Malaysia was once the beacon and reference yardstick for much of the Asean belt.
Our label then, the rising Asean ‘tiger’, inspired our neighbouring countries. Malaysia was proudly able to even share its mantra of “prosper thy neighbour” as Asean member countries counted on us for jobs, ideas, governance and societal progress.
Today, it will take humility to acknowledge we have become directionless.
A decade ago, many looked at Indonesia as a poverty-riddled, corrupt and fragmented nation. No more.
Today the peace, progress and prosperity all over Indonesia – a nation of over 270 million people of diverse cultures, beliefs and traditions – is propelling the nation forward.
Some will say it’s thanks to its leader, Joko Widodo, but the President himself will no doubt say it is the will of the people.
Likewise, with Vietnam, a nation of almost a 100 million people that once reeled from post-Vietnam War scars. It is already 37th in the world in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and 23rd in the world for purchasing power parity (PPP).
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These were just two of the Asean nations that just about a decade ago were looking up to Malaysia.
But all that is history. We are now severely pockmarked with racial and religious divisiveness and its related fanaticism and prejudices.
Despite having a unique check-and-balance constitutional monarchy system and with the advantages that geography and nature have given upon us, today we are desperate and desolate.
True or not true? As the Malay saying goes, “tepuk dada, tanya selera”.
We are unable to withstand the economic onslaught.
We are unable to stand up in the face of the East versus West superpower jostling.
We are so dangerously divided by race and religious power struggles.
The mounting frustrations and failure upon failure perhaps best explains why certain groups in East Malaysia are openly talking about separation.
Perhaps too it is no surprise that even a ruler has already threatened to take his state on a different trajectory, to be freed from the political failures we are now witnessing.
Our struggles are no more about building economic resilience.
Our struggles are no more about building and strengthening our history as a united nation.
Our struggles are no more about preparing for a World War Three eventuality.
We are instead so deeply entrenched in racism and religious bigotry.
Why? We have failed politically.
The time has come for us – though late in our journey of nationhood – to unite and expunge predatory politicians, who have been thriving successfully with wealth amassed and power brokered through their divisive political mantras.
It is high time to say goodbye to them and cleanse our shores of any trace of racism, to declare any form of religious intolerance and extremism unlawful.
It is time we stopped giving excuses like “the rural folk are too naïve” or that “cash is king” is too powerful to battle.
If Indonesians can come out of the woods, if Vietnam can rise from the ashes, so too can we.
It is time we get rid of all corrupt politicians with their venomous rhetoric to save the nation.
We do not have to wait for the general election. We begin now.
All religious leaders must convene, without blinkers, and play their part.
All NGOs, including civil society champions, must converge to drive a campaign together.
All activists must stand together and pool their strengths on this ‘battlefront’ against failed politicians, those in private enterprises who fuel narrow, divisive political poisons, and custodians of good governance who have profited through dubious means.
Professional associations and institutions must come out of their “we are apolitical” cocoons to rescue a fast-falling Malaysia.
The media need to free itself from the claws of paymasters who have bolted themselves to the gravy train of power, connections, vested interests and wealth accumulation.
We either rescue our nation together now or surrender our fate and future to the failed politicians at the coming general election.
The general election itself is not the ultimate panacea; gearing up for the election is where our destiny lies. That gearing up involves banishing all the political chameleons and crooks now.
If Indonesia can do it, if Vietnam can rise, so too can this once-upon-a-time Asean tiger.