Whither now, Malaysia Baharu?

IT is an Oxford tradition for students to pin a carnation to our sub fusc (academic gown) when sitting for examinations.

The colour of the carnation represents how far along our exams were, white for the first day, pink carnations for papers in between, and a red carnation indicates that it was our last paper for that particular examination.

The significance behind the colours is said to mean that our hearts slowly bled, alongside our brains, having sat for our final examinations.

Little do Oxfordians know, for three Malaysians who sat through our final exams for the Master of Public Policy last year, our hearts were also bleeding for another reason.

We sat for our last paper a week prior to nomination day for the 14th General Election

The morning after, I had breakfast with a stellar Malaysian corporate figure who put his support behind the movement #undirabu, and offered to sponsor the courier of Malaysian Oxford students’ votes back home if I could just organise the logistics.

For those not in the know, for the first-time in the last GE ballot papers were posted individually to registered voters residing overseas who had registered for the service with the elections commission. We then had to return our votes by 5pm, May 9, Malaysian time, to the return address.

The short period between nomination day and polling day then necessitated many of us to use an expensive courier service, or arrange for a “runner” to fly back home, just to be able to cast our votes – this story was highlighted in what was dubbed The Amazing Race for Malaysia and documented here: https://www.newmandala.org/amazing-race-malaysia-across-world/.

The irony of having had that breakfast meeting came from the fact that my ballot paper, as well as those of many other students in Oxford, only arrived on May 10. The saying “you never know what you lose until you have lost it” rang true – we received our ballot papers too late to have it matter.

And what a historic difference it was. Now, one year on, as I took time to reflect on having missed out on voting in the last GE, I think the best way forward is to continue to push for the progress I want to see in Malaysia.

The situation today can be best summed up by quoting Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s strategist, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, that we may have a new government in Putrajaya, but not a new Malaysia yet.

However, that is not to say the reforms that we so desire are so elusive that we cannot achieve them.

Narratives matter. Winning the hearts and minds of voters should not equate to pandering to populist ideas that are detrimental to the nation as a whole.

Nor should decisions be made only by elite minorities. Engagement with stakeholders on a particular policy question, advocacy and education of the narrative intended and feedback from the ground to gather data on policy implementation is crucial.

The buzzwords “blockchain”, “big data” and “IR4.0” should not remain mere catchphrases used to spice up political speeches or intellectual forums. We have the technology on our doorsteps; why are we not harnessing it?

During one of our classes in Oxford, a fellow student raised the question of whether we will see policies being made by artificial intelligence (AI) in the near future. The debate that followed was engaging, but the very possibility of it instils fear in my heart.

Already we are seeing policies that impact the majority be dictated by a small minority of people who are loudest in pushing their agenda.

We have seen how lobbying favours certain groups, how being ignorant of systems and structures and our typically Malaysian “tidak apa” (don’t care) attitude has cost us in the u-turn decisions on intended reforms.

We have seen how religious narratives are played to delay a federal ban on child marriage, pushing a case of blatant child abuse (which was compounded by the fact that the incident was shared proudly by the abuser on social media) under the carpet due to “religious education”, and harass women who shared their stories of oppression over actually rooting out a radical preacher and getting his extremist ideas away from the country.

Surely we do not want our lives to be dictated by unfeeling algorithms and cold statistics? How do we move forward then, to ensure that we will truly have a Malaysia Baharu?

As cliched as it is, the answer would be for us all to participate. We cannot just cast our ballots then walk away; bear in mind that some of us missed out on exercising this basic right; we must follow through for our hopes to come to fruition.

GE14 happened because many of us are anxious about what’s next for Malaysia. Now that we have changed governments, we must not lose hope and must instead accelerate our efforts towards the Malaysia that we think it could be, that Asian Tiger, that progressive Muslim-majority nation, that beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.

All aboard, Malaysians, we can truly embrace a new, improved nation if we stand together.

Lyana Khairuddin is a virologist turned policy nerd living in Kuala Lumpur. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

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