Most analysis done on our Prime Minister’s first anniversary helming the nation have given our leader a below than average score. This, coming after a long 24-year wait, where the moniker “PM Tepi” or “PM-in-waiting” became synonymous with Anwar Ibrahim.
The economic rejuvenation and institutional reforms haven’t come as fast as many people want. Everyone and their cat wades in, and takes side swipes at the PM and his motley crew of ministers.
The fissures in our delicately balanced society with competing parochial interests haven’t been mended. The Malaysian Tamil diaspora got into a furore this week, when an education ministry sponsored event, the National Tamil Language Carnival 2023, barred participants from reciting Tamil hymns at the start of the programme.
The unity government’s apologists say that Tamils should be thankful that the ministry actually held a carnival of this nature, instead of harping on this “small” issue. Minorities must be “grateful” and not demand more. Of course, the embattled minister of education apologised, and apparently the administrator who did this, has had “stern” action taken against her.
Well, it does not matter whether it was a small or a large gaffe, what matters is that it gives us an idea of the fractured national mood. Malaysians are treated differently according to their race. The all-powerful civil service, which includes the ministry of education, shows no sense of real “inclusivity.”
This week also saw a viral social media video where a Malaysian Muslim student in the UK took umbrage to a university’s Malaysian Society (MSOC) hosting an “afterparty” at the end of their annual MGames or sports carnival. She goes on to explain that this is a misalignment of Islamic values. She says, “…clubbing, drinking and partying have never been part of Malaysian culture.”
Her video led to further polarisation. Social media was awash with people either supporting her view or asking her to see beyond her “tempurung” or shell. I am not going to extol the virtues of an open mind for a young student when they study abroad. If it is not apparent, then it is a systemic failure in our education system, which results in these sorts of views.
Instead, I address here the “elephant in the room.”
Why do we always end up conflating “Malay culture” with “Malaysian culture!” It’s not one and the same.
Who said “clubbing, partying, and drinking” are not part of Malaysian culture? It may not be part of the “Malay culture.” But, it’s certainly part of “Malaysian culture.” We shouldn’t confuse “Malay culture” and “Malaysian culture.”
We are all Malaysians, but not all of us are Malays. However, everyone has personal and cultural values that determine our behaviour, and the choices we make. How can I tell you what to believe in?
So, the PM should see that we have an “operating system malfunction.” At the core, it seems that there are no agreed Malaysian “values” that do not include some religiosity. Therefore, in year two of his administration, many Malaysians like myself, would implore the PM to work on race relations and encourage inclusivity. Young minds, who form the next generation of Malaysians, must not confuse Malay culture or even Chinese culture, or Indian culture, or Iban culture, or Kadazan culture as being the one definitive “Malaysian culture.” We are a melting-pot nation.
I am not an economist, so I don’t really grasp the arguments that some people make about the lack of economic progress in the last year. But I have seen our economics minister declaring in parliament that for the first time in many years, we have had three consecutive quarters of growth. On television, this sounds good.
But as a consumer and also as a small business owner, this wonderfully rosy picture of a growing economy hasn’t yet trickled down to ordinary Malaysians. We only see rising costs and reduced spending by consumers. So, for the common folks, the economy is worrying because it’s impacting our lives.
As the PM begins year two of his tenure, many of us hope and pray that he works hard on helping us out with this. We need some relief. The cost of living must stabilise. It would help if the PM stays in the country a bit more, and focuses on this rather pressing problem. Some people, like his friend Khairy Jamaluddin, even say that perhaps he should get another finance minister to help sort this problem out.
Lastly, this government has to be about reforms, the very platform that got them elected. Institutions of government need efficient, far-sighted, and transparent improvements. Most Malaysians agree with this sentiment. That’s why the PM has to make reforms a massive priority for the next 12 months. But real reforms need to be seen and experienced because grandstanding announcements alone are not going to cut it anymore.
Having said all this, the PM can remain encouraged.
I think the analysts are right. As much as the non-Malay population in the country, who form the bulk of his voter base, are not satisfied about what is going on, they will not yet pull back support. They fear the alternative even more.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.