COMMENT | Dr Mahathir Mohamad took the centre stage at the UN General Assembly yesterday with a powerful message for world peace and equality for all people. He did not neglect to recount his “greatest hits” - Israel and Palestine, Rohingya refugees, unconstrained capitalism and Western imperialism and terrorism.
Malaysia will surely miss this enigmatic leader when he finally vacates the world’s political stage. We may never again enjoy his unique cocktail made of fearless truth, force of will, charisma and political agility.
While he is a natural star in the international spotlight for his contrarian and stinging dialectic, this time he is perhaps less prudent in using his precious energy given the ground realities at the UN that are anchored to the interests of few, to the angst of many. And especially when the glow from the historic GE14 election win has started fading and any fiery speech against Israel and America has less resonance right now with the rakyat than before.
Ending the brutality towards the Rohingyas is surely important, but many citizens have turned their attention inwards upon their own stagnant economy, backward innovation and spiritless politics. The frustration of the voters who overhauled the status quo has turned energetic hope into lethargic disappointment.
The source of this angst is unmet expectations. The rakyat wanted the kleptocrats in jail, a reversal of rising costs, better quality of living, an influx of credible investment, high value-employment, affordable homes, affordable healthcare, and people-driven policies. Instead, we have endless court cases, widespread urban inflation, throw-back industrial ventures and back-biting party scheming.
Yes, the government came into power burdened with the legacy of a decade of severe mismanagement – not to mention unfettered theft – by the former administration, but it’s fair to say that the incoming leadership is still struggling to execute the sea-change called for in its election manifesto.
Tough as it may be due to the inherited liabilities and debts, but time is surely fast running out. The manifesto may need some recalibration due to current, true and new realities and this can be certainly done and communicated to the rakyat transparently. This will enhance their understanding of what the present administration has to face and ease their unhappiness.
Also, the good news is that the present administration still has time to turn the tide. A renewed calling from the leadership to face the light and spring into action instead of staring at it like a deer frozen in the headlights. It’s time to seize the day.
The economy is front and centre. We don’t have any time to waste. Day by day it looks more likely that the US will slip into recession and the China growth “miracle” will disappear like the mirage it surely is.
The government must support the private sector to innovate and give more than just lip service to Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) digital transformation initiatives.
Where we are deficient in talent, we must import it so that we can transfer the necessary skill sets that will put us definitively on the path to a high-value, high wages innovation economy.
The new administration is in a unique opportunity to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy that have kept Malaysia in second place as an "also-ran" economy compared to Singapore and Hong Kong. We cannot allow the inertia of the past to plague our future, readily embraced by our peers in Vietnam and Indonesia.
We must also recognise that the political acrobatics of race and religious divisiveness — identity politics — that kept Umno in power, was toxic to the development of the maturity of the nation. It further served to suppress the social underclass so that they felt they could only voice the concerns of their communities through identity politics.
The seemingly internal bickering in Harapan has fuelled optimism in Umno and PAS that they can return to the old status quo. This would be a tragedy for Malaysia which has been given the rare "black swan chance" to address the causes of problems over the symptoms. We must make the most of the present for the sake of our future.
RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu. He also heads its policy and strategy bureau.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.