Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Resurrecting a Dead Malaysia

Written by johnleemk on 8:30:57 pm Jan 30, 2007.

In response to my calls for change in our country and society, I have not been surprised to find cynical remarks insisting that nothing can be done - that we are doomed to failure. Despite the very strong temptation to agree, I feel that a minuscule chance for change remains, and that as long as that chance exists, it is a chance worth taking. I am under no illusions about the state of things in Malaysia, but yet I believe that this country can be saved.

The key is, I believe, incremental steps. Our country is doomed to failure if it does not change, and few things can be more unwelcome than change. To make change palatable, it has to occur incrementally and in steps. We cannot remove the Bumiputra privileges or their economic and educational advantages under the NEP overnight. Neither can we reform our education system, develop a policy platform, build Rome, erect twin towers, or create a unified Malaysian identity in one day. None of these radical changes will happen quickly - indeed it is far from unlikely that we will not see our goals for this country fully realised within the span of our lifetime.

The important thing is to have a long-term plan, and then take short-term steps towards achieving the long-term goals we have set. Let's say we want to eradicate poverty among the Malays and remove the need for affirmative action policies in their favour. We cannot simply make a radical change like tossing out the NEP and implementing a generic economic need-based poverty policy. It makes economic sense, but not political sense, because it is simply too unpalatable for the vast majority of our country. How then? Simple - we take small steps towards our long-term goal. First, we set a cap on how much privilege you can get. If your net worth is above RM10 million, say, then none of your immediate family can receive your Bumi privileges. You will have to pay full price for your mansion and your children will not be given priority in government scholarships. (Hell, if you have that much money, you have no business taking public funds away from deserving poor candidates.) Any companies wholly-owned by you will not be given special status in bidding for government contracts, and so forth. Meanwhile, start expanding policies to address poverty at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Create incentives for small-time Bumiputra entrepreneurs to get into the business and expand. Use the carrot and stick wisely, rewarding those who succeed and mercilessly punishing those who fail, sitting around and waiting for a durian runtuh to fall out of the sky. Over time, these policies can be expanded and the cap on privileges can be reduced, without too many complaints - and, eventually, the system of affirmative action will die a natural death, and can be replaced by a race-blind poverty eradication policy.

Every radical change must be implemented in incremental steps. The main problem with our country is that we have never really planned for the long term. Our policies have always been ad hoc, improvised as a response to an immediate problem, without regard for the long-term effects. The end result is that we have a hodge-podge of conflicting policies, government departments with overlapping jurisdiction, and...well, the list could go on and on, couldn't it? Even the opposition political parties have been prone to this, often doing what is politically expedient in the present while not planning for the long run. They want to be in the government, but they never plan for what they will do once they are in the government, nor do they take incremental steps towards achieving their aim of being in the government. Instead, they thrash around blindly and improvise their manoeuvres, hoping something will work. This is not a recipe for success - as the advertisement goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Our country has been run on an ad hoc basis for far too long, and it's time we took a long-term view in planning, while focusing on how to achieve our long-term goals through short-term ideas.

It's quite true that our country's time may be up. Presently, it is hard to see whether there will be enough time for these incremental steps towards change to gain momentum. It may be that the critical moment has passed, and that we are too late - our country is doomed. But as long as there is a significant chance that incremental steps can work, there is no harm in working towards long-term radical change through these small steps.

I know it is frustrating for all of us to be stuck in such a situation - where our country appears to be on the verge of permanent destruction. (If you can't see that we're headed down the path to infinite ignominy, I submit that you have not been paying enough attention to the abuses of our government and the racism of our ruling party.) I have been urged by several to give up. Two reasons have been repeatedly given. One is that it's just not a fight worth fighting; the other is that my ideals are utterly impossible to implement in this country. To the latter, I say, "incremental steps". Radical change can be achieved through baby steps. It must have seemed an impossible task for early civil rights campaigners in the United States to achieve equality, but they pushed on. With every small victory, they edged slightly closer to their long-term goal. They knew what they wanted to achieve in the long run, and they charted a flexible plan for the short run with achieving their long run goal in mind. Eventually, their efforts snowalled, and they suddenly found themselves granted full and equal rights thanks to the unstoppable momentum they'd gained. It is not out of the question that something similar could happen here, though I admit that our whole country is such a mess that to turn this country around, we'd need the equivalent of perhaps half a dozen civil rights movements.

It is the depressing reality that changing this country, this society, at its core, is a very difficult, if not nigh-on-impossible task. Every aspect of our country needs to be altered in some drastic way. Our education system, from its examinations to its curriculum to its teachers to its infrastructure, to even something as basic as creating one unified national public school system, all demand change. Our governance and administration, from our ad hoc planning to our little Napoleons to corruption and wastage, cries for reform. Even the way we perceive ourselves and each other demands a paradigm change - from seeing each other as Malays, Chinese, Indians and lain-lain who happen to live in the same country, to seeing each other as simply Malaysians.

Nevertheless, if anything, the only reason this country is not worth fighting for is that there's probably a good chance it can't be saved, and that maybe, just maybe, it doesn't want to be saved. After all, most Malaysians, like it or not, are still racist chauvinist louts more concerned with preserving "their" institutions, whether these institutions are Malay-only schools and Malay-only economic privileges, or Chinese schools and a sense of separatist "Chineseness". Asking these people to give up their long-held conviction that they will die without their separate racial identity is like asking them to go jump into Tasik Chini. Meanwhile, the government isn't going to stop plundering, pillaging and raping the country no matter what we say, while the opposition will jump and down, making its usual shrill noises about the government without taking any concrete steps towards broadening its appeal and taking power. It seems impossible to change the minds of these people, and considering how stupid they all are, it may not be worth trying to turn them around from the brink of destruction.

The mark of a leader, though, is not giving the people what they want, but giving them what they need, even if they don't realise they need it. And, as I argued in The Death of Malaysia, Malaysians do know what we need:

So, speaking of this legacy, what do I want? I know what I want. It's what every decent and right-thinking Malaysian wants. I want my children to grow up feeling what I've never felt. I want them to grow up in a prosperous and free nation, and feel able to hold their heads high instead of hanging them in shame. I want my children to have a place in Malaysia. I want it to be the country they call home - a country that's always there for them. I want my children to grow up in a country, feeling a sense of pride, achievement and accomplishment in being able to call themselves "Malaysian" - in being able to flash their red passport at any airport terminal around the world with a sense of honour. I want my children to grow up knowing that they have a real opportunity to make the most of themselves, to maximise the potential they have been blessed with by God, without any discrimination - be it from the political or business establishment. I want them to hold to the principles that can and will make this country great if only we truly apply them: the principles encapsulated in our Rukunegara. I want that oath of allegiance to be more than the dead words it was to me and my generation. I want them to live it, feel it, breathe it - that is what I want for my children. And I believe that that is what every Malaysian, Malay, Chinese, Indian or lain-lain, Muslim, Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or animist, man or woman, wants for their children.

What our country needs now, in its darkest hour, is a leader who is capable of persuading and convincing the people to bite the bullet, and accept that these greater priorities take precedence over their own petty and communal interests. This persuasion need not be direct or even conscious; all the leader has to do is to lull the people into accepting the need for change in the direction our country is headed. And, again, the key to doing this is incremental steps towards change. At the same time, since we are planning for the long run, we must begin to nurture leaders of a similar calibre who can take up the banner of change and development after the present generation has fallen.

In the past, I have proposed the formation of a new political party to take power. I still stand by that proposal. But there are times when I think, "Bugger this, why should a bunch of ingrates like those goons calling themselves 'Malaysians' when they don't even consider themselves Malaysian deserve to see their country turned from the brink? They should be forced to watch as the country plummets to its death, all the while egged on by their own doing!"

But I think what really motivates me is the fact that I love my country. I don't love it for what it is now, but for what it can be. When I think of "Malaysia", I don't think of the things I see on a daily basis - the stomach-turning things that make you think this country has no future. Instead, I think of all the promise I saw in this country as a boy, and still see now. I think of the bliss I experienced growing up in a primary school where there was literally zero distinction on the basis of race or religion (a rarity, I know). I think of all the good times I had with my friends, and of all the fun we had bumming around after school. When I hear the "Negaraku" or see the Jalur Gemilang, I don't think of the moronic government which insists on my undying devotion while rejecting me as a Malaysian. I don't think of the foolish Prime Minister who gave our flag that name while he set us on the path to infinite ignominy. I just think of perhimpunan in my primary school - where, in all our odd and strange diversity, the national anthem and the Rukunegara actually meant something. Where they were not just dead words and cold rhetoric on a piece of paper, but things we lived and experienced everyday.

It's an idealised experience, I confess, but to me, it represents all the unrealised potential in this country. It was absolutely depressing how once I entered secondary school, the illusion of Malaysia vanished. It was from then on that I began to realise that this country is not yet a country. It consists of a bunch of squabbling morons, with a few rational people torn in between. What really drives my love for this country, is not these squabbling morons, but the promise of their children. At least, if I lived to see my illusion of a united Malaysia shattered, I can work to seeing that my children will not have to live with the horrible realisation that they are the citizens of a divided country, over half a century after it supposedly gained its independence.

Today, I look at this country, and I scoff at our independence. What independence do we have? How can we call ourselves merdeka when we have politicians plundering and raping the country, with scarcely anyone lifting a finger to fight it? How can we call ourselves merdeka when the divide and rule policies of our colonial masters have only been perfected by our new colonial masters in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya? How can we call ourselves merdeka when we remain enshackled by the philosophies and policies of yesteryear?

I will not be taking any chances on this country. I love it for the potential I see in it, and I love it because whenever I think of it, I don't think of the squabbling morons fighting for the opportunity to spread their ideals of bigotry and pillage (and this applies to politicians and so-called Malaysians from all ends of the political spectrum). When I think of Malaysia, I think of my memories growing up here. I think of how happy I was, and I wish that I could share such feelings with my children, and with their children. That is what I truly want - it may be unrealistic, but if we don't have unrealistic ideals to strive for, then what have we got?

But as I said, I won't be taking any chances. Call me unpatriotic, but I'm not one to stake everything on one bet. Hedging works in finance, and there's no reason it shouldn't work here either. Wherever I go, I will never forget my country, because I am Malaysian. I was born a Malaysian, and no matter what happens, I will die, in my heart, a Malaysian. I can't help it. My loyalty lies not with this horrid country calling itself Malaysia. My loyalty lies with the idealised Malaysia of my youth, and I plan to work on at least making the real Malaysia bear some resemblance to that idealised Malaysia. But given how unfairly the odds are stacked against this idealised country, I can't say I expect to be fighting for my ideal Malaysia here forever.

After all, I am but one man. What can I do? The fate of my idealised Malaysia does not lie in my hands. It lies in my fellow countrymen - those who, like me, consider themselves Malaysian first and foremost. If they stand up for change, if they stand up and fight the good fight, I will be standing here with them. In such a case, our struggle will be a struggle worth fighting. But if I remain a lone voice, what am I to do? I cannot remain here in this country, fighting the futile fight forever. No - in such a case, I will seek greener pastures. My heart will ache, my heart will pine, but if my country is doomed without a hope of salvation, there is no use in going down with it. I owe it to my children to fight for the country they deserve. But I also owe it to them to keep them from being dragged down in the wreckage of a failed ideal. The fate of their future lies in the hands of Malaysians who, like me, fear for our country - who fear that it will continue down its path of doom and damnation. Will my children grow up as Malaysians, knowing that their father played some small part in the prosperous country they live in? Or will they grow up as citizens of some foreign nation, knowing that their father, in his youth, played some futile role in attempting to alter the unalterable fate of that miserable country called Malaysia? That is the question I ask myself - and that is a question only you, the true Malaysians out there, can answer.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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