MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

No mood for Merdeka?


I notice that not many Malaysians are enthusiastic about celebrating Merdeka Day. On this date 65 years ago, the Federation of Malaya received independence from British rule, but there seems to be less cheer on the streets and in homes in 2022.

Several people I spoke to offered some reasons as to why they were not in the mood to celebrate this year.

The main reason is the rising cost of living, especially the jump in food prices. Fish, vegetables and meat are much more expensive and eating out is eating into their wallet.

Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, increased by 3.4% in June from a year earlier, according to the Department of Statistics. The food index increased 6.1% and remained the main contributor to the rise in inflation during June, said chief statistician Uzir Mahidin.

But people on the ground feel the statistics are not accurately reflecting the reality in the wet and dry markets, grocery stores and eateries.

Their frustration has been heightened by the perception that the government is not doing enough to help the poorer segments of society who are feeling the brunt of the price increases.

Nobody really knows by how much the bottom 40% of poor people has expanded over the past two years and whether it is still appropriate to refer to this category as the B40. Nobody knows by how much the percentage of the M40 group has declined. Some people in the middle-income category now find themselves in the same boat as those classified as being in the B40 group.

Another major reason, I was told, is the uncertainty about the direction of the nation. Malaysians are concerned about political instability and its ramifications. They also distrust politicians, and some government institutions and agencies.

Over the last few years especially, many politicians have been, and continue to be, seen as being self-interested and power hungry. The antics of many leaders of political parties – who have shown again and again that power is what they crave and that they’ll do almost anything to retain it – are there for all to see.

Trust in national leaders has been in steep decline and hope is fading for many citizens. There doesn’t seem to be any leader with the charisma and ability to unite the people and take the nation forward.

Some leaders are indulging in race politics, some are playing with religion, some are abusing their powers, some are chasing the wealth that power can bring and some are plainly incompetent.

There’s little to choose from; which is why people are hoping that fresh, young faces – with better ideas and character – will come to the fore.

The establishment has also shown intolerance for peaceful dissent. Young people and others who take to the streets to protest peacefully are being hauled up by the police or charged in court.

The voice of progressives is silenced by the use of the law and government agencies.

Even cartoonists and humourists have become targets of the establishment. Given the frustrations and pain that people face, they need to laugh at themselves and society via jokes and cartoons.

Comedians, cartoonists and even writers soothe sorrows and provide a safety valve for society’s frustrations, even rebelliousness. Nobody is asking those in authority to crack-up over the jokes of comedians, but they should not crackdown on them. The authorities should be more tolerant of houses of mirth.

People are also frustrated over increasing corruption, including graft among the elite. They are witness to cases of criminal breach of trust, graft and abuse of power. Even a former prime minister – Najib Razak – was guilty of this.

Although several former top politicians face various criminal charges, people feel that more politicians – current and former, and their associates – should be charged with corruption or abuse of power. The few that have been charged are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

There are those who are frustrated with the different way in which VIPs and the common man are treated by law enforcers. The perception is that investigations against certain VIPs are delayed or dropped and those who are charged are not treated the same way in which an ordinary citizen accused of a crime is treated. The perception is that some are above the law.

They notice that even Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is under threat of losing his position from some of his own party leaders and wonder where all this is leading.

They can’t understand how some Umno members and others can continue supporting someone who has been found guilty of corruption by nine different judges in a judicial process that took about four years, just as they can’t comprehend the pressure being applied to drop charges against some others.

They fear we may be losing our moral rudder. One person told me: “I’m shocked by the number of people who, rather than feel horrified that a crime has been committed, are horrified when their leaders are charged or found guilty of the crime by the courts.”

Meanwhile, citizens with some knowledge of current affairs worry about the state of our coffers, given the rise in national debt.

In a written reply in July, finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz told the Dewan Negara that the federal government’s debt at the end of June 2022 stood at RM1.045 trillion. This was 63.8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

He said RM43.1 billion, or 18.4%, of Putrajaya’s estimated total revenue was allocated to service the debt for the year 2022.

“By the end of June 2022, RM19.8 billion was spent to pay off the interests of the government’s outstanding debt,” he said.

Another reason for despondency, I was told, is that minorities are increasingly worried about their children’s future, given the political trend that suggests that Malay political parties are teaming up among themselves and stressing Malay rights instead of Malaysian rights.

Cultural diversity is losing ground to voices demanding near homogeneity.

And despite Ismail’s “Keluarga Malaysia” slogan and talk, the reality on the ground is that minorities feel discriminated against.

So, many ask, what is there to rejoice.

But despondency won’t help. Each of us has to take responsibility to make the nation better.

As Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah of Perak said in 2019: “It (independence) means being empowered to influence the future of our own nation, for the well-being of our people.

“It means being the masters of our own destiny and being responsible for charting and driving our progress, for the benefit of current and future Malaysians.”

First prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj often said Malaysia was a beautiful country and that we should all put in effort to make it a happy nation. I agree. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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