Lots to worry about, thanks to endless politicking


  • Heart Talk
  • Sunday, 08 Dec 2019

Worrying results: A detail from the slide presentation of the Emir Research survey in Kuala Lumpur recently. The results are just one more thing for already much-worried Malaysians to worry about. — AZMAN GHANI/The Star

WHEN the findings of the National Worry Index (NWI) were released late last month, the 1990s classic by Bobby McFerrin floated into my mind. His famous song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, had some great lyrics about how not to be consumed by worry.

Some of the lines go like this: “In every life we have some trouble / But when you worry, you make it double / Don’t worry, be happy.” Simple words that make a lot of sense.

But with the nation scoring a high of 0.77 on a scale of 0 to 1 on the NWI, I’d be berated by my friends if I tell them to sing this song to drive away their worries. Because my friends, we are facing some very uncertain times in every sphere of our lives, from politics and the economy to education and race or religion.

What I find most tormenting are reports of a “deep state” that appears to be working hand-in-glove with parties using racial and religious lines to destabilise the ruling coalition. Little Napoleons are apparently making major decisions without consulting superiors. A case in point, according to Deputy Rural Development Minister R. Sivarasa, was the arrest of 12 people suspected of having links to the defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam militant group.

He alleged that the detentions involving DAP representatives under the controversial Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) were carried out while Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas was away on holiday, adding that the deep state planned this episode to damage the Pakatan Harapan government’s credibility.

Sivarasa spoke of “huge” police powers under Sosma in its current form but also implied that the deep state cabal included people in the AG’s Chambers. It’s mind-

boggling that neither the Inspector-General of Police nor the Home Minister has responded to or clarified such a serious allegation by none other than a deputy minister, and one with an extensive legal background too.

I worry that the elegant silence is a tacit acknowledgement of the existence of this deep state, ie, a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.

Let’s hope we don’t hear of the deep state infiltrating the judiciary or legal services because that would lead to the destruction of any democracy and the last bastion of hope for us ordinary folk.

Make no mistake, this and a host of other issues is all worrying. Reading social media posts or news items each day makes me and many others very apprehensive, not knowing what is going to hit us next. It could be someone insulting a race or religion or some strange policy announcement.

Or even a case of immoral activities involving senior politicians. When will these sorts of insults and accusations end? An Australian who is a former colleague of mine cannot believe that claims of homosexuality involving politicians have been resurfacing so many times over the past 15 years that she has been here. “It’s unbelievable,” she says.

I am not sure how scientific the NWI survey is but one thing I know is that the findings of the survey by the think tank Emir Research actually encapsulate all that is being discussed and debated on the ground, or almost all, anyway. It is, in fact, a timely warning to Pakatan to take the people seriously.

What worries me and many others more than anything is the way our political leaders have been responding to the worries of the rakyat in most of the issues raised. To our chagrin, some of their responses seem to be near nonchalant at times. Sadly, it reminds us of the previous regime, and even worse at times.

Frankly, if the leaders have not grasped the huge disconnect between them and the ground after the tsunami in the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor, we have many reasons to be really, really worried about where the country is headed. Those voters indicated that the people will use the power in their hands effectively.

I am not sure if the powers-that-be are paying any attention at all to these findings. The anxiety study, which gauged how worried people are at a national level, showed Malaysians scoring a “maximum worry” index of 0.77 on a scale of 0 to 1. It found that one in two Malaysians is unsure if the country’s future is on the right track.

Titled “Pulse From the Ground: Voices and Expectations of the Rakyat,” the survey found that 50% of Malaysians are unsure if the country’s future direction is on the right track, whether the Pakatan government is viable (46%) and whether the country’s economy is on a strong footing (44%).

When this is added to the 24% of Malaysians who categorically say that the country’s future direction is not headed the right way, it gets worrisome because a size-able proportion (46%) is unsure and 30% don’t think that Pakatan is viable, the report on the survey results said.

For Malaysians who had pinned their hopes on Pakatan to right the many wrongs of the past, this worry is real indeed. Because many of the past sins seem to be reappearing in the current administration.

With infighting plaguing the coalition’s largest partner, PKR, and the ongoing shadow fight between the “Prime Minister-in-waiting” Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the ruling coalition is under real threat.

This is not what the majority of Malaysians had voted for. They expected a massive change in how things are done so we could stop worrying constantly about our future.

Everyone worries in Malaysia. Politicians worry about their survival and how to fight off accusations of graft and immorality. The deposed kleptocrats are worrying about how to win back power so that they can abuse their positions to get out of the quandary they are in. And the people are worried that Pakatan’s leadership crisis and incompetence at some levels may cause the coalition to fall. This could possibly happen if all the leaders focus on is staying in power or regaining it.

In the meantime, many Malaysians are absolutely worried about the declining standard of education in Malaysia while neighbours Singapore and China have far surpassed the world in educational performance.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s triennial study of 15-year-old students across the world found that Chinese students outperformed others in science and mathematics, with Singapore also listed among the top nations. In contrast, our educators have been focusing on black school shoes while right wing groups have been demanding special privileges at the expense of merits and better performance.

In their perplexity, these groups are also calling for the abolishment of vernacular schools, blithely ignoring the fact that these institutions have been producing better quality students. And the fact that an estimated 70,000 Malay kids attend these schools. This is worrying.

Still on education, nobody will know the anxiety of non-Malay parents when SPM and STPM results are announced. The frustration of being deprived of places in universities and matriculation courses is an annual worry in Malaysia.

Over in the employment sector, workers from the B40 (lower income) group live in a state of constant worry and fear of losing their jobs as a result of the push for atomisation digitalisation of the workforce. Bank jobs are falling like tenpins with many financial institutions outsourcing jobs to companies in Sri Lanka and India and virtually no plans for reskilling or redesignating redundant locals. Does the government worry at all about this state of affairs? I’m not so sure.

Nothing beats the constant worry most Malaysians have about the ever-rising cost of living. Ask anyone and they will tell you the same story. If elected representatives cannot empathise with voters on this, they must be from another planet.

And, of course, we worry about which gender, race or religion is going to be insulted or degraded by MPs when Parliament sits. Pasar Salak MP Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman normally makes a dash for it. The august house is plagued with foot-in-the-mouth disease with no cure in sight.

A global positive index recently saw Indonesia placed high on the list while we were in the middle rung. Looking at how hard Indonesians work in Malaysia to earn a living and repatriate money back home, I am not surprised at all. It reflects their culture of working hard for their money.

When the Dr Mahathir-led Pakatan ousted Barisan Nasional 18 months ago, most Malaysians thought their worries were over. We thought it would be a new era and we would have a nation to be proud of – we never thought we would be stuck in a morass of despair like before.

Of course it’s natural to worry, but to be made to worry for the wrong reasons and to be consumed by it daily is detrimental to the country.

Heaven help us.

K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own.


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