2017 a year of rising living costs, unfulfilled aspirations

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It is quite clear there is little to be happy about regarding the socio-economic and political direction of the country, writes Henry Loh.

As 2017 draws to an end, it is good for all of us to take a step back and review the year that was for our beloved country, both the highs and the lows.

On the socio-economic front the rising cost of goods and services fuelled by the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has caused hardship to the lower-middle and lower income groups. It is not surprising that even many middle-class families are feeling the pinch as the prices of goods and services have been on an uptrend since GST was imposed.

The weak value of the ringgit vis a vis many foreign currencies has also cost the price of many imported goods to rise. This situation prompted popular entertainer and songstress Sheila Majid to lament in her tweet, “Food is expensive, ringgit is weak, cost of living is high… Focus on the job of getting our country back on track!…”

Of course, the ruling authorities were quick to disagree with the popular singer who was “singing out of tune”.

In the past, when the mainstream media were the dominant suppliers of news and information, it would have been easy to counter what was tweeted by Sheila. But with the ever-increasing influence of social media and the corresponding drop in the popularity of mainstream or traditional media, the BN government is finding it difficult to effectively counter such information.

Selangor BN for instance is responding by employing up to 16 people in its social media team tasked with monitoring news and issues written about the government and without doubt also finding ways and means to counter what is perceived as negative. With the general elections around the corner one can expect the battle in social media by the opposing sides to intensify significantly. Aliran’s wish is for truth to prevail.

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If we were to ask the ruling BN government whether elections in this country are conducted in a free and fair manner, you can expect the reply to be a resounding YES. But 10 years ago, groups had already seen the need for a coalition such as Bersih, which soon after evolved into a broad-based civil society movement (of which Aliran is part) to campaign for free and fair elections.

Over the years since its formation, Bersih has organised a total of five peaceful rallies: thousands of citizens have marched on the streets to demand changes in the electoral system consistent with free and fair elections. The strong support of concerned Rakyat who participated in Bersih rallies is a clear indication that many are simply not convinced that elections in this country are really free and fair. Hence it is a much deserved recognition and honour for Bersih to be awarded the prestigious Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award.

Those of us who have attended the Bersih rallies would have noticed a predominance of young people among the crowd. Indeed, many among the Facebook and Twitter generation recognise that not all is right in this country and express themselves by participating in these rallies.

The big question is, does the present political choices made available to the youth of today fulfil their needs and aspirations? Student activist Anis Syafiqah doesn’t think so and argues that “Malaysian youth are disillusioned and are no longer certain about who they could rely on to protect and look after the country”.

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Perhaps the Opposition that hopes to come into power at the next general election and move into Putrajaya should take the cue from Anis and other disillusioned youth and look seriously at their programmes and policies to bring about change.

For sure, if the Pakatan government-to-be is merely a mirror image of the existing Barisan Nasional government, then there would not be any real change. Of course if the present BN government can objectively claim that they are genuine practitioners of good governance, then they would be worthy of the people’s support. But clearly this is not the case as there are many instances of abuse of power and corruption scandals that are allowed to fester with the perpetrators left untouched.

Over the years of dominant BN rule, the authorities have amended some laws and promulgated new ones that have severely weakened the doctrine of separation of powers in Malaysia. Of the three arms of government – the executive, the legislative and the judiciary – way too much power is now concentrated in the executive. The opposition must address this severe imbalance and come up with policy suggestions that will ensure effective separation of powers, thereby making it more difficult for any abuse and manipulation.

Towards this end, Ronnie Ooi has written an open letter to Anwar Ibrahim urging him to look critically at Pakatan’s manifesto when it goes to the polls so that the rakyat is able to discern if genuine changes are being proposed. One need not go very far: just an open and clear declaration that under a Pakatan government the powers of the prime minister would be significantly reduced with more oversight by parliamentary committees would certainly make the opposition more worthy of support.

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We started by saying that we wanted to review the highs and the lows of 2017 but it is quite clear there is little to be happy about regarding the socio-economic and political agenda. And that’s not even touching on cultural and religious differences made use of by irresponsible politicians to further divide the rakyat.

But Bersih’s winning of an award is a good sign as it is an indication that there are still many concerned citizens in this country who wish to fight for change.

Many out there desire good governance, and they want those in power to ensure that the wellbeing of the rakyat – especially the poor, oppressed and downtrodden – is looked after.

Many are clamouring for perpetrators of corruption and abuse of power to be brought to justice.

These are the positive signs of hope that we need to continue to work on and develop.

Let us as discerning and concerned citizens of Malaysia ensure that we use our vote wisely in the coming general election, which is just around the corner.

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
19 December 2017

Thanks for dropping by! Apart from the views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed, the opinions in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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