Family hope for a healed Malaysia

Being part of a family involves nurturing a sense of belonging

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Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

In his maiden speech, new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called on fellow Malaysians, whom he now regards as “family”, to come together in the effort to rebuild the nation, which has been battered by the pandemic.

His supposed sentiment for inclusivity is important as it is indirectly a reaffirmation of the fact that Malaysians are indeed a “family” of diverse peoples, stretching from the interiors of Sarawak to the Perlis edge of the peninsula. They are the legitimate stakeholders.

To be sure, this diversity has all along been celebrated by many people who cherish and respect the differences found in all of us. Differences should not be conveniently turned into political capital to be exploited for narrow ends.

In line with the professed concern for inclusivity, it is noteworthy that the Ismail Sabri administration has expressed interest in reaching out to political rivals in the collective effort to fight the pandemic and revive the ailing economy.

This is why it is vital for Ismail Sabri and his government to gain the trust and confidence of the opposition with his offer to them to play a role in the national recovery council and the special committee on Covid.

Such cross-party cooperation can also take other forms at the federal and state levels for the larger good of the people.

However, the prime minister has a lot of persuading to do, particularly with the opposition, given that his ruling pact still suffers from a trust deficit. This partly explains the scepticism, if not cynicism, expressed by certain quarters.

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The disturbing history of this ruling pack, ie the bloodless coup and the bad blood between the ruling party and the opposition, has given rise to this perceived distrust.

That notwithstanding, the people’s wellbeing must be prioritised over excessive partisan politicking. The painful lessons from the past 17 months of political instability should not be lost on all concerned Malaysians.

There is a dire need to steer the country to a course where its citizens would feel secure in their lives and livelihoods and more. We have already seen too many deaths, suicides and sufferings related to the outbreak.

The economy needs a reboot. Ismail Sabri rightly pointed out the urgency of helping those who have lost their jobs, low or moderate income earners, small and medium enterprises and industries.

The spirit of inclusivity demands that government assistance be extended to desperate small business people, irrespective of their ethnic and religious backgrounds. No special preferences or qualifications are to be considered.

It is crucial that the Bera MP attempts to make good his “Malaysian family” concept so that it is not rendered eventually the same lifeless status as the slogans of previous administrations, eg “Bangsa Malaysia”, “1Malaysia” and “Prihatin”. We are done with superficial sloganeering.

Being part of a family obviously means having a sense of belonging.

The Orang Asli in the peninsula and the Orang Asal in the Borneo states, for example, would have a much stronger feeling of being part of the ‘family’ if the socioeconomic development pursued by the government accommodates their cultural practices and lifestyles, and if they are always consulted on the use of their customary native lands.

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Certain members of the ‘family’ ought not be treated like stepchildren.

Similarly, the vulnerable in our society warrant the government’s attention and help so that their socioeconomic status can be significantly improved in the long run. What their ethnic and religious backgrounds are should not be of concern at all.

The government should also effectively facilitate a sense of belonging by providing democratic space to ordinary Malaysians for the right to express themselves or dissent without fear or favour. To negate this right is to alienate them.

Institutional reforms, particularly those pertaining to the people’s rights to freely express, assemble and form associations, must be initiated. Democracy has a way of making one feel at home.

Such freedoms are also to ensure that the politicians who are supposedly entrusted to represent and protect the collective interests of the ‘family’ are held to account for their actions.

It is hoped that the family members will have a better future, guided by the principles of justice, freedom, mutual respect, and compassion. – The Malaysian Insight

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