On 31 August 2017, Merdeka Day, there will be the usual statements about progress, nation-building and unity with a certain amount of flag-waving and perhaps a parade or two.
As we look back on the 60 years of Peninsular Malaysia and 54 years since the formation of Malaysia, many if not all of us will agree that we have come far. But many of us also feel that our progress is being hindered by the levels of corruption, religious chauvinism and extremism and toxic politics.
What we have witnessed has not only threatened but has begun to damage the wellbeing of the country and the unity of its people. We are in many instances on a downward trajectory if we do not halt what is happening.
To make sure that we get back on track, we need to strengthen our democratic institutions and ensure that the system has proper checks and balances for good and accountable governance. We must uphold the separation of powers by ensuring the independence of the judiciary and the legislature from any undue influence from the executive.
The press must be given more freedom from executive control to report the truth without fear or favour; oppressive laws must be repealed or amended. All agencies, be they in enforcement or otherwise, should strive for a full standard of professionalism, which also includes the recognition of the rights of those they are meant to serve or deal with.
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Political hooliganism and violence, which we have seen more frequently these days, must be stopped before it establishes itself as part and parcel of our political culture. Difference of opinions not only should be respected but also dealt with in a civilised fashion especially when it involves ethnic or religious conflicts.
Surely by now, our multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural country should be mature enough to celebrate diversity as its vital asset for it to move forward with confidence and much vigour. Indeed, the peoples of both East and West Malaysia, have an important role to play in the future of the country.
Not only must we be included in and benefit from the country’s planning and development but at the same time we have a duty to and must be allowed to hold elected leaders accountable to the path of true development for the country.
While we welcome investments, whether local or foreign, in our quest for holistic development, we should be more circumspect about their nature. Such investments should not undermine the nation’s political and economic sovereignty, and its strategic interests in the long run. Nor should they undermine the rights of workers (both local and migrant), the welfare of vulnerable groups and the environment.
Indeed, we should put people above profits: our development model should be more egalitarian without glaring disparities in income. A proper social security net must be put in place.
We look to a future for this country with leaders of integrity and who have a vision for the country. We look to a future where all levels of government are accountable, effective and efficient and corruption is a thing of the past.
This year’s Merdeka celebration is occurring in the context of an upcoming general election. Perhaps it is in this election that Malaysians can reflect on the realities in the country – how far we have come, how far we have to go, what holds us back or sends us down a slope – and vote to ensure that the country has the best chance of moving forward.
If we are not where we could or should be, then we should change things so that we stand a better chance of getting there! Selamat Merdeka to all.
Aliran executive committee
31 August 2017