A year of learning and lessons

I still recall ushering in 2016. I was in Kuala Lumpur with friends and after a night of merriment punctuated by the burst of fireworks I remember telling myself that 2015 had passed really fast and I hope 2016 will go slower. But 2016 was even more brisk.??????

This last one was indeed a momentous year for Malaysia and the world. And we've witnessed a lot, including a slowing global economy, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump as United States President, a failed military coup in Turkey, terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Berlin and the demonetisation of 84% of India’s currency in circulation.

Domestically, political events have been most captivating with the resignation of Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir as Kedah Mentri Besar, the formation of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his allies and the Bersih 5 rally.

Political events were also highlighted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's historic visit to China, where deals worth US$24bil were inked between our two countries, and Barisan Nasional’s big win in the Sarawak state election and the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections,.

This has also been a year of achievements with Malaysia registering our best performance at an Olympics, winning three gold medals at the Paralympic Games as well and the completion of the Mass Rapid Transit (Phase 1) and Light Rail Transit extensions.

This year was also one that showcased the best we are when we as a nation cheered our athletes on, forgetting for a moment that we have always been defined more by our differences as opposed to our similarities.

Among the lessons we haven learnt, on the other hand, is that concerns of security and safety have shifted the political map in Europe and the US towards the right.

The rise of neo-populism and ?politics of demagoguery is indeed a worrying trend and it suggests that a new political order is indeed being conceived, with nuanced and dispassionate debate replaced by incendiary rhetoric and rabid oratory.

The failure of global powers to effectively tackle the Syrian crisis has led to an erosion of trust in multilateral efforts and global institutions. The recent news that Russia and Turkey have reached a ceasefire ushers much needed hope that there is a way out of this morass but again President Putin of Russia himself has admitted that it is a “fragile deal.”

There is a? pressing? need to effectively confront the Islamic State (IS) terror group because despite being weakened by the pounding it has been subjected to from the anti-IS coalition, the group remains a pernicious force and this can be seen by the Christmas market attack in Berlin.

The triumph of Trump in the US Presidential Election over Hilary Clinton has signalled a political earthquake as the Republican ran as an outsider. Of the nearly 700 counties that twice sent President Obama to the White House, a stunning one-third flipped to support Trump.

Trump also won in 194 of the 207 counties that voted for Obama either in 2008 or 2012.

I have to concede that Trump’s win was a low point for traditional political forces but it also was a wake up call, showing that politicians can't take the people for granted.

In this regard, the Prime Minister’s emphasis on delivery can be seen as prescient. Politicians must also showcase their efforts to make people’s lives better and not constantly say they will do so. This, to me, is an important lesson from 2016. 

The economy has also slowed in 2016 due to the drop in global commodity prices but palm oil has been a bright spot and this has been good news for Malaysia.

On to 2017, I expect heightened political temperature in Malaysia as parties prepare for an election that is expected in the first half of 2017. It will be an interesting election with Dr Mahathir leading the opposition against Barisan.

But it will also be a year of opportunity as the Government continues with its reform agenda and transformation as we march towards achieving high-income status in 2020.

I would conclude that 2016 has been a year of upheaval and contrasts but it has also been a year of learning and lessons. I do hope 2017 will be kinder to all of us and with that I wish all of you a very Happy New Year and best of luck with all the New Year resolutions.

I am also reminded of Oprah Winfrey’s words: "Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right."

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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