Merdeka under the shadow of ‘new normal’

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Sketch by Aliran member Wong Soak Koon

While the pandemic is a scourge to be rid of, it can also be taken as a golden opportunity for Malaysians from all walks of life to work together to forge a safe, united and prosperous nation, Mustafa K Anuar writes.

This year’s Merdeka celebration, themed “Malaysia Cares”, was subdued due to the rude intervention of the menacing Covid-19 pandemic in our society.

But worse, as it has also done to the rest of the world, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the national economy, leaving in its tracks swelling retrenchment and unemployment figures, mounting debts, abundant poverty and troubled businesses and industries.

The battered economy has particularly hit hard the bottom 40% of households and other vulnerable groups that struggle almost on a daily basis to make ends meet.

Around the same time, the country was also disrupted by the so-called “Sheraton Move” last February that brought about a change of government, as well as a substantial shift in focus of policies.

Perikatan Nasional, which abruptly took over Putrajaya from Pakatan Harapan, largely veers towards putting more emphasis on the supposed interests and needs of the Malay-Muslim majority, ie its vote bank. It has, in turn, created increased anxiety and fear among members of other ethnic and cultural communities in the country.

This divide-and-rule approach, which is socially divisive and colonial in origin, is clearly part of the playbook of any political party whose raison d’etree is to capitalise on a manufactured siege mentality of its constituents.

Sixty-three years ago, the shouts of “Merdeka!” were made by our leaders to indicate our collective desire to free ourselves from colonial bondage, discrimination, muzzled voices, ethnic conflict, economic inertia and, last but not least, human indignity.

READ MORE:  MERDEKA! When will I be a Malaysian?

This means a lot to a country, which has subsequently morphed into an entity called Malaysia, that is now home to more than 32 million people of diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

That is why Malaysians must make the best of what they and their country have, to move forward and progress as a respectable member of the international community. Malaysians should also strive harder to reach greater heights from the ashes of the failed Vision 2020 policy that envisaged industrialised-nation status for Malaysia.

While there is always the potential for conflict, a diverse population can – and should – be harnessed into an asset that is crucial to nation-building. Strength can be derived from unity in diversity, to be sure.

Given the current situation in which many politicians are preoccupied with their own political survival and shenanigans, Malaysians must pick up the gauntlet themselves to help steer the country in a direction that is purposeful, caring and beneficial to all. Doing so will give substance to the otherwise much-maligned slogan, “Malaysia boleh!” (Malaysia can do it).

While the pandemic, which defies ethnic, cultural, religious and class boundaries, is a scourge to be rid of, it can also be taken as a golden opportunity for Malaysians from all walks of life to work together to forge a safe, united and prosperous nation. We have already seen ordinary Malaysians doing their bit for their country during the pandemic. Front-line personnel – particularly healthcare personnel, the police, armed forces and food-delivery people – have put their lives on the line to sustain and protect the lives of other Malaysians.

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There are other instances of civil society and Malaysian individuals, as found out by The Malaysian Insight recently, who put together their resources to care for there fellow Malaysians. Civil society group Mimicare, for example, started an emergency food basket programme to help distraught families as a result of the pandemic. The scheme distributed basic essentials to Malaysian and refugee families in Kapar, Meru, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Sentul, Puchong, Rawang, Batu Caves, Seremban and Lawas in Sarawak.

Concerned about village folk who do not have enough savings and are uncertain about securing jobs, Ahmad Azhraii Ahmad Kamal and his wife, Saadah Baharudin, were moved to help them with basic essentials. Starting with a mere RM50 in hand, they then got additional funding from Twitter friends and family members to buy a few kilos of vegetables from farmers who were unable to sell their produce during the movement control order period and chickens from a local poultry dealer, which were then distributed to the needy in their village.

Angel Food Bank founder Michelle Yap and her team have been helping families, many of whom are daily-wage- arners, since the start of the movement control order. Donations for their charity work came from food suppliers, friends and her company’s charity fund, and went towards helping families of all ethnic groups around the Klang Valley, including refugees stranded in the country.

Doctoral student Natasha Zulaikha focused on helping the Bateq Orang Asli in Pahang who are struggling to survive amid the pandemic. Her charity work was funded by donations from friends and the public who responded to her request for financial assistance on social media. Natasha felt the beauty in the people of all ethnic origins who came out to help each other and do what little they could to contribute.

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While these kind gestures may not be enough to lead to structural change in society, they do make a difference to the lives of ordinary Malaysians, particularly the vulnerable.

These ordinary things, which are drenched in humanity, are what make them proud Malaysians

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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