The Merdeka season is always a time of reflection for many Malaysians. Many put aside the year-long cynicism and negativity to drum up some patriotic fervour and genuine love for the country, though this seems to be less true with every passing year.
Of course, the “Merdeka season” these days stretches a bit longer than usual, right up to the now official “Malaysia Day” on 16 September. Somehow, gazetting it as a public holiday makes it more important to the general public.
My sentiment during this period is that – as it has been for quite some time now – I wish we had better leaders. That statement needs some unpacking.
When I say “better”, I don’t mean that I wish they went to better schools, are more capable of debating socio-economic issues, or have a flawless grasp of political concepts.
I mean I wish they were braver.
I wish they stood up for what they personally believed to be fair, just, right.
I wish our leaders realized that we – the rakyat – are whom they are meant to be looking out for, and not their fellow politicians, or even worse, their own selfish career progression.
I honestly do believe that there are many good, capable leaders in Malaysia – and yes, even in the government. But somehow, their expression of their own thoughts and convictions are stymied by political pressures, or having to toe the party line, or not say anything that may jeopardise their career.
Malaysia is certainly at a crossroads in her life. The political tsunami has come and gone.
The country, the rakyat, and its politicians, have certainly gone through many changes in the past three years. Information channels are more accessible than ever, and even the mainstream media are not as blatantly pro-government as they used to be (well, some of them anyway).
The opposition has done very well in creating a check and balance for the government, which has undeniably led to a change in perspective and attitude in the ruling coalition. As with all crossroads, there will be wrong turns, hesitation, accidents, and eventual progress.
All nations go through growing pains at various stages in their existence. This is natural.
But a crossroads calls for brave leaders to step up, put their heads above the parapet, and take risks and brave the inevitable backlash from some quarters for the good of the country as a whole.
Good move PM
I will give credit where credit is due, the decision and announcement by the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, on October 2009, to remove the Bumiputera equity rules and the Foreign Investment Committee was extremely brave.
Obviously, discussions must have been on-going for a long time, and deals or compromises must have been struck with the fiercest critics within the party, but it was a very strong, positive, and risky decision. The Bumiputera equity conditions have always been an ultra-sensitive topic, and no government leaders in the past have dared to even voice their opinion for the scrapping of the rules. It was brave, it promised a new dawn, and at the very least, it was a step in the right direction.
In recent times, another Bumiputera issue has been fiercely debated, that of the property purchase discounts. When purchasing properties, Bumiputeras are given a 7% discount on the price of the property. This is regardless of whether it is a poor or rich buyer, and also whether the property is commercial or residential, or whether it costs RM 500,000 or RM 5 million.
The opponents to this discount argue that there should be some sort of limitations, for example that the discount only be for the purchase of a home which the buyer intends to live in. Or that there should be a maximum purchase price qualification – a person buying a RM 2 million property surely does not “need” the discount.
And, in reality, the discount is abused by Bumiputeras who seek to make a quick buck by flipping the property for commercial gain, or even taking legal shortcuts like instant novations and taking an illegal commission for their signature.
The response of the Malay leaders has been disappointing, with some saying that it is unreasonable and unacceptable for such a ‘right’ to be questioned, and most just keeping quiet and hoping the controversial issue dies down.
This is just an example of the kind of issue which calls for strong and brave leaders to stand up and seek a resolution for the good of the country. But it’s not easy. These leaders are politicians, after all, and they did not get to their positions by fighting every issue.
I’m sure there is a genuine fear that – to move away from the party line, and to make controversial statements which may anger the party’s members, may lead to them losing a lot of support.
Someone like Khairy Jamaluddin, narrowly voted in as UMNO youth leader, would surely suffer a huge backlash if he stood up and said that the discount privileges should be removed, or reviewed. Khairy has been the most progressive and outspoken of the new wave of leaders within Barisan Nasional, but there is still the notion that, when it comes to the really difficult issues, he is held back by the risk of losing the support of the hardcore UMNO members.
There are many intelligent, rational, modern, and forward-thinking leaders within the UMNO ranks, but they seem afraid to speak up on controversial topics, and instead just provide meaningless soundbites on non-contentious issues to boost their visibility.
The problem is not unique to UMNO.
MCA and MIC need to rebuild
The MCA and MIC suffered severe loss of support from the Chinese and Indian communities, who realized that their leaders were not looking out for their interests, and were instead pandering to the whims of UMNO.
Three years ago, this would have been a controversial statement, but now, it has become undeniable, and both these parties have had to do a lot of soul-searching and rebuilding, which is still very much carrying on today.
The opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, has also been suffering from a loss of public confidence following their election successes. Many promises have been broken, and their leaders have had to go through a very steep learning curve in States which are opposition-controlled, as leading a government is certainly much more difficult than criticizing from the outside.
The infighting, defections, and general inconsistency has also led to the momentum from the elections being very much lost. After some time, the rakyat become wary of political games, and just want leaders who get the right things done in the right way.
That then, is my wish this Merdeka season.
That, in the coming months, Malaysia will see leaders rise up – both in the government and opposition ranks – to look after the needs of the rakyat. Leaders are supposed to have the best interests of the people at heart.
We need leaders who put the long-term good of the country ahead of their short-term political manoeuvrings.
Malaysia is crying out for leaders who are strongly convicted in their political ideologies and social values. They need to speak up against injustice, regardless of the party who committed it.
We need leaders who will speak out strongly against divisive parties like Perkasa, who seek only to wreck the country.
We don’t need leaders who are keen to warn other leaders not to talk about “sensitive issues” to avoid “creating trouble” – if leaders aren’t allowed to discuss these issues, who is?
The issues are not just race-based (though these are inevitably the most sensitive), but cover the gamut of national issues, from education to the economy, and social welfare to crime.
Some say that people get the leaders that they deserve. I think that – no matter how mature the population, or what the sentiment is amongst the public – it takes strong, brave leaders to make change happen.
Let’s MerdekakanMalaysia this September 16!