Before we implode in chronic anger

JUST two weeks ago, I was feeling fine. If you caught my last column, I said I was in a celebratory mood. Well, my feel-good mood has evaporated. Instead, I feel vexed, anxious and unsettled over so many things.

Post Hari Raya, Covid-19 infections are rising again. Not only that, dengue cases are up. More worrying are diseases affecting children.

The Health Ministry reported a huge spike in the cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, and 96% of the 22,463 cases reported nationwide last month were children aged below six. That is 12.8 times more in the same period last year with 1,752 cases.

The ministry has also put all clinics and hospitals on alert for acute hepatitis following a worldwide spike in cases of the disease of unknown origin in children.

What is happening to our kids?

Illnesses aren’t the only alarming thing. There is so much bad news on so many fronts, I barely know how to continue.

Perhaps the most obvious issue affecting us are the sky-rocketing prices of many food and non-food items across the board. Call it what you will – the butterfly, domino or ripple effect – our interconnected world is being thrown off-kilter by the Russo-Ukraine war, the renewed Covid-19-triggered lockdowns in China, and the increasingly adverse effects of climate change.

On the political front, our own funny people are still slugging it out over the “popular vote”. That term is so ironic to me. Most of those wooing us are unpopular characters foisted on us hapless citizens as candidates for elected office. Our 15th General Election may very well be a replay of what the South Koreans and Filipinos went through with their presidential elections.

In March, the Koreans went to the polls in what was dubbed the “election of the unfavourables”.

Writing for in the run-up to the election, associate professor of Korean Politics and History at the Australian National University Kim Hyung-A said: “Indeed, despite countless scandals and failures, the two main political parties in the country hardly changed their approach to politics or developed inspiring new policies that could steer the nation through numerous internal and external difficulties.”

She added that the annual Korean Society Dissatisfaction Survey conducted by Seoul National University showed that six out of 10 Koreans – more than 58% of the population – are in a state of “chronic anger” primarily due to “the immorality and corruption of political parties”.

This sounds so familiar, I wouldn’t be surprised if a dissatisfaction survey done here shows similar results, that Malaysians are in a state of chronic anger over our political parties.

As for the Filipinos giving a landslide victory to Ferdinard Marcos Jr, I was left gobsmacked.

I am old enough to remember how the Philippines was reduced to being the “sick man of Asia” under his father’s 21-year rule that was marked by corruption, extravagance and brutality that only ended in 1986.

Reuters reported that the National Union of People’s Lawyers, whose members include victims of persecution under Marcos senior’s martial law era, said the election was beyond comprehension and took aim at what it called Marcos’ historical revisionism: “Fact can really be stranger than fiction. Or to be more precise, fiction can be repackaged into fact,” it said in a statement.

It was also reported that apart from a vague message of unity, Marcos Jr won without offering any concrete policies to tackle the many challenges the country is facing.

Perhaps it’s understandable that the Filipinos have forgotten and forgiven Marcos Sr’s reign of terror since 36 years have passed, and it is a fact that people have short memories.

That type of revisionist history is also at work in our country with disgraced politicians walking around like they’re still relevant. How tragic that we are trapped in this political miasma full of hypocrisy and double-speak!

Still, on the surface, we manage to do fine. I will be the first to admit it. I live my middle class life in a safe and friendly neighbourhood; I get a steady supply of piped water (we haven’t had a water cut in six months, yay!), uninterrupted electricity and my garbage is collected regularly. The roads in the area are generally well maintained too. Whatever I need in terms of goods and services are just a short drive away. There is also the option of buying online and getting my orders delivered for a fee.

All this is still within my budget for the time being but I can see my shrinking ringgit is buying me less. I have to plan my meals more carefully with as little wastage as possible. I am even baking less as the price of butter and other imported ingredients have shot up.

But we know all is not well because simmering below that surface we have become even more deeply racially divisive and polarised. All the government policies since the May 13, 1969, race riots – like the ambitious New Economic Policy, its subsequent manifestations and Vision 2020 – failed to achieve their aim of creating a happy, united nation enjoying shared prosperity and well-being.

Our education system, which should be our most effective tool for national unity, has been so severely politicised, I can only describe it as schizophrenic (the Cambridge dictionary defines schizophrenic as “having qualities or attitudes that are different from each other and that do not work well together”).

Our brain drain has become monsoon-sized, benefiting other nations, especially Singapore, but it is dismissed as disloyal Malaysians, usually non-Malays, abandoning their country.

We have tumbled further down on the Transparency International corruption perception index but the institutions tasked with keeping people in positions of power and authority on the straight and narrow seem to be running their own political agendas.

All these are not new problems plaguing us but we haven’t crashed and burned like Sri Lanka or Sudan yet.

Luck always seemed to be on our side enough that it keeps us from plunging over the cliff. Perhaps because of this, most Malaysians are like the proverbial frogs in a slowly boiling pot of water, unable or unwilling to see threats or dangers creeping up on them until it is too late.

Indeed, we grumble a lot but we keep falling back into our bad old ways of voting along racial lines that keep returning bad old leaders to office. How deeply ironic that we lambast politicians who party hop as frogs but fail to recognise that our own frog-like behaviour may very well lead us on a downward spiral towards becoming the new sick man of Asia.

The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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