Merdeka with a difference

Aug 31 is a very special day for Malaysians. It is the day we celebrate our independence from the British colonial masters through peaceful negotiations and patient deliberation.

Independence gave us the opportunity to govern the country according to our vision, hopes and dreams as a sovereign nation.

As we celebrate Merdeka this year, it would be good to ponder over what we went through in the last 62 years, our achievements and failures, where we are positioned now and where we are heading as a nation state.

Our colonial masters left us with the legacy of a political structure. We have a system of government based on constitutional monarchy.

The institutions and organs of government were well in place along with the administrative structure to serve the nation. That is not always the case for colonised lands.

We have done quite well as a sovereign nation and we have every reason to look back with a sense of pride at what we have achieved.

But our journey to today was not a bed of roses. More than 60 years of uninterrupted Umno-BN rule opened the door to rampant abuse and mismanagement in the country’s affairs.

When political masters rule a nation for too long with unbridled power, abuse and mismanagement usurps good governance. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Over time, we saw more and more corruption, robbery and financial scandals of huge scale being blatantly committed by our political masters. To ensure their continued hegemony and dominance over the people, the rule of law and good governance gave way to a system of divide and rule with sticks and carrots as the art of politics.

Divisive politics were often practised and allowed to take root in the system. Often, this was pushed to the brink to create a climate of fear among the populace.

Race and religion became and remain the two most popular political platforms to secure support from the people. Umno and PAS have always been at the forefront of promoting this brand of toxic politics.

The people became divided as each community tried to outdo the another. But that did not seem to bother Umno and PAS as long as they had a firm grip on their support group.

Not surprisingly, after six decades of Merdeka, we remain a disunited nation. It is an unfortunate situation.

For so long, the voices of dissent from the people, the civil societies and opposition parties, fell on deaf ears.

The people became almost resigned to the fact that it was nearly impossible to defeat Umno-BN at the polls as they had so much power, authority, money, logistics and government machinery at their disposal. Many simply gave up.

Then came the totally unexpected results of the 14th general election, where Pakatan Harapan (PH) managed to topple Umno-BN, ushering in a new government.

Like other Malaysians, I too dream of a safer, peaceful and more prosperous Malaysia, for Malaysians to think and behave as Malaysians who are united in their dreams, hopes and expectations. To think of ourselves as less of a Malay or non-Malay, but as Malaysians who are able to accept each other as brothers and sisters.

I thought this dream could become a reality under the new government.

But since the new government took over, it has been a mix of success and failure. Our nation is as divided as ever, perhaps even worse than before, with ugly politics of extremism, race and religion dominating our political landscape and national psyche.

The PH government which we expected to set new political directions and standards for a more united and harmonious Malaysia is itself following divisive and toxic politics.

Even Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whom people trusted to lead the narratives of Malaysia Baru, appears immersed in his own political agendas.

He appears unconcerned about maintaining and preserving consensus with the other PH component parties, or listening to the pulse and sentiments of the people on the ground.

Given such a scenario, the people should not leave it to their political masters to run the affairs of the nation. They must be prepared to engage with the government and together set the direction and destiny of the nation.

Let governance be determined by the people. It is not for the government to dictate things to the people as before.

The political situation remains fluid. It could get worse or it could get better. There are still some three years before the next election, time enough for PH to get its act straight.

Let us resolve to free ourselves from the trappings of an old mindset where race and religion control our views.

Let us liberate ourselves from all kinds of extremism and choose to walk hand-in-hand to build a new, united, peaceful and prosperous Malaysia.

We must realise that as Malaysians, we have no option except to work together.

We could build up our strength, dynamism, resilience and resourcefulness through our diversity.

For the Malays, stop feeling insecure and threatened by the non-Malays. You have the numbers, the political power, the institutional support and enough safeguards in the constitution. Do not let irresponsible political masters and community leaders poison your minds and hearts with their toxic politics.

For the non-Malays, embrace the Malays as the dominant community and work with them for the betterment of all.

It is heartening to note that of late, even Utusan Malaysia is prepared to say sorry for stirring up racism and religious bigotry against the non-Malays.

Let us stop the blame game and stand united as Malaysians.

For the young people, especially the three million new voters who will be voting for the first time in the 15th general election, let the next three years serve as an opportunity to learn more about Malaysian politics, national development, and how they want to chart and shape the nation.

In truth, we are talking about their future and that of the generations after them. Let them rise to the occasion and discharge their duties responsibly.

Only then can we hope to one day build a truly egalitarian and democratic society of people whose government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.