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New Malaysia not dead – but it needs a jumpstart

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It is time for us in Malaysia to counter divisive ethno-religious rhetoric and come together to face up to the problems in the country, writes Anil Netto.

It was less than a year ago that many Malaysians felt so upbeat when the general election heralded in a new Malaysia. Remember the jubilation we felt at the prospect of a new dawn?

But recent political developments tell us that the politics of race and religion is still deep-rooted.

Back then social media like Facebook and messaging apps like Whatsapp were used to create awareness of the kleptocracy in our midst. These tools were used to rally Malaysians together to make a change.

But the same tools are now being used to stir up divisive sentiments on the basis of race and religion. Such damaging rhetoric has to be properly managed. The government, religious institutions, educational establishments and think thanks have to counter such divisive rhetoric by putting forward a more inclusive approach that truly celebrates the nation’s diversity.

As we have seen in countries around the world, it is easier to whip up ethno-religious sentiments when many are struggling to make ends meet and when all that talk of economic growth has not really benefited the ordinary people.

Folks should be understanding of the government’s predicament. The previous administration left behind a massive debt, which makes it harder to find the funds to uplift and economically empower the bottom 40 per cent of the population.

But then, we have politicians talking up proposals such as a third national car, a flying car, more highways and tunnels, more airports, and massive land reclamation. All this adds up to billions and billions of ringgit. Such projects do little to improve the quality of life of ordinary people struggling to cope with the higher cost of living.

What we should be focusing on are the needs of the ordinary people and what they need most: improved schools and hospitals, genuinely affordable homes, efficient public transport and affordable nutritious food.

The government also needs to drop the mySalam health insurance scheme especially the involvement of a large private insurance firm. It has to stop focusing on medical tourism, which only aggravates the brain drain from the public sector to the private sector.

Instead steps must be taken to immediately improve conditions at the general hospitals where staff struggle to cope with the large crowds almost everyday and more and more beds are crammed into existing wards.

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Many ordinary folks frequent the crowded general hospitals. They can see for themselves if there has been any difference since regime change. Instead of fancy social insurance schemes, all that is needed is extra funds to operate and upgrade the general hospitals and clinics.

More attention must be given to genuinely affordable housing ie building homes that cost less than RM200,000 for the bottom 40%. Homes costing RM250,000 – RM400,000 can hardly be considered “affordable”.

The government should also focus instead on easing the problem of poverty faced by the bottom 40% of the population. Don’t look down on farming and fishing. After all, we cannot eat computer chips. We need affordable healthy and nutritious food that is free from the pesticides used by Big Agro.

,Instead of converting more and more agricultural land to other uses (eg industrial land, high-end property development), we need to do more to make the country less reliant on food imports. Protect our farming land and think of food security and resilience in this era of climate change.

While some politicians are manipulating race and religion to stir sentiments, while many adults, including political leaders, focus on daily issues, youths around the world are highlighting the ongoing climate crisis. This crisis continues to receive scant attention within Malaysia. It is as if we think we will somehow be immune from the fallout.

But it is the young people all over the world who will face the full brunt of climate change in a decade or two. And they are mobilising. The Youth Strikes for Climate movement expects to see over 500 events across more than 50 countries around the world.

“We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not,” they said in a letter published online.

“United we will rise until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis.

“You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.”

It is time for us in Malaysia to discard and counter divisive ethno-religious rhetoric and come together to face up to the problems in the country, including the need to build climate change resilience.

The new Malaysia project is not dead. Nobody said the journey would be easy. It just needs a jumpstart. We need a reorientation so that we get our priorities right and then we must move on with courage.

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This article first appeared in the Herald.

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