In the 3rd of April, 2009, Muhammad Najib bin Abdul Razak was sworn in as the sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia. Since then, there has been an unprecedented level of civil unrest beginning with the Bersih movement. The movement, as the name in Malay implies, was formed to call for transparent and ‘clean’ elections after the highly controversial and still-hotly debated “blackout” incident in the nation’s 13th General Elections which saw the current party, Barisan Nasional, remain in power despite increasingly unpopular views from the public. From there, everything the PM did appeared to result in more controversy; the imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim over sodomy allegations (again), everything to do 1MDB which would be far too much to condense in one blog post, many accusations of public fund embezzlement regarding his wife and most recently, his deal with Donald J. Trump promising to replace all aircraft engines with American-made ones beginning with AirAsia.
Usually, in light of such damaging incidents, a politician’s career would be ruined. Park Geun-hye was impeached for business deals and political manipulation schemes that would be laughable when compared to the dubious conduct of a regular senior officer in a Malaysian government office. So why then, aside from the Bersih rallies that appear to be tamer with each new iteration, are the people of Malaysia not doing much about it–particularly the youth?
I focus on the youth in particular because it is general knowledge that they are the next generation of leaders, innovators and industry pioneers. While I personally am grateful that Malaysia’s youth are not reactive to the extent of their US counterparts in terms of how outspoken and riot-prone they are, it is equally as depressing to see the lack of one. Sure, you are bound to hear a lot of spicy criticism of the government and the PM from your Uber or Grab driver, your workplace or local mamak/kopitiam, you never seem to see any form of opinion made publicly against the government in the media (aside from social media, of course.) This is baffling to think about especially when many people today live in an era of information overload. The very criticisms that you have heard these people show that the Malaysian youth are becoming politically-aware and are less susceptible to the common lies spewed by politicians. Yet, they do nothing. In fact, some of them would rather leave the country than attempt to challenge the system.
Why is that?
Being part of said youth myself, I believe the answer lies in this overwhelming feeling of defeat. The feeling that no matter what we do, we can achieve nothing. Will achieve nothing. The ruling party has constructed a political machine so well-oiled that they have plans to counter everything we may or may not have thought about; an Orwellian nightmare.
Why wouldn’t they feel defeat? The people under the Mahathir administration has seen the aftermath of Operation Lalang and silencing of dissenting voices so it would be natural for these people and the generation after them to feel defeated when the Najib administration does the same thing except under the guise of ‘counter-terrorism’ or ‘sedition’. If anything, his administration is so reviled that should a choice be given between Mahathir and Najib, most would definitely pick Mahathir. A similar situation is happening in Britain where most people would prefer Thatcher over Theresa. In both instances, they both picked the leaders who were known for their somewhat authoritarian practices because the chosen leaders were said to produce results for the countries they ruled and had a clear direction for their respective country’s future.
To some, this choice was a no-brainer: Mahathir put Malaysia in the spotlight for the economical success that got the country to be listed as one of the Tiger Cub economies of Asia, Najib put Malaysia in the spotlight for a RM2.2 billion scandal that even got the US Department of Justice involved.
Needless to say, it was clear that quite a number of people have an unpleasant view of Najib.
You might be wondering why this comparison is relevant in an explanation of the feeling of defeat. This comparison is relevant because, while Mahathir had a reputation for being blunt and cracking down on dissenters, he never did anything for the sake of approval of his opposition, often opting to stick to his guns and make enemies along the way. This meant that after his tenure as PM, there were a lot of prominent figures who were critical of the government including those who worked under him, which opened more room for criticsm to be given out and foster discussion and debates on policies. These ‘enemies’, also known as the opposition, are crucial for any government to function as they serve to point out any glaring mistakes a goverment makes. Not that Malaysia’s opposition was bad at that job but their focus tended to be quite narrow and often had an agenda of their own. This issue is then made complicated when considering that the opposition is now at each other’s throats, courtesy of both Najib and mistakes made by PKR in the Kajang Move. Najib, on the other hand, made ‘friends’. Anyone in UMNO who was either sacked or criticised by Mahathir would appear to heap Najib with praise. The opposition cannot do much either due to the aforementioned issues. This leaves the current government in an echo-chamber of sweet nothings for Najib as the vocal voices of opposition were now broken or forcefully silenced such as the repeat charges against Zunar, a political cartoonist and the organisers of Bersih.
This combination of a weakened opposition, foot-kissing politicians in BN and a clear draconian tendency to silence anyone who dares to even look at the PM the wrong way makes a very strong cocktail of despair for the youth. Add in the oft-used race card that many politicians love to abuse and the push for an ‘Islamisation’ of a moderate Muslim-majority country and you get a generation of cynical pessimists.
However, it is this very feeling of defeat that is going to keep the government in place because that is exactly what they want. Why worry of a revolt when no one feels like doing anything, right? In fact, it is soul-crushingly depressing to hear people complain about cuts in their BR1M handouts because you know that they have become slaves to the machine. The same apply for those who think about leaving the country because they do not bother to think about the fates of those less fortunate than they are. They can afford to think that way because they often have the means to do it. Instead of thinking of what they can do to improve the lives of those that cannot leave, they choose to save themselves; not even realising their role in securing the position of the very party they loathe. The party does not care about the people. If it did, we would all be one step closer to Vision 2020; Malaysia as a first-world nation.
Thus, in my honest and humble opinion as a Malaysian, we should all cast away this lingering poison, this sensation of defeat and instead use it to fuel our desire to be better. Better not only as an individual, but also as a citizen of Malaysia. Strive to fix problems, not run away from them. Unite not under the name of which each race has been given but under the banner of ‘Malaysian’ for every citizen that is born in Malaysia, lives in Malaysia and spent most of their lives in Malaysia have every right to be called one.
These words of mine are not the words of a patriot but those of a simple person who only wishes to see his country remain a home to its people.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece and serves the sole purpose of conveying my thoughts in written form.