Watching The World

Published: Sunday October 4, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday October 4, 2015 MYT 4:41:24 PM

It could've been different

A COUPLE of 50th anniversaries cropped up lately that reminded me of just what a volatile region ours once was. Aug 9 was that of Singapore breaking away from Malaysia, while Sept 30 marked 50 years since the abortive coup in Indonesia which led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

The recent passing of police veteran Tan Sri Yuen Yuet Leng also reminded me of the sacrifices that went into defending Malaysia when the country was in its infancy.

As much as many of us would like to believe in the concept of divine predetermination, the fact is that the evolution of the modern Malaysian state was anything but predictable.

At one point, soon after World War II, the People’s Republic of Malaya was proposed. A left-wing ideal that pushed for an egalitarian society and bypassed traditional royal rule at a time when royals were being sidelined in Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and India, it soon fell by the wayside.

The Malayan Union was another way we could have gone, but ultimately today’s nation was shaped by our evolution into the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

Even one’s perceptions of heroes and villains changed over time. From Onn Jaafar to Tun Abdul Razak and Stephen Kalong Ningkan to Tun Fuad Stephens, Lee Kuan Yew and Chin Peng, each leader had detractors and devoted followers. Externally, Indonesia’s Sukarno and China’s Mao loomed as shadows guiding Malaysia’s extremists.

Various combinations, including the massive Malphilindo confederation of Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines, were discussed in the 1960s.

In 1962, Brunei held elections that were won by the left-leaning People’s party, which was not allowed to take power. It led to a revolt and Brunei’s independence being pushed back almost a full quarter century to 1984.

It really is hard to picture today, but in 1963 when Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya to form Malaysia, there were actually more Chinese than Malays.

As for Sabah and Sarawak, I’ve heard the argument that they would have been better off as independent nations, yet when one observes the foreign policies of the Cold War superpowers, it’s very likely that the United States would have imposed Marcos and Suharto type dictators on its peoples. You can’t tell me that those were better men than our very own Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Regionally in the 1960s, swinging cities like Yangon, pre-communist Phnom Penh and Saigon were more sophisticated than any place Malaysia had to offer, yet war and dictatorship would go on to set those places back by decades.

Today the scenario is very different, but somehow Malaysia seems no less at a crossroads. We are a multi-ethnic nation that is part of a vibrant region with over 600 million, yet to what extent are we building on our strengths?

What’s our unique selling point, our value-added? If we do not stand united as Malaysians, what chance do we have when others try to trample on us?

When I was growing up in the 1980s, we were part of the Asian tigers, standing alongside the likes of South Korea and other vibrant economies. Then it was Vision 2020, with a promise of developed nation status shining brightly in the future.

Today, the future is hazy. There have been times when our gears have stalled. Other times, the gears went into reverse. It pains me to admit that three-quarters of my generation in my extended families have moved on to what appears to them to be greener pastures.

I think back to the uncertainty of the past, and there is no denying the greater stability of modern Malaysia. But has that stability also brought us stagnation? And won’t stagnation lead to us sliding slowly back or sinking in the mud?

When I think of some of the moronic discussions that we encounter, with communities blaming their problems on each other and talk of states pulling out of the federation, I wonder what the future holds.

This Malaysia, this weird and wonderful hotch-potch of a nation, needs a boost. We need direction, clarity and open-hearted acknowledgment of our strengths and our weakness. There is extreme danger in continuing to bury our heads in the sand to avoid unpleasant and difficult decisions.

  • Star Online news editor Martin Vengadesan thinks we need to shed our tribal thinking before it destroys us.
  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

Tags / Keywords: politics, Malaysia, Singapore, WWII, Yuen Yuet Leng

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