Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed took the centre stage at the UNGA yesterday with a powerful message for world peace and equality for all people. He did not neglect to recount his “greatest hits”: Israel and Palestine, Rohingya refugees, unconstrained capitalism, and Western imperialism and terrorism.
Malaysia will surely miss this enigmatic leader when he finally vacates the world’s political stage. We may never again enjoy his unique cocktail made of fearless truth, force of will, charisma, and political agility.
While he is a natural star in the international spotlight for his contrarian and stinging dialectic, this time he is perhaps less prudent, using his precious energy given the ground realities at the UN that is anchored to the interests of few, to the angst of many. And especially when the glow from the historic GE14 election win has started fading, and any fiery speech against Israel and America has less resonance right now with the Rakyat, than before.
Ending the brutality towards the Rohingya is surely important, but many citizens have turned their attention inwards upon their own stagnant economy, backward innovation, and spiritless politics. The frustration of the voters who overhauled the status-quo has turned energetic hope into lethargic disappointment.
The source of this angst is unmet expectations. The rakyat wanted the kleptocrats in jail, a reversal of rising costs, better quality of living, an influx of credible investment, high value-employment, affordable homes, affordable healthcare, and people-driven policies. Instead, we have endless court cases, widespread urban inflation, throw-back industrial ventures, and back-biting party scheming.
Yes, the government came into power burdened with the legacy of a decade of severe mismanagement — not to mention unfettered theft — by the former administration, but it’s fair to say that the incoming leadership are still struggling in executing the sea-change called for in its Manifesto. Tough as it may be, due to the inherited liabilities and debts, but time is surely fast running out. The Manifesto may need some recalibration due to current, true and new realities, and it can be certainly done and communicated to the Rakyat, transparently. This will enhance their understanding with what the present administration had to face and ease their unhappiness.
Also the good news is that the present administration still have time to turn the tide. A renewed calling from the leadership to face the light and spring into action instead of staring at it like frozen deer. It’s time to seize the day.
The economy is front and center. We don’t have any time to waste. Day by day it looks more likely that the US will slip into recession and the China growth “miracle” will disappear like the mirage it surely is.
The government must support the private sector to innovate and give more than just lip service to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) digital transformation. Where we are deficient in talent we must import it so that we can transfer the necessary skill sets that will put us definitively on the path of a high-value, high wages innovation economy.
The new administration is a unique opportunity to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy that has kept Malaysia in second place, as an also-ran economy compared to Singapore and Hong Kong. We cannot allow the inertia of the past to plague our future, readily embraced by our peers in Vietnam and Indonesia.
We must also recognise that the political acrobatics of race and religious divisiveness — identity politics — that kept Umno in power was toxic to the development of the maturity of the Nation. It further served to suppress the social underclass so that they felt they could only voice the concerns of community through identity politics.
The seemingly internal bickering in PH has fuelled optimism in Umno and PAS that it can return to the old status quo. This would be a tragedy for Malaysia, which has been given the rare “black-swan” chance to address the causes of problems over the symptoms. We must make the most of the present for the sake of our future.
Dr. Rais Hussin is President & CEO of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centered around principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation, and Rigour.