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Is Malaysia a failed state?

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Politicians here seem to be endlessly jostling for power instead of working towards a more sustainable, progressive future for the nation. Paul Lim shares his perspective from Europe.

I am following from afar what is happening in Malaysia, and I feel sad that in a beautiful country with pleasant peoples, its political scene seems continuously in turmoil with twists and turns, political fights, destructive party politics, power politics, money politics, racial politics – and what else?

I don’t think the future of the country is really in the minds of many politicians. Rather, it is about what I can plunder for my pockets and what power I can hold in my hand to lord it over others. Racial politics seems to be at the service of these politicians.

Another thought is if the Malay elite – mark my word, elite, and not the majority of the Malay people – want to lead the country, let it be. The question is whether it can lead the country into a more competitive 21st Century, where the success or survival of a country is not based on racial dominance, where development will be based more and more on the mind, its inventiveness, the quality of its human capital rather than on its natural resources, where inequalities will worsen.

How will we deal with all this? Will there be a brain drain out of Malaysia if there is no political stability – which has nothing to do with workers going on strike but because of political in-and-out fighting?

I pose this question because, here in Europe, the concerns are about climate change, renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions, saving the earth, what kind of economy we will have in the future. Where are the jobs coming from? What kind of security will people have? What is the future of the country? How are we going to deal with mass migration not just from war but from climate change?

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Are there similar concerns in Malaysia among politicians who have a responsibility for the future of the country, whether they are in government or in opposition? The morality of politics is about what we do for the country, for the people. It is not about running after power, after money and lording it over others. The existing crass gutter politics will not produce statesmen or women at all. In my view, there are no such people at all in Malaysia.

Hopefully, in the scientific and technological communities (if there is such a thing in Malaysia) and among economists, sociologists and others,  there are ongoing reflections and research into the paths Malaysia needs to take. What about the current state of education in Malaysia? Is it producing the kind of people we need for the future?

The future of Malaysia in the 21st Century requires these communities – not the politicians – to be the bedrock.

The other pillar will be the civil service: its state is also in question. A well-functioning civil service can keep the state/nation going. This is illustrated by certain states in Europe which have the experience of no elected governments for long periods and yet are able to function efficiently. Am I talking about a technocracy in government and in governance – perhaps this is what Malaysia needs at the moment? Out with the politicians in government and keep them only in Parliament?

I am afraid of Malaysia becoming a failed state – or is it already? It is falling behind Vietnam and may one day be behind the Philippines. Or is Indonesia ahead of Malaysia? We do not have to bring Singapore into the picture.

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I don’t think the future of the country is really in the minds of many politicians. Rather, it is about what I can plunder for my pockets and what power I can hold in my hand to lord it over others. Racial politics seems to be at the service of these politicians.

Can we have a Malaysian economy whose pillars are oil/petrol and palm oil further into the 21st Century? The UAE, an oil-producing country smaller than Malaysia and trying to diversify from oil, has just launched a probe to Mars. Malaysia wants to take the EU to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over its projected reduction of palm oil imports.

That will not stop the EU from not just reducing palm oil biofuels but also other crop-based biofuels because it sees the future in other forms of renewable energy – like hydrogen? The first hydrogen train is on trial and will come into service soon. Transport will be electrified. Everything will be recycled in a circular economy. No more export of waste to third countries. There is research going on, prototypes in place, etc. This will be a new world.

Is Malaysia getting ready for this new world and putting more money into research rather than political squabbling? Does Malaysia want to be continuously dependent on foreign technologies whether American, European, Chinese, Japanese or South Korean? Does it just want to be a stop in the supply chain which, since Covid-19, has been questioned?

These are questions, issues of the future which should be on the table rather than who should occupy what positions in government and which coalition should be in government.

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Civil society’s role in thinking of the future should not be forgotten either. It seems civil society is mainly occupied with the politics of the country and rightly so, but it should also be concerned with the issues of the future as well.

What are the environmental organisations thinking of regarding climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions? What technologies are they exploring? What research are they doing to bring to the general public? What effective public education are they emitting?

I am putting these thoughts because of my observations of the concerns here in Europe, and I ask myself whether these concerns of the future world in the 21st Century are in the heads of concerned people in Malaysia.

Paul Lim is a retired professor who spent time in Malaysian universities but has returned home to Europe 

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