Malaysia’s political mess undermines fight against coronavirus

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Muhyiddin Yassin's coalition - Photograph: Bernama/Malay Mail

JD Lovrenciear reflects on how the country is coping with the pandemic after the “non-backdoor government” takeover. 

We are told that the Muhyiddin Yassin-led government is not a “backdoor government” and there was no coup. 

So apparently, what we have is a non-coup, non-backdoor government that was installed to “save” the country. 

But such a political development in the midst of a global pandemic is costly. Who will bear that cost? Who will account for the miseries yet to unfold, God forbid? 

Did the movement control order to combat the coronavirus come a little too late? Was it poorly executed? 

First, the “wait-for-the-big-news” national address promised by the prime minister triggered a wave of speculation. 

Second, even before the 9pm national address on 16 March could kick off, panic-buying set in. 

Third, the unexplained one-hour delay before the PM’s address on national TV at 10pm raised more speculation. 

Fourth, no minister was able to communicate any decisions specific to their ministerial responsibilities because the movement control order comes under the purview of the National Security Council and the PM. 

Fifth, a tidal wave – an exodus of people and stockpiling of food stocks – was set in motion. 

With a 24-hour window, universities told their students to leave campuses. From Perlis to Johore to Sabah to Sarawak, a mad scramble to get transport ensued. 

As of midnight of the start of of the movement control oder, students were still either waiting for transport or crammed at the many public bus terminals like the TBS in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, people scrambled to stock up. Media updates and social media sharing of photos of empty shelves accelerated the panic-buying. 

Today, on the first day of the so-called “lockdown” (which it is not), we sit back and hold our breath, praying that the week ahead will not see an exponential rise of coronavirus victims or even go beyond the two deaths already recorded. 

Whatever arguments and opinions we may hold, the formation of this non-coup, non-backdoor government amidst a global pandemic was irresponsible. 

It has compromised our ability to tackle the virus attack. Malaysians did not need this. 

Today, people are worried to at the spike in coronavirus cases in Malaysia – the nation with the most cases in South East Asia.  

Healthcare workers are going to be under extreme duress and are exposed to critical risks.

Indeed, who should take the ultimate blame should we go the way of the Italian experience?

Tabung Covid-19 mockery

Amidst all this, the new government, which snatched away the people’s mandate through a political coup, faced more ridicule from the people. 

This came after it set up a Tabung Covid-19 (coronavirus fund) and asked people to donate so the new government could fight the virus and the socioeconomic woes that accompany this crisis.

The initiative irked the people. People asked many relevant and sensible questions. Social media overflowed with sarcasm. How could these leaders ask us to donate when we wage earners are already feeling the strain of the rising cost of living and job insecurity and the difficulty in coping with the pandemic? 

READ MORE:  Muhyiddin, are you really PM for all Malaysians?

Some of these leaders and politicians in power have incredible wealth. They claim they amassed it out on their own merit. Why can they not now step forward and part with their billions of ringgit as a show of national patriotism? 

Already the new government started with a bloated cabinet. That itself will eat into taxpayers’ contributions. Did these politicians who snatched power say they will take a substantial pay cut to contribute to the fund? 

As China was grappling to combat the virus, our politicians were more preoccupied in plotting a coup. 

Did they not know about the 16,000 Muslims risking their health at a gathering? What care did they show to protect this vulnerable gathering despite proclaiming they were forming this new government to safeguard “race and religion”? 

Today, we are saddled with the formidable task of contact-tracing the thousands who attending the Tabligh gathering. 

Despite six decades of proclaiming “progress and development” and great oil wealth, don’t we have enough national savings to combat the virus without the government having to turn to the struggling people for help?

Just before the coronavirus outbreak, some politicians were rewarded with gleaming Mercedes Benz limousines? Have they said they are willing to sell these cars and ensure that the money goes towards the health and wellbeing of the people? 

So can you blame the peoples for doubting this new bandwagon of leaders? 

Politicians, stop your power fights, fight the coronavirus 

The world is reeling with desperate measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization recently blasted government for not doing enough to protect their people. 

But in Malaysia, we had politicians celebrating or messing around with political jostling since the non-coup of 29 February.

Not only were the politicians kept busy plotting for weeks in the wake of the virus outbreak, they even saw it necessary to launch their takeover, instead of working with the then-functioning government of the day to fight the pandemic.

Some political parties were so busy questioning seat allocations instead of pushing for a total government effort to combat the spread of the virus.

The people’s focus was dissipated by all the politicking.

There was enough experience, new knowledge and learning curves all across the world since the virus broke out in Wuhan.

This is not just a health concern. It is hitting every nation on all four paradigms of humanity, ie politics, economy, social and environment.

Instead of reinforcing, consolidating and setting up a high powered joint taskforce from the start to curb the rising threat, they were so busy politicking. 

READ MORE:  Employers must think of their workers’ welfare during pandemic

In the aftermath of the takeover, consolidation of power and its distribution seemed to be the order of the day. This was damaging and frustrating for the entire nation.

So to all you plotting politicians, please stop your wars and instead rise to protect citizens and nation. With trade being affected and ships and airlines shutting down, life could get harder especially if we go in the direction of what is happening in Italy, Iran and South Korea. 

Treating migrants

While Malaysians trust the medical fraternity can rise to the challenge, there is an unspoken concern about the millions of undocumented migrant workers in the country. How will we ensure that these workers can access proper healthcare if suspected of having the virus? 

On humanitarian grounds, we cannot turn a blind eye to ensuring that undocumented workers are also screened for the virus? So it is good that fees have been waived for foreigners being treated for coronavirus. 

But would the fear of being detained for not having papers force them to self-medicate and stay off the radar of detection? Would a Malaysian or even a documented migrant worker give away his or her contacts with undocumented workers when health authorities perform contact tracing? 

How will we be able to enforce self-quarantine among the unknown undocumented migrants in peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia? 

Perhaps the Umno politicians who were so gung-ho about coming back into power should offer some light here. After all, it was the Barisan Nasional government which over the decades failed to ensure we only had documented foreign workers to meet the labour shortage. 

Public transport neglect?

Meanwhile, who is worrying about the thousands of daily commuters in our public transport system? 

While we are told to observe social distancing, has the transport minister said anything about people travelling to and from work in trains, buses or even ride-hailing cars?

What sanitisation and sterilisation efforts are being implemented by the operators? 

Profiteering must be condemned

Meanwhile, profiteering has reared its ugly head. Do our new leaders know that cooking oil and rice have gone up a couple of ringgit? Face masks are in short supply. It was disturbing to hear that one pharmacy in Selayang was selling face masks at RM1 each despite the government’s price control at RM0. 20.

What can we say of businesses trying to exploit and profiteer in the wake of this pandemic? Our society must penalise such business operators. 

If this is not greed, what is? Profiteering in the wake of a global crisis where lives are at risk is not only cruel but is tantamount to treason when the nation is in peril. 

READ MORE:  Coronavirus tests: Where does Malaysia stand?

It is time that we take action against such unscrupulous business operators. They should have no right to own businesses, given their absolute disregard of values and integrity. 

Trade bodies and associations must name and shame their members guilty of such practices. 

The government must make a policy statement on this and not burden enforcement units who have their hands full. 

Salute to our healthcare personnel

Our politicians were too busy with their post-coup activities. From “why am I not chosen?” to “Did we get enough of the spoils?” – these games dominated the daily news in the aftermath of the takeover.  

Meanwhile, the prospect of a national lockdown because of the coronavius cannot be dismissed.

Some 16,000 Muslims who convened recently for a gathering are being traced, and that should be a concern.

At least, now we can see for ourselves how much our politicians, lawmakers and their anointed head honchos really care for us ordinary minions.

Let as take this crisis as an opportunity to reflect a little.

Religions and racial differences do not matter in the wake of the pandemic virus outbreak.

Status and wealth are of no consequences to the advancing virus.

All the political clout one may have cannot make any difference to the virus.

Time to cleanse our conscience

But what does make a difference are the following:

  • We need to be united beyond race, religion, status, wealth and power. We need to feel, think and act as a common part of the larger humanity that crowds our planet
  • Politics and money and power cannot free our world from such attacks as we see now a world where stock markets are crashing, economies are uncertain by the hour, resources are becoming meaningless.
  • Borders are no guarantee of the survival of a nation. Principles and values are.
  • Will Malaysia be spared a severe beating or will we succumb to the advancing virus for which till today there is no vaccine? 

Let us remember a few things. 

All those healthcare personnel who are responding to the attack are putting themselves in a vulnerable situation. These doctors, nurses, paramedics and all ancillary staff members – we owe them our prayers and gratitude. 

May the world come together to rethink, to reflect and grow out of its past misdeeds, political faults and greed disguised as success. May we set human civilisation on a new Renaissance where religion, race, territoriality, borders and all that divides us are dumped.

And for our own beloved nation Malaysia, pray that this pandemic episode purifies our leaders, lawmakers, followers and the business community and all of us citizens who have a legitimate ownership of Malaysia – a land bestowed on us the people since independence.

It is time to cleanse our conscience. 

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