Change and the Malaysian middle class


  • A Humble Submission
  • Monday, 04 Apr 2016

We have a sizeable Malaysian middle class. To view the Malaysian middle class as a single, homogeneous entity would be problematic.

Yet there are certain common traits which are identifiable with the Malaysian middle class, at least the ones close to the top half of the middle class sphere. These are people who are educated, financially stable, internet savvy and live in the urban centers of the country. Recently, these urbanites are also said to be more likely to be critical of the establishment.

By and large, they believe that change is needed in the country. Whether that change is a change in policies, or a change of political leadership, or perhaps even a wholesale change of the framework of the country depends on which middle class person you ask. But one can safely conclude that the average, upper middle class person, the one sipping Starbucks in Bangsar, want some sort of change.

By and large, these people know that there are hurdles and challenges to making changes in the country. They can point to systemic corruption, lack of political will, patronage, a lumbering and inefficient civil service, weak institutions of the State, flawed electoral system, racial and religious fearmongering and so on.

They also feel that the masses out there, outside of their middle class sphere, are ‘less educated’ or at least ‘less informed’ than them. To them, these people prevent real and meaningful change from happening because the powers that be draw strength from pandering to these ‘uneducated’ or ‘uninformed’ masses.

But at the same time, they do not know how to overcome these challenges. Worse is that they do not want to roll up their sleeves to overcome these hurdles.

So they ‘outsource’ this task to the politicians, usually from the opposition. Yet they also distrust these politicians, lumping all politicians together, good or bad, as hypocrites and power hungry individuals working for their own interests instead of the people.

The urbanites say that ‘we need good people to join politics’, but at the same time when good people do join politics he or she will be dismissed as ‘just another politician’.

They forget that not all politicians are made from the same mould.  There are many good and honest politicians in the country. Politicians who give their time and effort for the people with little reward. Politicians who risk their own personal liberties to push for change and challenge the establishment. Some of them have even spent time behind bars because of politics.

The Malaysian urbanites complain about politicians, but they expect politicians to push for change.

They want change, but they feel that the system is flawed. But they do not want a revolution as they want stability. So they want change to come from the political process, but they do not like politicians and political activists who are pseudo-politicians, according to them.

They want change, but they want change on terms that they like. They do not want strategic alliances across the political divide to face a common enemy. They do not want a cooperation with individuals which they do not like. They do not want to explore possibilities when it comes to institutional reforms, for example.   

Of course, much of what is said here is a generalisation of these middle class urbanites. But being from a part of Malaysian middle class, I have observed this attitude in many people.

Change will not come merely by voting every 5 years. Change will not come merely by posting angry Facebook comments or tweets about the state of the country, or attending forums and talks or complaining in coffee shops. Change will not come if people do not do their parts to affect change. Change will not come if there is no will for change from all layers of society.

It is time that the Malaysian middle class urbanites realise that. Or else, we will still be talking about ‘change’ a decade from now.


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Middle class , Malaysia

   

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