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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I’m not proud of Malaysia - that’s why I’m not leaving



When someone asks you to ‘leave’ this country, it could mean one of two things.
One, it could mean going to a good place. For example, if you receive a job offer from Silicon Valley or the UN, someone will ask you to leave and seize that opportunity because there’s no equivalent here.
Oftentimes, this is said wrapped in somberness and helplessness. That the randomness of the time and place you are born is in rhythmic mismatch to your God-given talents.
Asking you to leave this country is a surrender to fate.
Or, two, it could come from a bad place. Someone will ask you to ‘leave’ because this land is not your land - that you do not belong here.
This is a question of ownership. Once, we used bravery against colonial outsiders to reclaim our land from pilferage and plunder; now we use cowardice against dissenters of government misdeeds and blunder.
Asking you to leave this country is a fear of a Watergate.
Who are the true masters?
But who gets to decide who should stay and who should leave? Who are the true masters of this land?
There are two possibilities.
One, the true masters of this country may be the political elite. Because elections are modelled on a winner-takes-all architecture and the executive power is highly concentrated in the hands of a few, governing politicians have enormous dominance.
And when accountability mechanisms exist only in form and not in substance, political elites start to believe that they are the bona fide masters of this country.
Over time, this power becomes so invincible that they perceive they possess sufficient moral capital to decide who should stay and who should leave.
Or, two, the true masters may be the collective mass of ordinary men and women on the ground. That true democracy is a reflection of the will of the people.


That the word ‘democracy’ originates from the Greek word of ‘demos’ - the common people. That was the early sense of where power should lie.
The people hold the key to the doors of government. In a democracy, the common people are the true masters, and politicians their servants.
From the narrow chambers of Athens to the airy tropics of Kuala Lumpur, the true masters are the people. They are the only ones with the moral standing to decide who should stay and who should leave.
Political elites have no say.
State of Malaysia: Good vs bad
When we talk about Malaysia, you could think one of two things.
One, you could prioritise your pride above all else. Being proud of Malaysia means being blind to the ills around you; like a doctor walking through an injury-stricken war zone and saying there’s nothing wrong.
This is willful ignorance bordering on dishonesty. When someone tells you that our politicians are corrupt, you say there is no proof. When someone shows you proof that they are corrupt, you say all politicians are corrupt.
Alarm bells ringing noisily become music to your ears; red lights flashing violently become your glorious cinema; poisonous pills injected bloodily becomes your staple diet. For pride, we no longer see right and wrong.


Or, two, you could think of Malaysia with clear eyes and a critical mind. You evaluate the public institutions. The ministries, Parliament, the judiciary, the election commission, the anti-corruption agencies, the prisons, the religious institutions, the universities.
And you ask yourself: are they doing their jobs right? Are they observing the limits of powers; are they employing the trust of the people with fierce integrity and unrelenting impartiality; are they reflecting our values?
You understand that you are not proud of Malaysia at this juncture. And it is because this country has an affective place in your heart that you are more critical of what it should become.
You are also aware that the people on the ground are mostly kind, hardworking, and well-intentioned. In this sea of good people, a stranglehold of a high cost of living, unemployment or devastating living conditions shouldn’t befall them.
There is something inherently unjust in seeing good people suffer for reasons not of their fault.
Two choices: Stay vs leave
And when you are faced with this dismal reality, you have one of two choices. One, you could choose to leave. Or, two, you could stay and fix it.
You are reminded that you stand on the shoulders of your ancestors who are more than just a collection of coarse hands, weary feet and battered chests. You stand on the shoulders of giants of unrelenting minds and undying spirits who built this country on the simple aspiration of a better tomorrow.
This is not false nostalgia of a romanticised past but an assembly of generational promises. We owe it to the hardworking people before us to realise a Malaysia where everyone has a place and the fruits of our labour are shared equitably.
The least we could do is stay and fix it. I’ve been told that I’m too much of a dreamer. But I’ve been taught since young to never throw away what could be fixed.
I’m not proud of Malaysia - that’s why I’m not leaving.

JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless giving. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature. He tweets at @JamesJSChai.- Mkini

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