Where do we go from here?

The Malaysian flag or Jalur Gemilang and Sarawak flag is reflected in thousands of raindrops on a mirror during a rainy day in Kuching.

Fifty years after modern Malaysia was formed the country is at yet another crossroad.

THE Federation of Malaysia is 50 years old. Or is it 56 as us West Malaysians celebrated on 31 August two weeks ago? Many of us are still divided on that issue today.

The struggle to unite the country constitutionally, politically and economically has always been a challenge but religious and racial tolerance has been proven to be the best method used by our leaders to successfully unite its diverse population since independence to achieve peace and stability essential to develop the nation.

The country has also progressed with significant demographic changes in population and wealth distribution as Malaysians focused on nation building and prosperity.

But today the forces of globalisatisation, urbanization and the Internet is pulling the country's social fabric apart.

GE13 has confirmed this inevitable outcome. The country is at a crucial crossroads now. The election indicated that the country is now divided into two , mainly  between the urban and rural areas and again between West and East Malaysia.

The right wing conservative and left leaning liberal groups fight for political space to exert their agenda polarizing and dividing the country further at the same time.

Meanwhile, the moderate majority of the people in the country prefer to remain silent on difficult issues and allow the extreme views to prevail.

In education, the national school system continues to divide the country further to produce another generation of the young that do not physically mix or use the national language.

Many people were left disappointed when the new educational blueprint did not propose integration of the vernacular schools into a single national school system that promotes integration and not segregration.

Thankfully democracy in Malaysia is thriving and driving change in the country through the internet and social media. The electorate is becoming better informed  which is essential to a good democracy.

The freer flow of information has made the business of government less opaque and more transparent to the public.

Malaysia has been very lucky to be prosperous for a long time since the country opened up for investment 40 years ago.

But that prosperity has come with many consequences including the erosion of integrity and a rise in materialism and individualism in society.

Crime is a major consequence of the prosperity. But the police force has not been able to arrest the rise in crime in the country and make it feel safer.

Despite many pronouncements and action taken by the police, people in Malaysia still don't feel safe. Worse, the public perceives the police as corrupt.

Malaysia's prosperity has also attracted millions of foreign workers. But their introduction into the manufacturing and service industries has failed to reign in the rising cost of living in the country by lowering labour costs.

In fact the introduction of the low skilled low cost foreign labour has created other social problems in the country and minimized the benefits from employing them. We should be reducing our dependence on foreign labour.

Malaysians have been living a good life for the last 20 years. The country and its people have become wealthier due to the petroleum income derived by Petronas.

But we should be prepared to change our lifestyle when the oil windfall ends in the future.

The road ahead will be tougher for Malaysia as the petroleum income declines. The country will have to go through major structural changes to wean its citizens from the excesses of the oil revenue spending.

Moving forward, the country needs to use the resources of its people to deliver future economic growth and not rely solely on extracted underground wealth in the future.

To achieve this objective, the people must be united and not divided. The government must pull the people together under a common cause and create a sense of belonging that existed and glued the people to achieve a common goal at independence.

Our forefathers battled poverty and colonialism to bring the country to where it is today. Surely the task of the leaders today is easier with the wealth we have today.

The government must create a new model of fairer distribution of wealth in the country that discriminates the smallest number of people as possible and not the many.

No government in the world including the USA can be fair to every one of their citizens at the same time.

The government must create the conditions to allow private enterprises to develop and thrive with less government intervention. The involvement of GLCs ain the economy should be reduced to encourage more competition.

The government must take bold and courageous policy decisions on  national school integration and the quality of relevant education, respecting conflicting religious rights, taking the police force to task on tackling crime through community based initiatives, restructuring the economy through reduction of subsidies and dismantling protective barriers, restructuring of the national health service to ensure good quality healthcare at affordable cost and the restructuring of our national pension system to ensure that they are well funded to take care of a greying population in the future.

Finally the government should respond to the demographic , internet and social media changes to allow for a better democracy to flourish.

The government should continue the expansion of the national broadband network to deliver high speed data connections to rural areas to allow better access to information.

While this initiative may have a short term negative political impact on the government, the longer term objective of providing access to more information to the rural people will educate and improve democracy in the country.

But the people too should be responsible in using the Internet and not succumb to the habit of choosing only the facts that they want to suit their personal views and not for the good of the country as a whole.

This is because bad information can lead to disastrous decisions and be detrimental to choosing the best government to manage the country.

The discerning public should not by deceived by the opposition parties which abuse the Internet and social media to attack and bully any opinions that are different to theirs and stifle good debates.

The government should be magnanimous and make the changes that will make the country better. Sacrifice is a necessary step to a better future. We should always be positive and strive for a better future.

The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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