Grim, dramatic events unfolded this year, but it was not all doom and gloom, as rays of hope flickered through. Anil Netto looks back at an extraordinary year for the nation.
This has been an eventful year for all of us, not just for Aliran. We had the Sheraton Move at the worst possible time in February, when the coronavirus pandemic had begun spreading in Malaysia.
The backdoor takeover of government shocked many Malaysians who had placed their hope on Pakatan Harapan to bring about reforms.
Attempts to pass a vote of no-confidence before the latest Parliament sitting were thwarted, apparently on the pretext of concern over the pandemic. Because of defections, state governments fell like dominoes, culminating in the collapse of the Warisan-PH Sabah government in September, when a state election was forced on the people with the looming threat of defections.
At the federal level, in an apparent attempt to avoid a vote of no-confidence at the Budget sitting in November, the prime minister and his advisers even sought a declaration of emergency in October – but they were rebuffed by the palace.
An emergency declaration would have been disastrous for the economy. But noteworthy too was the public outcry from so many groups that valued our parliamentary democracy and the system of checks and balances that it provided.
The last Aliran annual general meeting had already raised concerns about the slow pace of reforms under the PH government, although we noted some progress made.
We now realise how serious the factional infighting within PH was, which ultimately led to its downfall through a flurry of unethical defections that went against the voters’ mandate. In place of PH, which was led by multi-ethnic parties, we now find ourselves with a largely mono-ethno-religious government. Whither new politics?
We also witnessed how many of the defectors were lured with carrots such as lucrative positions in government-linked companies, state-run agencies and other perks. Such defections after the 2018 general election – along with double standards in the enforcement of coronavirus control measures – have eroded confidence in politicians.
In the midst of it all, history was made when Najib Razak became the first former Prime Minister to be convicted and sentenced to jail (12 years) – though he remains free, pending appeal.
The pandemic has hit the Malaysian economy badly. Businesses have shuttered down or are operating well below capacity. Many have lost their jobs. The government has stepped in with handouts but they offer only temporary relief.
Domestic violence flared, with women’s groups reporting a rise in calls to their hotlines. The way migrant workers and refugees were treated during the pandemic was just appalling.
The Sabah election sent Covid cases soaring as many did not observe measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus while enforcement was lacking. This resulted in more clusters, which spread across the country. Sabah was ill-prepared for such a pandemic after decades of underdevelopment: despite its rich resources, it ranks among the lowest in availability of healthcare personnel and facilities on a per capita basis.
But it was not all doom and gloom.
Emergence of youth
During the lockdowns, we witnessed the emergence of young people especially through Parlimen Digital, which showcased their refreshing initiative and innovation. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations in showing us how the real Parliament could function online.
The young “MPs” were articulate and inclusive in their reasoned arguments and debates, putting many of the real MPs in the shade. These youth offer us hope for the future.
The pandemic also offers us space to reflect on where we are as a nation and a chance to reset our priorities. We need to relook at the economy. What happens after the pandemic? Should we continue with ‘business as usual’ in this era of climate change?
We need to focus on investments in more productive and ecologically friendlier sectors such as sustainable mobility, renewable energy and sustainable farming.
The reality is the totally fertility rate rate for Malaysia has fallen below population replacement level. So do we really need all those proposed mega-projects – massive land reclamation, new airports and super highways – and the destruction of forest reserves, key fishing grounds and vital farmland?
Should we continue building more high-end properties and skyscrapers to be occupied by the wealthy from other nations when there is already a glut of such properties? Shouldn’t be we be building more genuinely affordable homes?
62% jump in website visitors
For Aliran, the restrictions on movement provided space for reflection and writing, allowing us to focus on the website. Many of our existing writers felt compelled to write more. They were joined by 18 new writers, many of them young people, who wanted a space to express themselves and their aspirations. Older new writers also shared their wisdom and experience and their historical knowledge.
So we were able to publish 48% more original articles this year. More NGOs are also turning to us to get their message across to a wider audience. All this led to an encouraging 62% jump in average unique daily visitors to our website this year.
To consolidate and build on these gains, we enlisted enthusiastic people to handle website technical support, Malay language translations and social media outreach. In the coming year, we will explore expanding further into the new media through webinars, tapping into the experience and expertise of our own members as resource persons.
And so, amid the darkness and gloom, we have rays of hope and opportunities to build, in our own way. Never underestimate the power that our collective efforts can have in transforming society and building a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.
Adapted from an address delivered at Aliran’s recent annual general meeting