Moving Malaysia Forward

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This Southeast Asian nation is in many ways a modern and moderate Muslim majority country.

Challenges & Opportunities Moving Forward Forum

But this carefully-cultivated international image belies the underlying tensions of Malaysian society. Large numbers of Chinese, Indian and Indonesian migrants were brought in either directly by the British colonial administrators or commercial agents as part of their plans to exploit the economy of the various Malay states during the 19 th and early 20 th centuries. There was naturally much debate—especially when it became evident that the British would be winding back their empire—over the place of these non-Malays, who had settled and largely became part of the local fabric.

What for instance, would the religion and language of the proposed free-state be? Many ethnic groups felt their claims in these matters to be equal, if not better than the others. Thus when Malaya achieved its independence in , the Federal Constitution of Malaya now Malaysia reflected a consensus and compromise between the different ethnicities and the preference of the retreating colonialists.

Islam was to be the religion of the Federation, but other faiths were allowed to be practiced. Malay was made the official language but other communities were allowed to use, teach and learn their own. Thus, while many see the Federal Constitution as an imperfect document, it still has a strong imperative for liberty and justice.

True, the institutions it created were generally conservative, but they functioned with integrity and efficiency. There was rule of law. Much was spent on education and infrastructure development. Malaysiawon a place of respect in the world.

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This, however, was undone during Dr. Mahathir Mohammad tenure as Prime Minister. Malaysia suffered one Constitutional crisis after another as he brooked no dissent. Those closest to the land — oil palm and rubber smallholders as well as rice farmers — have been the most frustrated.

Meanwhile, for Ah Seng, a fifty-something rubber tapper outside the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, low commodity prices have made his work almost futile. Understandably, all five of his adult children work in Singapore. Perakian oil palm smallholder, Abang Man is struggling with higher costs of fertiliser and pesticide.


Seven million Malaysians received up to RM per year. Some RM5bil is to be dispersed to 4. However, Team Ceritalah discovered that bureaucratic snafus have meant that many potential recipients on the ground were unsure of their eligibility. Similarly, in Selayang, to the north of the capital, local stallholders such as Lakshmi complained about the continuing presence of illegal foreign traders outside the market.

Many have seen their incomes plummet drastically. So as Malaysians have adjusted to an administration full of untested leaders 23 of the current 28 full Ministers had never held federal office previously , many have questioned the effectiveness of the new team. Certainly, their ability to connect with ordinary Malaysians seems to have evaporated. This failure is extraordinary given the cohesiveness and dynamism they displayed in the run-up to the polls. Instead of constructing a solid narrative around their very real achievements — the rebuilding of core institutions and the revamp of government processes — they have allowed themselves to be hijacked by their own poorly-executed policy initiatives and infighting.

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Indeed, the timidity of the Malay ministers has been a major let-down. Moreover, for much of the majority Malay-Muslim population, the defeat of the once all-powerful ruling party Umno has been a rude awakening. China, once a long-time favourite for overseas manufacturing, has become increasingly unattractive to investors. Multinational corporates are trying to reduce their risk profile hence hunting for countries to invest in.

Institutional reform may be scary, but we must not shy away from it. Indeed, our future prosperity relies on it. Many young people dream of becoming the next Jack Ma.

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They have their own plans for start-ups and new killer apps, with little or no stimulus from the state. Indeed, Malaysians have always been able to produce world-beaters.

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But our country cannot be the start-up hub it aspires to be if attitudes do not change in the public and private sectors. Government support is, of course, essential in many cases. This will continue under Pakatan Harapan. But the government should not just throw money at politically connected players, or to act as crutches for them. Rather, it should ensure that young Malaysians with talent, energy and ideas are given equal opportunities.

They need to be protected from corruption and predatory behaviour by those with vested interests, and not face unnecessary red tape. Their access to financing, licences, contracts and scholarships must be based on genuine merit. The Barisan Nasional government did not have the political will to do this. That is why all its glossy, expensively produced plans failed miserably. This is why institutional reform is so important and why the youth should back it. This is why Pakatan Harapan Youth will not let up on this point. By proving that we can peacefully change our government, Malaysia has chosen progress over stagnation.

But more needs to be done. The youth must lead the way. We hope that they will support us, but also check us if we stray. The choices that we make together as a nation will determine the kind of Malaysia and world we will leave our children. He has written several books in both English and Malay. He was an assemblyman in the Selangor government for two terms and was an executive councillor.

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From The Edge. Edge Weekly. Moving Forward: Time to move Malaysia forward. Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad. The Edge Malaysia.