By: Kalimullah Hassan

The Path to the Future

Whatever the result in the Malaysian polls this year, the more interesting, and probably defining thing for the country will be the post-election scenario. What happens then will determine Malaysia’s path.

We are, as a nation, sliding fast down the slippery slope; and what we do post the 2018 General Elections after almost 10 years of being in a stupor because of the incessant politicking will decide whether we continue to slide or whether we make a serious attempt at re-taking our place as one of the leading economies in this part of the world.

A sad fact is that over the years, race, religion and politics have consumed Malaysians. As a fledgling nation, our founding fathers used to say that our diversity was our strength. In fact, one of the strongest taglines that made Malaysia well known throughout the world was its tourism promo “Malaysia Truly Asia.”

Racial, Religious Polarization

In the past decade, we have seen divisions over race, religion and politics worsen and we are a very polarised country today.

The education system we inherited from the colonialists has slowly but surely declined and those who can afford it prefer private education, which has seen private schools and colleges mushroom. This further adds to the inequality in income and the socio-economic divide.

The civil service and system of government, probably the one other thing we can thank the British colonialists for, has also declined considerably. Corruption has flourished and people don’t bat an eyelid when they hear of millions being misappropriated. Businessmen privately moan and groan about the corruption and leakages; but the truth is that it is many of these same businessmen who have corrupted the country by greasing palms and then raking in money by overcharging and overbilling in contracts or providing public services.

Civil servants and politicians have been found to live far beyond their means with in some cases more than a hundred million ringgit in cash and valuables, stashed in their bank accounts or hidden in their homes. Integrity is no longer that prized a virtue.

Independent Media Doesn’t Exist

Independent media virtually doesn’t exist in Malaysia; and the practitioners of social media, the so-called influencers, are generally as bad as the corrupt politicians they criticize selectively. Law enforcement agencies have lost so much credibility that even when they act against those breaking the law, the perception is that the perpetrator probably ran afoul of politics rather than running afoul of the law.

The custodians and the institutions which in the early years contributed to a strong Malaysia because of their integrity, their patriotism and their desire to see enhancement in the fortunes of their fellow countrymen – people such as senior public servants, politicians, heads of government agencies –  are getting rarer today.

I am not saying that the majority of these custodians have gone to the dark side. There are still good people with good values. What I am saying is that the majority of these good people, these custodians and institutions, have been cowed into silence and look the other way more often than stand firm on principles of integrity. The more custodians that seal their lips and look the other way, the more Malaysia will slide down the abyss to the point of no return.

The famous Renaissance poet Dante is attributed with having said that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

It’s a nice quote; but when faced with a choice of being censured, losing their jobs and their perceived respectability, do people in that position worry about a hell they have not seen, a hell that only faith will make us believe in, or do they try to escape the living hell of a vindictive and oppressive regime? For many, it’s easier to look the other way because state and non-state actors can shell out retribution with impunity, stifling the dissenting voice into silence.

But if Dante is right, then I can safely say that there are many in Malaysia who occupy important posts in government and in commerce today, who will be seated next to each other in the hottest seats in hell.

Malaysia is not the only country to face such problems; but Malaysia did not have these problems on this scale in its early days. That’s why it was successful.

Eating the Seed Corn

If we look at the world’s most successful nations, we find that they succeeded because they invested in education, in building values, in strengthening the rule of law, in ensuring the sanctity of institutions, in fighting corruption and abuse of power, in allowing freedom of expression, freedom of practising religion while curbing extremism, a healthy environment for civil society to flourish, conditions for job creation and economic growth and improving the quality of life of their people.

In a post 2018 general election scenario, no matter which party comes to power, Malaysia’s future will depend on whether they abandon the practices which have become the norm and work on building up the values which made it successful in the past. The system is not totally broken; it can still be fixed. Malaysia is not a failed state yet and can still be rescued.

It is a daunting task but if we look at Singapore, which was almost a backwater just 50-odd years ago, or Hong Kong, which was riddled with corruption, and look at how they came out of it, then surely, I believe, Malaysia can also do it. But if it is business as usual post general election 2018, then I fear for the future of my country; for the future of my children; and the future of their children.

If nothing changes, then the cross we bear because of race, religion and politics in Malaysia will also be the cross that our future generations have to bear. And the scary part is that we may not come out of it for a long, long time; perhaps generations.