Commentary: Malaysia is at a crossroads, of fear and hope of reform

Updated: Jul 17

Helmy Haja Mydin


THE most potent paralytic agent is fear.


In medicine, there are times for in-depth contemplation and there are moments when time is of the essence – a second's delay may result in death or permanent damage.


In the latter scenarios, the key is to take in all relevant facts, analyse the data and make a decision that helps achieve our goals (in an emergency, it's the "simple" goal of keeping the patient alive).


There is literally no time to be afraid as fear leads to a complete cessation of thought.

In worst case scenarios, this can lead to a downward spiral resulting in the patient's deterioration.


This, in turn, can prompt panicky interventions that ironically worsen matters.


It would appear that Malaysia is coming to a standstill as a result of fear.


Enough people voted for change during the watershed elections of May 2018. This was a time of hope and excitement, of high expectations that were not tampered by reality.


Unfortunately these sentiments have since trundled down to fear and anxiety.


Take our civil servants, the bedrock of the country. Many fear a witch-hunt, many are afraid of saying anything for fear of backlash.


Career PTD officers have told me that they are reluctant to share their opinions – if they are seen as being too critical, the response can be directed at their individual persons rather than at the issue at hand.


Some senior civil servants delay making any significant policy decisions for fear of upsetting their political masters.


Some of these political masters (read: ministers) themselves are afraid of committing a faux pas and making fools of themselves. Some fear for their position, focusing on cementing their political strength instead of governing.


Even as the civil service looks to them for direction, they defer decision-making to the Cabinet; oft-times even to our nonagenarian Prime Minister who undoubtedly has more than enough on his plate.


Within the community, an increasing segment of Malays are afraid that their rights are eroding, while non-Malays fear increasing conservatism and extremism.


Voices demanding a re-think of the social contract grow louder with each passing by-election. Everyone shares a common bond in their concern of the stagnating economy. Local businessmen are fearful for their future, lamenting the lack of direction and growth.

GLCs (government-linked companies) fear making wrong moves, as many are unclear of their mandate.


Foreign investors are not keen for fear of inconsistent policies. When people feel desperate, with no hope in sight, some will feel that the only option left is to pursue more divisive and dangerous routes, including increasing tribalism and ethnocentrism.


The pattern throughout history and across the world is plain to see: when there is a struggle to put food on the table, altercations with "the Other" that would have previously been shrugged off, may spark outrage and fuel dissent.


Such incidences may panic the state into intervening by either appealing to sentiment or imposing authoritarian measures, ostensibly for the good of society.


When a doctor starts panicking, the patient usually ends up dead.


Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. It is far better to address issues before they turn malignant.


Most of us do not care about who holds what position or where, nor do we care

about which politician is most popular on social media. The rakyat care about the cost of living, the opportunity to thrive, the reformation of our august institutions, and measures to improve our education, healthcare and social services.


When leaders fail, it is sometimes up to the citizens to create a third force that can drive a national agenda. When the powers that be are too busy playing politics, we must make our voices heard and ensure that they are kept in line, just as when we should voice our support for each other when these same individuals attempt to revive the tired old tactics of racial politics.


It is high time we separate the wheat from chaff, and get our leaders to take responsibility for their actions AND inaction.


It is also time that we have some sense of hope and direction of where the country is heading; otherwise we will be left in a bloody mess from which there is no turning back.


This article was originally published in The Star Online.

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