Is Malaysia a failed state?

Politicians here seem to be endlessly jostling for power instead of working towards a more sustainable, progressive future for the nation. Paul Lim shares his perspective from Europe.

I am following from afar what is happening in Malaysia, and I feel sad that in a beautiful country with pleasant peoples, its political scene seems continuously in turmoil with twists and turns, political fights, destructive party politics, power politics, money politics, racial politics – and what else?

I don’t think the future of the country is really in the minds of many politicians. Rather, it is about what I can plunder for my pockets and what power I can hold in my hand to lord it over others. Racial politics seems to be at the service of these politicians.

Another thought is if the Malay elite – mark my word, elite, and not the majority of the Malay people – want to lead the country, let it be. The question is whether it can lead the country into a more competitive 21st Century, where the success or survival of a country is not based on racial dominance, where development will be based more and more on the mind, its inventiveness, the quality of its human capital rather than on its natural resources, where inequalities will worsen.

How will we deal with all this? Will there be a brain drain out of Malaysia if there is no political stability – which has nothing to do with workers going on strike but because of political in-and-out fighting?

I pose this question because, here in Europe, the concerns are about climate change, renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions, saving the earth, what kind of economy we will have in the future. Where are the jobs coming from? What kind of security will people have? What is the future of the country? How are we going to deal with mass migration not just from war but from climate change?

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Are there similar concerns in Malaysia among politicians who have a responsibility for the future of the country, whether they are in government or in opposition? The morality of politics is about what we do for the country, for the people. It is not about running after power, after money and lording it over others. The existing crass gutter politics will not produce statesmen or women at all. In my view, there are no such people at all in Malaysia.

Hopefully, in the scientific and technological communities (if there is such a thing in Malaysia) and among economists, sociologists and others,  there are ongoing reflections and research into the paths Malaysia needs to take. What about the current state of education in Malaysia? Is it producing the kind of people we need for the future?

The future of Malaysia in the 21st Century requires these communities – not the politicians – to be the bedrock.

The other pillar will be the civil service: its state is also in question. A well-functioning civil service can keep the state/nation going. This is illustrated by certain states in Europe which have the experience of no elected governments for long periods and yet are able to function efficiently. Am I talking about a technocracy in government and in governance – perhaps this is what Malaysia needs at the moment? Out with the politicians in government and keep them only in Parliament?

I am afraid of Malaysia becoming a failed state – or is it already? It is falling behind Vietnam and may one day be behind the Philippines. Or is Indonesia ahead of Malaysia? We do not have to bring Singapore into the picture.

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Can we have a Malaysian economy whose pillars are oil/petrol and palm oil further into the 21st Century? The UAE, an oil-producing country smaller than Malaysia and trying to diversify from oil, has just launched a probe to Mars. Malaysia wants to take the EU to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over its projected reduction of palm oil imports.

That will not stop the EU from not just reducing palm oil biofuels but also other crop-based biofuels because it sees the future in other forms of renewable energy – like hydrogen? The first hydrogen train is on trial and will come into service soon. Transport will be electrified. Everything will be recycled in a circular economy. No more export of waste to third countries. There is research going on, prototypes in place, etc. This will be a new world.

Is Malaysia getting ready for this new world and putting more money into research rather than political squabbling? Does Malaysia want to be continuously dependent on foreign technologies whether American, European, Chinese, Japanese or South Korean? Does it just want to be a stop in the supply chain which, since Covid-19, has been questioned?

These are questions, issues of the future which should be on the table rather than who should occupy what positions in government and which coalition should be in government.

Civil society’s role in thinking of the future should not be forgotten either? It seems civil society is mainly occupied with the politics of the country and rightly so, but it should also be concerned with the issues of the future as well.

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What are the environmental organisations thinking of regarding climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions? What technologies are they exploring? What research are they doing to bring to the general public? What effective public education are they emitting?

I am putting these thoughts because of my observations of the concerns here in Europe, and I ask myself whether these concerns of the future world in the 21st Century are in the heads of concerned people in Malaysia.

Paul Lim is a retired professor who spent time in Malaysian universities but has returned home to Europe 

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10 Aug 2020 4.54am

Public voted and chose a new government. Unfortunately Greed, Corruption & Shameless act of some politicians created a self appointed Government. When the citizens votes is not respected then that country is a Failed State.

Ab Rahman
Ab Rahman
6 Aug 2020 7.26am

Malaysia is not only a failed state but is already deep in the garbage dump.

5 Aug 2020 12.02am

“What are the environmental organisations thinking of regarding climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions? What technologies are they exploring? What research are they doing to bring to the general public? What effective public education are they emitting?”

Exactly this.

Gram Massla
Gram Massla
3 Aug 2020 2.30am

Such condescension from afar. And Sino centric to boot. Democracy in Malaysia has rooted and is now ingrained and ineradicable. The past election has shown loud and eloquent participation of Malaysians in the choice of their leaders. Democracy is invaluable to a multi-racial nation like Malaysia as it allows for all voices to be heard. The current situation is but a minor ripple, a pimple. The outing and conviction of the most powerful person of the land refers to respect for the rule of law. Only when you respect the rule of at home can you be expected to respect the rights of others in the international arena. Malaysians everywhere can be proud of their functioning democracy.

See Guan Ho
See Guan Ho
2 Aug 2020 9.51pm

Malaysia is desperately needs total over haul in not only politically, but education and civil society, in terms of systems as well as approach. We celebrate the 1st Malaysian lady associate Prof in Oxford but never asked why the brilliant brain is servicing foreign turf but not in her motherland?

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
2 Aug 2020 2.20pm

Paul Lim, you have asked difficult questions here. Perhaps, even as you view Malaysia from afar, you still have fond thoughts for this country.
Be that as it may, I am afraid those will just be for sentimental sake. The fact of the matter that Malaysia is on that steep, slippery slope to be a failed state.

2 Aug 2020 10.53am

Malaysia dont really neex foreign workers. It has resources more than enough for her people. We only need intergrity leaders or MPs working for the peoples’ welfare in prosperity. It will be the envy of other nations because we have these capable people. We do not need to compete with other countries or resort to unscrupulous means to try to be at the top. We only need to choose rightly so Malaysians are well.

Andy Low
1 Sep 2020 7.42am
Reply to  songpeehoa

There’s no such thing as integrated leaders. Malaysia is already a … state.