DECEMBER 30 — “Is this a residential street or a waste collection centre, I'm confused. Government helps the rakyat, or rakyat help rakyat? I’ve no clue.”

My ex-intern mused in Malay on his FB account — visceral and poignant. He’s at the epicentre of Selangor’s Hulu Langat floods, Taman Sri Nanding. 

When the floodwaters eventually dissipated, what was once a pleasant green enclave had been transformed into a construction site. Refrigerators, pieces of furniture, clothes and all other items which typify home life lie — as fate pleases — strewn or piled up.

The season is not done yet, all in Hulu Langat and other Malaysian districts expect to be tested way into 2022 as the winds cross the seas.

The denizens sit and wait. Unavailable to fathom the next act in this play forced by the combination of man and Nature.

Two outcomes have emerged from these events but a summary to weave both into a meaningful prognosis remains elusive.

‘I’ll be there’

The first being there are everyday Malaysians ready to activate themselves for their fellow countrymen. 

Volunteers help with clean-up efforts as floodwaters recede at Labohan Dagang, Banting December 28, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Volunteers help with clean-up efforts as floodwaters recede at Labohan Dagang, Banting December 28, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Despite all the negativity bandied around about life here in our federation, our rakyat’s effusiveness to assist complete strangers bodes well for us, now and in the future. There are enough noble people who believe in Malaysia and in our common bond to step up.

Within hours of the floods, communities — whichever way to describe NGOs, WhatsApp groups or just neighbours from a further away suburb — sprung to action. 

Can we imagine the actual death toll if these various individuals and groups failed to route sampans, kayaks and boats — anything that floated really — to those people on roofs around the Klang Valley?

They needed no invitation. No ceremony and certainly no payment.

They did not even require recognition from the government. As of yesterday, the government of Malaysia has not formally thanked the thousands who showed up and became advertisements for the phrase not all heroes wear capes.

For those who fear the worst for the country’s future, the camaraderie of the past weeks reminds that more than a few Malaysians are ready to answer the call of service. More than a few.

Temerloh, Rantau Panjang, Mentakab, Jasin, Bera, Bentong and the lists grow longer but still support and help from private citizens keeps on trucking.

Off for the holidays

Which brings us to the second and related outcome from these floods, government ineptness.

Whether the ire is forwarded to state or federal, the level of discontent reaches a crescendo.

Ultimately, Putrajaya has the resources and means to coordinate disaster relief in an overly-centralised power structure which forces states to rely on federal coordination. 

The fact Selangor MB Amiruddin Shari had to be reinstated as the State Security Council Chairman after being waylaid for a month to accommodate Umno Selangor Chief Noh Omar, shocked all. 

The Ismail Sabri Yaakob government preferred to have their own man to oversee the strategic wellbeing of Selangor people in place of the MB because of political affiliations. This speaks volume of how election strategy has come ahead of people’s welfare.

Only when the troubles were about to drown Noh — no ark did he build — did the prime minister rescind his order and return Amiruddin to the post. But what of the damage already done by the politicisation of federal-state roles?

The imbalance

Here’s the deal.

Regular Malaysians have caught on to the spirit of global activism, and are raring to go, to do. They are, however, confronted by the established machination of control — both in and out of government — set in how power is rationalised.

One corner, the new energy. Not only willing but capable. If they can initiate immediate actions to assist, almost barging past civil servants aside to do their jobs, how much more can they do for the country in time of calm?

The other corner, the wall. The old order with its own terms of engagement which has turned off most of the country.

Inadequate, perhaps, but perversely adept to acquire power rather than to serve people.  

In case of a general election, Umno is ahead enough to win outright or gain sizeable seats to form a comfortable coalition with friendlies.

For all its monumental ideological and intellectual flaws, it remains the least disorganised collective in the election game.

My ex-intern’s choices for P108 Hulu Langat in GE15? Incumbent and clueless Amanah MP Hasanuddin Mohd Yunus, a younger Umno candidate, a righteous PAS candidate and perhaps up to two candidates from all the various new players — MUDA, Maju, Warisan or Cap Gajah.

In such chaos and uncertainty, Umno possesses a clearer value proposition compared to the rest.

Umno is antiquated but the pretenders are all over the place, and the new energy supporting various reformers ends up refracted in multiple directions. In such a predicament, Malaysia’s first-past-the-post election method rewards institutionalised power.

This was massively underscored in Melaka’s state election last November.

Hulu Langat is a microcosm of how the other 221 parliamentary seats are set to play out, and therefore the clock is on. For the fresh energy frustrated with the powers that be to form a cogent force not built on personalities but on the sense change must happen. If only to prevent the regrettable past.

What if activists steered away from petty politics?

While more Malaysians can join in the efforts to do the government's job pro-bono, the problems are set to magnify.

If the development decisions in the mid-90s bring the calamities of today in Taman Sri Muda in Shah Alam, what else will the current crop of politicians decide soon to affect the lives of Malaysians in 2050 or sooner? Already there are allegations about the loss of water retention ponds in Kuala Lumpur.

The problems will escalate as long as the established ways continue. At some point, those who want to act beyond politics will be overwhelmed by the problems caused by politics.

Therefore, staying out is not an option.

But how to contribute inside the fragmented present?

This is why, while all those volunteers out there carrying out the flood relief work should be celebrated as exemplary Malaysians as we close out the year, they themselves would say the power structure needs to be altered.

Which is exactly why, Malaysia can begin 2022 in the knowledge we have the personnel to contribute but remain flustered that the body politic cannot absorb the new optimism.

The government is adamant to appear a better teacher, when perhaps the thing to do, even if late, is to be a better student and — as the late George Michael put it — listen without prejudice to the people’s voices.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.