EVER since Pakatan Harapan’s momentous victory on May 9, ‘New Malaysia’ has become the catch-phrase to describe the nation’s new political landscape. It’s a handy phrase which captures a sense of the hope and excitement many Malaysians feel post-GE14.
But what exactly does it mean and more pertinently, are we there yet?
These are important questions to consider, as political analyst Dr Faisal Hazis pointed out at a political forum in Kuching last week.
According to him, it’s important to define what a ‘New Malaysia’ looks like so that we have a clear idea of where the nation is heading and how to get there.
His view is that although there has been a change of government, we are not quite a ‘New Malaysia’ yet because the old structures are still in place. But there is hope for a positive change and the people must play their part to bring it about.
“At best, we are in the process of transition from the old to the new. Yes, we have hope for change in this country. But a change in government doesn’t necessarily bring change to the country, so we need to be vigilant and understand the challenges in place,” he said.
So how do we define the ‘New Malaysia’?
Faisal’s answer was that it should be based on Pakatan Rakyat’s manifesto as they are the government of the day. It’s a useful suggestion because the manifesto outlines what the government pledges to do, which the rakyat can then use to hold them accountable.
“The people must scrutinise and memorise the manifesto. If the government doesn’t follow it, tell them off,” he said.
At the same time, he made the pertinent point that we also need to understand the challenges the country is facing that may hamper the government’s efforts to fulfil its manifesto. For instance, the high national debt and a potential slowdown in the global economy could have an impact on the thrust for a progressive and inclusive economy.
And what of Sarawak’s place in the New Malaysia?
We now find ourselves in the unprecedented position of being an opposition state, which makes the next state election due in 2021 a potentially interesting one to watch.
Incidentally, Faisal said the available data on GE14 results showed that Sarawak was the only state where Barisan Nasional obtained more than 50% of the popular vote.
Of course, the state Barisan parties have since quit the coalition to form the independent state-based Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), which has said it will continue to fight for Sarawak’s rights and autonomy.
Faisal, however, was quite critical of the state’s focus on autonomy when there were other issues to be addressed, including the lack of checks-and-balances.
“It’s important to reclaim state rights but this is not the only issue facing Sarawak. For example, since 1978, RM33bil in oil royalties has been paid to Sarawak but no one is asking where the money went.
“There are other issues in Sarawak such as corruption, weak democratic institutions, rising cost of living and limited job opportunities. If state rights are given back, would it resolve these issues?
“The counter-narrative to autonomy is autonomy with accountability. Autonomy must be managed transparently and with proper checks-and-balance in place,” he said.
This is such an important point and one that has all too often been sidelined in the talk about reclaiming state rights.
We need to include accountability in the conversation about autonomy and to demand it from politicians. Also, as Faisal suggested, we have a role to play in determining the new Malaysia.
“Don’t complain in WhatsApp groups only. Don’t just vote once every five years.
“You need to do the groundwork, get organised, join civil society groups, monitor the government’s performance, expose corruption and abuse of power, and build dialogues with others.”
If we want a new Malaysia, we have to do our part to achieve it!