an insular society as a result of our politics. 

We judge one another by the colour of our skin rather than the strength of our character. How can we truly practise wasatiyyah among Malaysians when not only is its concept and meaning not fully appreciated, al-assabiyah is being preached by our politicians through the divisions of race and religion.

Today, the world has been sucker-punched by a pandemic that has taken too many lives and ravaged more economies including Malaysia's. 

Credit where it is due, we have done a lot better than many on the pandemic front. Yet, the fact remains that our economy has suffered its worst performance since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis. On the ground, more have complained about losing their rice bowls and thus, ability to feed their hungry and weary families.

Covid-19 has exposed our frailties and revealed the enormous multi-faceted challenges of governing Malaysia. The system that made modern Malaysia today is now on the verge of failing the present and future generations of Malaysians who were promised so much, not least Vision 2020 itself.

Decades of elite capture and horse trading have left us stuck in a status quo created, managed and won by those with clout and money. 

This leaves the rest to suffer the consequences of their high stakes poker game where the people’s livelihoods are used as betting chips on the table – without the means to contest; ultimately unrepresented in an arena that has become more detached than ever from reality.

While the elites have been busy in their own bubbles, the nation as a whole has been stagnating for too long. Stuck in a state of inertia to preserve vested interests, political will and responsibility have been scarce.

Further encapsulating the absurdity of where Malaysia is now: while we are building the second-tallest building in the world, an 18-year-old has to climb a tree to access the Internet for her online examination. 

We are left with little to no alternatives on all sides of the political aisle, when this nation yearns for more than just mere rhetoric.

This is where Malaysians must draw the line. That those who purport to be champions and saviours of the rakyat must examine themselves and not take the rakyat's will for granted.

We are now at a crossroads that will make or break the fabric of our nation, and see us sink or swim against competitors who are fast catching up regionally and internationally. 

While the elites are too entrenched in their politicking, Malaysians should reconsider their trust in cult personalities and redefine the ideals needed for nation-building in the post-Vision 2020 era. Sticking to the old narrative of glorious yesteryears will no longer cut it.

Malaysians are not apathetic, lazy nor unpatriotic. If there is one key lesson from defining moments of our shared history as a nation — where our independence, the union of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak as a federation and our Covid-19 response come to mind — when Malaysians unite upon a common cause, we can succeed. Now, we are at a juncture that calls for exactly that.

As such, Malaysians must ask themselves and decide, for whom is this nation made for after 2020?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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