The good, the bad and the ugly Malaysian

By Wong Sai Wan (The Star)

Many things have happened in the past 12 months and as our nation celebrates its 52nd birthday, it is time for us to re-examine ourselves.

I WRITE this in a hotel room in Jakarta, a couple of weeks after Indonesia celebrated its 64th Independence Day. In my short three-day trip here, I found our neighbours to be very proud of their heritage, culture and achievements.

While some of us Malaysians tend to thumb our noses at Indonesians just because our only contact with them is manual labourers or maids, the republic is actually very progressive, and with a thriving democracy.

Like us, their society is not perfect; the rich are very rich and the poor are extremely poor.

However, a growing middle class is changing Indonesian society slowly but surely.

Being away from home always makes me more aware of my Malaysian citizenship, and the pride I feel in being a citizen of a blessed nation.

The advances we have made in the past 52 years is nothing short of a miracle, as the then Malaya’s creation more than five decades ago was a rushed decision that was not welcomed by everyone.

The main reason the British granted independence to Malaya then was that it no longer had the political stomach to rule its colonies on the other side of the world.

Many non-Malays in Malaya then had reservations about being independent from the “mother country”, unsure about how the Malays would treat them.

Some Malays were unhappy with the compromise agreement for independence – everyone was to be granted citizenship.

However, as history has shown, we have done not too badly despite all the original reservations and doubts.

Yes, like Indonesia, our nation has its problems, but just like our neighbour, we have advanced – and in my opinion advanced at a slightly quicker pace.

Thirty years ago when I first left the country to study in England, I always found it difficult to tell people where Malaysia was. My answer had always been “between Thailand and Singapore”.

However, during my job-related travels in the past 15 years, I find that this description is no longer needed. Everywhere I have been to – whether in Europe, South and North America, Africa, or even Siberia – they know of Malaysia.

Sometimes, they know of us for the right reasons but there have also been times they know of Malaysia for all the wrong reasons.

But the nation must put its citizens and their joy first. It is pointless to have a famous country, but its people an unhappy and miserable lot.

That is something our politicians must realise – Malaysia is for all of us, not just for some.

It’s their job to ensure that we are generally happy and, more importantly, proud to be Malaysians.

To mark our 52nd Merdeka, I have drawn up three lists which I call “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Malaysia” based on what has happened in the past 12 months.

The Good

1. We are still a nation and able to talk about things without reaching for guns to resolve an issue.

2. The Government has finally agreed to do away with having all of us declare our ethnic origins when filling in official forms. This will make us all feel more Malaysian because we no longer focus on our differences but on our similarities.

3. We are now closer to getting more transparent in the administration of the 14 governments that make up our federation with the setting of the Key Performance Index and Key Result Areas to ensure more transparency and quicker delivery of service to the people.

4. We have not been hit by any massive natural disaster and therefore we are still the lucky nation that our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman said we were. The Tunku had said Malaysia was a lucky nation “because we have no earthquake, typhoon or volcano disaster”.

5. After six by-elections in less than a year, we all still went back to work the next day despite some of them being quite bad tempered and highly charged events.

The Bad

1. The return of mob politics where demonstrators take to the streets to confront the authorities or just to forment trouble. Both sides of the political divide see such moves as legitimate political tactics.

2. The only way we Malaysians seem to pass news to each other is to forward unsubstantiated allegations – whether via SMS, e-mail, or Twitter.

3. The blame game continues across the political divide. The 12th general election was more than 18 months ago but we seemed to have not moved on, stuck as it were in a political twilight zone.

4. Most urban residents do not even know who their neighbours are because we are too caught up eking out a living.

5. Crime is a major headache for every Malaysian and soon we may be afraid even to leave our houses.

The Ugly

1. Racial polarisation is getting worse and it seems we do not want to do anything about it except to complain. The fires of distrust between the communities is being stoked by various politicians with an agenda of their own.

2. Some ministers and other political leaders are out of touch with the reality on the streets. They continue to believe that they must dictate the way we think because they know what is best. Such people are irrelevant.

3. Many Malaysians continue to believe that everything done in Singapore, Hong Kong or India is correct and anything done in Malaysia is wrong. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy and a defeatist attitude.

4. Ancient and draconian laws continue to be used; such legislation needs to be rid of if Malaysian society were to advance even faster.

5. We are probably the worse road users in the world and our driving etiquette has not improved despite all sorts of campaigns at all levels.

The lists are not exhaustive but are in my personal opinion important matters that must be resolved before we celebrate our 53rd national day.

Deputy Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan will celebrate Aug 31 by feeling proud to be a Malaysian, but one who is aware of his own weaknesses.