Merdeka, in the midst of a pandemic

Photo by Shahrill Basri/The Edge

Photo by Shahrill Basri/The Edge

-A +A

MERDEKA!

On the 31st of August 2021, Malaysia will celebrate 64 years of independence. Over the last two years, the usual fanfare associated with the occasion (among others) has been replaced with quieter celebrations at home under what seems to be a perpetual state of lockdown.

Like the rest of the world, Malaysia is at war with an invisible enemy. New, more infectious variants of Covid-19 have spurred the rise in infections and a slowing down of our economic sectors. Amid the crisis, some businesses have adapted to the “new” normal.

We at PEMANDU Associates took on the challenge to do our work virtually and also develop what would eventually become one of the world’s most comprehensive indexes on Covid-19: the GCI (Global Covid-19 Index), for which we have received recognition from the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA).

However, for some, pivoting may not be enough. Every day that this pandemic drags on, more jobs and lives are lost. Thankfully, the nation’s efforts to rapidly administer vaccinations have put us amongst the fastest in the world over the past few months. We are now on track to deliver first doses to more than 80% of the adult population, and will have potentially 60% fully vaccinated by Merdeka day. I have the utmost respect for all our medical frontliners who have been fighting an endless battle for more than a year now. I certainly believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite this, we have seen many tales of woe from the everyday Malaysian. There have been desperate cries for help from all walks of life, and there has been a wave of pessimism that has swept the country.

Our policy-makers are in a continuous struggle to balance out the cost of lives versus livelihoods. Needless to say, there is a definite need for an aggressive, multi-dimensional recovery programme to reinvigorate our economy.

In many ways, Malaysia will need a whole new National Transformation Programme, on a scale that will supersede the programmes of the past to overcome today’s extraordinary circumstances. Such a programme will need to look into all current and upcoming economic sectors, whilst balancing out our workforce, health system, education, security, stability and even the civil service.

Key to its success will be taking a facilitative approach with a healthy feedback loop for both the rakyat and opposition members. I am encouraged to see our newly minted Prime Minister taking steps to work with opposition members to steer our recovery plan. There is still much to be done, but I believe Malaysia has the tools and capabilities to do this.

Through all this, Malaysia unfortunately has become increasingly polarised; be it on race, religion, or even on political alignment. There have been repeated calls for change. Amid all the polarisation, there have also been calls for unity. All of our leaders, past and present, have tried in many different ways to achieve some form of unity amongst as many Malaysians as possible. But despite these efforts, polarisation continues to brew.

A few weeks ago, I read an opinion piece by Datuk Seri Nazir Razak. He made a clarion call for a national reset so that we can build a better Malaysia.

In short, he argues that the system of democracy that the British left behind is insufficient to handle the complexities of Malaysia’s multi-cultural society and its unique history. He points out that our former leaders recognised this in the 1970s and set up a council of Malaysia’s best minds, the National Consultative Council (NCC), to propose a slew of institutional-wide reforms to deal with the system’s shortcomings — many of which remain relevant but unimplemented till today. He goes on to postulate that the existing system will continue to prevent any of our current leaders from achieving a true reform-based agenda.

I agree with him. In many ways, he is challenging Malaysians and the Government to take a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror, and truly acknowledge the deep-rooted problems that beset our nation. Only then can we make radical changes towards a better Malaysia. Perhaps the time has come for Malaysians and the Government to do so.

To quote the words of Martin Linsky: “To survive and succeed in exercising leadership, you must work as closely with your opponents as you do with your supporters.” I believe now is a better time than ever to put these words into action.

Selamat Hari Merdeka!