Where to now, Malaysia?

(Reuters Pic)

Today is the last day before Malaysians head to the poll booth for the 14th general election (GE14). For those who have yet to decide on which candidate or party to vote for, there must be a myriad of questions going through your minds.

I have attended many ceramahs by both sides of the divide and listened to political rhetoric and vitriol. These are politicians, after all, and they will say what they need to in order to ensure victory.

But there is one glaring difference in my mind. One coalition advocates a Malaysia for all Malaysians while the other is extremely race- and religion-centric. One talks about tolerance between races and religions while the other talks about acceptance. Even a simple thing like welcoming each race in their own mother tongues seems to be missing from one party’s ceramahs. One talks about addressing corruption while the other seems to think that corruption is non-existent, minimal, or worse still, acceptable.

It is interesting to note that stalwarts from the ruling coalition are now campaigning for the opposition. In my mind, this must say something as these senior politicians obviously feel something is not right with the current state of affairs.

Both sides seem focused on running each other down. There has been name-calling and character assassination. Shouldn’t politics be based on who has the better policies, not childish name-calling? Is this the kind of calibre we want in our leaders? Can’t the coalitions focus on their manifestos and what they can do to make Malaysia great again?

And we were once great, in every sense. We were once considered a Tiger Cub Economy with rapid growth in the 1990s. But these days, we are being challenged even by countries like Vietnam which seem to be experiencing rapid growth and foreign investment. Our currency has dipped: although the ringgit was once on equal footing with the Singapore dollar, it has now dropped by about three-fold.

The cost of living has increased. Where we were once able to get weekly groceries for RM50 to RM100, we now struggle to get much for the same amount. With the exception of Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and perhaps Penang, Ipoh and Johor, the country seems still undeveloped. We see floods destroying homes in the east coast, year in and year out. Why has nothing been done to alleviate this?

On the sporting front, we once beat countries like South Korea and Japan in football. However, they have moved on to the world stage, hosting events like the World Cup while we struggle to even qualify.

Racial and religious acceptance and integration, too, seem to have changed from what I knew when I was growing up. There seems to be more polarisation now than ever before. It becomes worse when racial vitriol is spewed out by politicians and, instead of being stopped, it is allowed to fester.

It is even more worrying that after 61 years, we still talk about tolerance rather than acceptance. We seem to have become even more racially intolerant of our Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers as well. If you think about it, all of us had immigrant ancestors who came to this place to build a better life for themselves and, in turn, make Malaysia what it is today.

We also seem to have slid in many other areas. Our education system is not what it used to be. There are too many different types of schools: government, private, international, vernacular, religious, sekolah pondok, and others. This can’t be good for our children or for the society at large. We were once the envy of other countries for our superb English language skills, but now we find that many of our graduates can’t even string together a proper sentence.

The rule of law no longer seems to protect the people. In one case, a whistleblower was punished with a jail sentence while those he exposed got away scot-free.

Our local music industry appears to have suffered, as has our local movie industry. Freedom of the press seems to have suffered as well, with one-sided reporting obvious in mainstream media and TV. Fortunately, the use of smartphones has enabled many people to access real-time information, which is then propagated on social media.

Politicians seem to think that they are infallible, and that they do not serve the people. They seem to forget that they are in fact beholden to the people, not the other way around. It is not enough that we make our voice known every five years. We need to ensure that our elected representatives do our bidding and are held accountable.

So yes, my friends, we are partly to blame for not holding our elected representatives accountable.

There are always two sides to a coin. There are those of us who advocate change, and there are those who are happy with the status quo. One coalition has ruled this country for 61 years, and many people ask: why look for change after so long. That is something only you can answer as the choice is ultimately yours.

Come election day, it will be tough to decide between voting for the candidate and voting for the party. In our political situation right now, most MPs toe the party line regardless of their own conscience or belief. However, there are some who will do what they think is right regardless of the party’s stand.

At the end of the day, vote for the candidate whom you think can best represent your interests and will decide on parliamentary matters based on conscience and beliefs. If you feel that your candidate will always act along party lines, then vote for the party that you believe will best embody your ideals and aspirations for a better Malaysia.

So, quo vadis Malaysia? Where to now, Malaysia?

The choice is yours. Are you happy to remain with the status quo, or do you have bigger aspirations for a better Malaysia? The power is in your hands, as it has always been. It is time to stand up and vote for a better Malaysia.

This is the hope I have: that Malaysia will one day reach great heights again.

Go out and vote, and vote wisely.

Dharm Navaratnam is an FMT reader.

The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT.