Ahead of the coming general election, the country finds itself once again at a crossroads.
For far too long, this country has seen an erosion of the principles that uphold good governance and democracy in the country eg justice, integrity, accountability, transparency, participatory decision-making and inclusiveness.
The steady erosion of these principles over time has affected key institutions such as the judiciary, the Electoral Commission, the police, the attorney general’s office, Bank Negara, and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
The politicisation of religion and ethnicity has worsened. Bigotry has emerged as a threat to our national harmony while politicians are allowed to manipulate ethno-religious sentiments for short-term political gain.
Over the last several years, the nation has been plagued by numerous financial scandals in which public money has been squandered: 1MDB, Felda, Tabung Haji, National Feedlot Corporation… These are indicative of a failure of checks and balances in the system and show us how badly reform is needed in the country.
Corruption and the siphoning off of public funds has reached staggering levels, which have made us world famous for all the wrong reasons. The wastage of public funds means less money for healthcare, education and social housing.
Meanwhile, whistleblowers are jailed and the corrupt are rewarded. The targeting of opposition leaders is of concern. Several key figures have been taken to court, and they could be ineligible to contest the election. The icon of the reformasi movement, Anwar Ibrahim, languishes in jail and will be unable to campaign if the election is held before June 2018.
All the while, those who suffer are the ordinary people who are burdened by the soaring cost of living, regressive taxation (GST), the removal of subsidies, and high household debt.
The ruling parties have lost their credibility and legitimacy while the opposition coalition is riddled with contradictions. So achieving any change will not be easy. We know the change this country needs will have to come in a variety of forms, including through institutional reforms on a major scale.
The odds are stacked against such a change: think of the lopsided redrawing of constituency boundaries; an opposition alliance trying hard to cobble together a working coalition with people responsible for the mess the country is in; and the three-corner contests expected in many seats. And it will be hard to move forward if we are constantly manipulated and divided along ethnic and religious lines.
Indeed, the road to Putrajaya is fraught with difficulties of all sorts. There will be setbacks and disappointments but we must press on and take the chance when it presents itself.
Granted the circumstances we find ourselves in and the options given to us are not ideal. But we must grab the chance and vote for change and reforms. And should a new government come to power, we would be obliged to monitor it closely as well. We need to be clear that voting for reform entails a longer-term civic responsibility beyond voting on polling day.
The country’s future depends on all of us. The power of your vote can make the difference.
Vote for institutional reform; save the country.
Aliran executive committee
17 February 2018