Malaysia hanging by a thread

As we approach Merdeka day at the end of the month there is no cause for joy and celebration. There is only fear and trepidation.

There is Covid-19 of course, tearing into our lives immediately and now, developing into a further pandemic of the more transmissible Delta variant which is running laps around other strains, described by a virologist: “It’s just like ‘Jurassic Park’, the moment you realize the dinosaurs have all got loose again.”

Francis Fukuyama, one of the world’s leading political scientists, identified three factors responsible for successful pandemic responses –

  • A competent state apparatus
  • A government that citizens trust and listen to
  • Effective leaders

Malaysia has none of these. Instead, we have had barricades against the test of confidence and support, and a free-for-all to grab power. There is actually no person in this political struggle who can effectively and competently lead Malaysia with the support of the people. Meanwhile, the pandemic rages.

Looking back at 64 years of the nation’s history, there has never been a time when the country has been so empty of political leadership and so full of heartless arrogance. We are at a tipping point.

How did we get here? It is such a long story impossible to get into just now which even a first-class PhD thesis will not adequately cover. So much has gone wrong for so long with so little done to save the nation.

But let’s look at the immediate situation and what must be done. When, and if, a vote of confidence takes place in Parliament, which should have taken place 16 months ago, then what? Whoever wins or loses, the country will still be in a bind, as that person and his coalition of support, would not have the character, quality and durability to carry the country and people with him.

Then there will be the next political ambush. The corruption – this perhaps is the most singular cause of the country’s decay – of and in politics will continue. Corruption is not just about money changing hands but, more deeply, is born out of that sense of entitlement to cling on or to wrest power, with and without justification.

The people’s interest becomes secondary. In a parliamentary democracy which is the fundamental basis of Malaysia’s political system, the executive – where power in Malaysia has come to almost exclusively lie – is always accountable to the Dewan Rakyat where the people’s representatives sit as MPs. But Parliament has been held in contempt. Many MPs have become contemptible. It has become so rotten the people have nowhere to voice their suffering in the formal system of governance, save the constitutional monarch whose role is not so clear cut that there can be satisfaction.

There is no alternative now to a grand alliance or unity government unless we wish to end up with a declaration of emergency and rule by a National Operations Council as in 1969.

From March 2020, and a few times since, I have called for a unity government so that there is political stability to make the country better able to face the Covid-19 pandemic.

Remember the tabligh cluster which straddled the coming to power of the present government? Covid-19 spread as the government changed. Initially, the government did well in containing the spread of Covid, but in time as the challenge and crisis deepened, it got out of control.

Remember the Sabah state election in September last year? Again, politics took precedence over control of the pandemic on so many levels. We know how the health crisis worsened and the number of cases and deaths shot up.

Is it too late for the prime minister to engineer a win in the Dewan next month and to form a unity government? There has been so much water and blood under the bridge. He has lost a lot of support and belief. But who can galvanise such support and belief if the prime minister was defeated?

Most likely the country will be offered a coalition of court clusters and hidden promises which does not make a government of good character.

Not surprisingly, given what has happened over so many decades and in recent nasty political months, the country is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

As a non-partisan citizen, I had suggested that the prime minister form a unity government because of his incumbency. If he wins a parliamentary vote of confidence and misses forming a unity government again, thinking he can ride on the wave of a successful vaccination roll-out and herd immunity, he has another thing coming. There is more at stake than to play catch me if you can.

The health crisis is not over. Vaccines arrive by the week. New deadly strains are in the air. Developed countries, who control the bulk of vaccine supply, are already talking about boosters before the northern winter. The country’s test and trace infrastructure is not sturdy. The people are hungry and angry, many out of work. There is a limit to their suffering and patience.

The political so-called leaders must not forget there is more to Malaysia than their power and survival. They all say the economy has to be revived. But it will not be without stability. And it must be revived based on sustainable development.

There are so many details on sustainable development that have to be worked out. While the world screams, following the 6th report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Global climate crisis: inevitable, unprecedented and irreversible”, there is not a whimper out of Malaysia.

The political leaders are busy emitting fire and brimstone in an unending political struggle that is poisoning the country. Malaysia is running out of time.

By : Munir Majid (an FMT reader) – FMT

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