Malaysia’s biggest test: Stepping out into the unknown

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Photograph: Geralt/Pixabay

It will be difficult to venture forward in a new unfamiliar environment, but we must work together as we enter uncertain times. Enoch Lim Ee writes.

I am writing this while stranded in my rented house in Kota Samarahan in Sarawak, unable to return to my hometown of Sandakan in Sabah.

It is difficult to witness the unfortunate events unfolding around the world, including Malaysia. We Malaysians are not used to any pandemic, let alone being prepared for one. When the coronavirus struck, many resorted to panic buying.

This is the greatest trial for us since independence. My peers are wondering what our lives will be like after this.

Problems popped up, one after the other, in the enforcement of the movement control order: people swarming desperately to get home without directives from the government, confusing statements from officials, and then the hardships many faced.

I myself wanted to go home. But as the days passed, with no end in sight, and after much personal struggle, I realised I would not be able to make it home to meet my family. I would be stuck here, continuing my studies until June.

That, however, became the least of my concerns – for I am happy wherever I may be. At least I can adapt properly here. Since January, I have told my family that I might not return home this year, and they are fine with it. So I spend some of my time at home playing games, watching YouTube and anime, and buying groceries.

I also keep up with the news, comments and expert opinions in the media. It is worth reflecting on what Malaysians are saying about their predicament. Some blame a certain religious group. Others blame the current government.

But I think we have been generalising too much, taking things for granted, spreading misinformation or having a ‘tidak apa’ (apathetic) mentality that endangers others. As we scan the news, many wonder if the country will ever recover and progress like in the “old normal days”.

For many, being confined to our homes means more time to lay back and rest and to be ready anytime to get back to our feet after the movement control order is lifted. But others are unhappy and face difficulty in making ends meet, their livelihoods threatened.

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A great deal of change is taking place in the Malaysian social fabric, in almost all aspects of life.

Impact on religious life, economy

We witness the powerful, damaging impact on religious communities as they are unable to perform their religious activities in their usual places of worship.

Many Christians, including me, can only take part in Sunday worship through live-streaming from church. The coronavirus has became a hindrance to the social fellowship that believers cherish.

While many may lament this, this period provides a great opportunity for religious communities to reflect, to explore and to understand our faith in God better. Perhaps we can think about how we can look out for and help our neighbours.

Many believed that a ‘holy atmosphere’ could only exist in places of worship, and it would be hard to replicate it in our homes. Why not take this chance to communicate online? Now that the holy month of Ramadan is here, Muslims can use the time to perform good deeds, to pray and to reflect on their lives.

This might seem strange coming from someone of a different faith like me, but we must do the best for the communities around us and for the country. I believe God will light up our darkest hours during these hard times.

What about the damage to our economy? For (the hypothetical) old Makcik Kiah, a month of being unable to sell pisang goreng (banana fritters) by the road-side would mean a loss of income for her family.

This crisis won’t just affect entrepreneurs of small and medium-sized enterprises, but employers and employees alike. Think of the business closures, the unemployment and the loss of wages. Some fear the economy will collapse soon.

With the economy staggering and federal debt rising, where can we find economic stability? Is the stimulus package enough to ease our financial problems? Can the government continue with simplistic plans like this?

Many long to see viable long-term solutions. Meanwhile, we will suffer economically in the months, even years, to come. Expect more shutdowns with higher unemployment, which will surely also hit the middle class too. It might be a long while before we can recover.

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Misfits and clowns

Despite these unavoidable problems, there is a bigger problem: the current Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

We should give credit to those who worked hard to curb this pandemic, especially the frontline doctors, nurses and medical experts. Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and the entire Ministry of Health’s efforts should be applauded.

But what irked me the most were the misfits and the sheer clownery displayed by ministers in these times of crisis.

We have a bumbling health minister who claims that drinking warm water cures Covid-19 and who says he was in a conference with supposedly “500 countries” (which he later tried to correct).

We have a higher education minister who encourages young people to use TikTok (instead of focusing on their university assignments).

We have worrying folk in the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development who urge wives to use “Doraemon” voices to please their husbands.

Political envoys were appointed with ministerial status. And opportunistic politicking is taking place at the wrong time.

Where are the voices of other ministries? Do they not have a collective responsibility to combat this pandemic?

It appears that the Ministry of Health and the director general have to shoulder the most responsibility. Why do we not see other ministries working out what they should do in their portfolios? Is there even a proper delegation of power? Where is the accountability?

And where are our voices, especially the young? I can only urge the government to be more accountable and transparent and to do what needs to be done. I may not approve of this government myself, but this is their responsibility, and if they fail, we will kick them out.

Impact on women

Meanwhile, the movement control order period has seen a troubling rise in domestic abuse cases.

First, there was the Talian Kasih controversy. Why was this important emergency line suspended during the first two weeks of the movement control order? It had to be restored when public pressure mounted. What does this tell you about the government’s attitude towards women during a crisis?

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Why do we hardly see any action in the media against the abusers? I might be wrong, but I hardly hear of any abusers being arrested.

One of the most shocking things was the advice given to women to wear make-up at home, not to wear “home clothes”, and to giggle coyly while speaking in a “Doraemon” voice. Does this not smack of sexism? Why are women reduced to a mere anime character?

More importantly, why place the burden only on women? Why does the ministry not urge men to be more loving and caring or to do more to help their wives and children? Without such advice, would it not fuel more toxic levels of patriarchy in society?

And so women are told to be patient if they are mistreated or abused. You can imagine how degrading and sad that sounds to women. It is ironic that the ministry that supposedly helps women became the very ones to teach them to be subservient to toxic men in toxic surroundings.

The government must take all these problems seriously instead of playing politics and indulging in misplaced priorities.

Things will never be the same again for Malaysians. We are all critically hurt – politically, economically and socially.

It will be difficult to adapt and venture forward in a new, unfamiliar environment after everything we have gone through. It will be akin to stepping out into a world that we once knew so well, yet now has become alien to us. A new normal, as many would say.

This is the challenge we face: the pandemic in 2020 has changed our lives. I hope Malaysians can recover – financially, physically, and mentally. We must now work together as we enter uncertain times; we cannot turn a blind eye to all the problems surrounding us. I wish all of us the best.

Enoch Lim Ee is an undergraduate student with a local university majoring in politics and government studies

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