COMMENT | Christmas a happy occasion with its message of hope and goodwill to all mankind also offers a time of sombre reflection on Malaysia's political salvation.
Nation-building was a word in vogue, a good word when I was growing up in the 60s.
Today it is hardly uttered.
Development the nation-building concept has diminished and development projects connote a feeding trough for corrupt politicians with long snouts and unbridled appetite to corrupt the system.
Adolph Hitler rose to power because the German people supported him. They allowed themselves to be mesmerised, deceived and destroyed by a mentally sick and evil man. Germany became corrupt and exported the Nazi death culture.
Is there a lesson for Malaysia in the wake of revived misplaced nationalism?
Malaysia risks sliding down the slippery slope. It became "a den of thieving leaders" because the voters foolishly or naively supported the dishonest politicians who hid behind race and religion to cheat them and the nation.
Every nation has corrupt politicians, often acting individually but in Malaysia the system spawns politicians who collude so there is collective corruption in government.
Besides corruption, the threat exists for Malaysia to be destroyed by modern-day "Nazis".
Muslims, in particular, have to start listening to Muslim leaders like Professor Tajuddin Rasdi, not Zakir Naik (photo) and other stirrers, if they want to co-exist with non-Muslims.
The Harapan government remains the best means of thwarting the slide. They can do it by not interfering with the judiciary and bastardising Parliament. With a vibrant civil society and independent media together they remain the safeguard against a return of the flawed, defeated and futile BN regime.
Developing the nation was the thought that preoccupied our minds in the fledgling years of nationhood. Then the government spoke of practicable development plans during a time when the country's infrastructure was basic and lacking.
People trusted the government and wholesale corruption by politicians was non-existent unlike in recent times since the Mahathir era.
There was a strong expectation in the country, both for the government to lead and the people to do their part in advancing their newly independent nation.
It was unity in action without the hype and fancy slogans.
Of slogans there are many but which one has seen light of day? Cekap, bersih dan amanah? Or more likely the opposite.
Today the Pakatan Harapan government under Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed sends out mixed and confusing signals. It is the Jekyll and Hyde problem again, no thanks to the man at the helm.
Malaya then was described as an under-developed country, like all of South- East Asia. Along the way, it became a "developing nation" and a bigger nation called Malaysia.
Many of us pursued higher education at home and abroad. The government infused in the people a strong sense of patriotism and our parents and elders all voted for the Alliance Party until new alternatives like the DAP and Gerakan captured the hearts of those disillusioned with the status quo.
Disillusionment may yet sink the Harapan government if it does not change course and retire a rather enigmatic, trying and uninspiring skipper.
We were united against the foreign threat of Konfrontasi from Indonesia. The Emergency menace also faded away when peace with communist Chin Peng (photo) was achieved but sadly he was shortchanged by successive governments in his ban from entering Malaysia.
And it is utter nonsense to warn against communism when communist China plays an integral role in certain key economic projects in the country.
Graveyard for scandals
How do you dignify or justify anyone who breaks promises and plays foul? Promise-breakers should be held to account for their betrayal. They discourage and disappoint the nation who trusted them. There is no dignity in letting down the nation with a play of words instead of keeping one's word.
In the 80s and 90s, development reached dizzying heights. New roads and shopping malls - just about everything not seen before - cropped up all over the country but noticeably in Kuala Lumpur and major cities.
Malaysia was on a roll with full employment. So were some other countries in the region. But the public coffers were leaking and the politicians and their cronies stole money meant for development.
Only a fool would vote for a politician who steals from the people and sets himself up as some kind of lord of the manor.
Malaysia became a graveyard for scandals as the politically powerful perpetrators buried each new scandal exposed.
The nation will soon see those corrupt ones buried in convictions for their crimes.
Besides the intrepid few, the public stayed grudgingly silent. The advent of Malaysiakini, Sarawak Report and other internet activists have made a vital difference in exposing fraud, injustice and abuse of power.
The Malays were shortchanged by certain of their leaders. They were deceived into blaming the Chinese for their woes, not unlike the Nazis who led the blame game against Jews and committed genocide.
And the bigots in Malaysia are still at it. Even a young graduate who learned nothing at university has been misled. He made the Nazi salute (below) not realising he would have been dying in a gas chamber under Hitler.
What first went wrong for Malaysia was the May 13 betrayal of the nation when conniving politicians hijacked the government by forcing then-premier Tunku Abdul Rahman to resign and its evil legacy lasts until today.
Conspiracy is the DNA of their politics and sex allegations the modus operandi.
Despite the country's economic development many Malaysians, mostly of Chinese descent, felt the sharp edge of racial and religious discrimination. They felt helpless, disinterested in politics and voted with their feet.
More than two million left Malaysia, those who felt betrayed by the BN government, others to live in real democracies, still others for economic and personal reasons.
By and large, most Malaysians did well overseas and Malaysia will never know what incalculable loss the nation has suffered.
I salute the non-Malays, especially the Chinese, who despite facing unfair discrimination, kept their cool, kept their eyes on the ball and focused on what makes for economic success.
They worked hard, made personal sacrifices and turned their lives and Malaysia into a successful economic story.
Affirmation for the Malays often meant deprivation for the Chinese and Indians. Even in helping themselves they faced problem after problem in promoting their mother tongue in education.
The Chinese will never be united under a leader but they will unite for a cause. Warnings that a Chinese Congress will create chaos is utter nonsense. The chaos will be caused not by the meeting but agent provocateurs, as past experience has shown.
As a national leader Mahathir has failed to further the interests of all communities.
Within months he has looked after the dignity of the Malays and the unity of Muslims. What about other races? Anyway, both events fell flat and that's the trouble with the Mahathir touch.
Many success stories of Chinese entrepreneurs are legendary. Many succeeded not because of political connections and largesse but pure hard work, ingenuity, sacrifice, and risk-taking.
There are success stories of Malays and Indians too and they have earned our respect because they did it the honest way, without any favours from the politicians.
Najib not the only alleged kleptocrat
Meanwhile, nation-building became a euphemism for corrupt politicians and their cronies to amass fortunes by cheating the government in all sorts of jacked-up infrastructure and other mega-projects.
The politicians in power began wheeling and dealing and made fortunes by hook or by crook. You want an enemy of Islam? Look no further. Find it among the corrupt politicians and their cronies.
The New Economic Policy introduced after May 13, the day of conspired bloodletting, that saw many innocent lives lost to murderers who were never brought to face justice, became a poisoned chalice.
Easy money destroyed many enjoying political largesse. This sickness is still prevalent because the system where the winner takes all and dishes out projects perpetuates it. The Broken Bridge project, for example. The system creates dictators supported by dirty money.
It's "bastardisation" as Nazir Razak, the brother of former premier Najib Abdul Razak (photo), described the problem, saw many unaccounted public scandals, which culminated in the infamous 1MDB mother of scandals.
The government itself, not just the NEP, was bastardised, sodomised, terrorised and the nation as a cash cow was milked by those in power for their personal profit.
While many poor lived without the basics, without decent roads and infrastructure, the corrupt, greedy and heartless politicians luxuriated on public account. They fed on the sufferings of the rakyat.
Najib is not the only alleged and charged kleptocrat or leader with a record of lost public money.
In his previous 22-year rule, as supreme leader, incumbent Mahathir squandered RM100 billion, according to late author Barry Wain. Much of the missing billions have not been explained.
The root of the Malaysian malaise is the cancer in the system which allows the government, in particular, the supreme leader, to get away with anything, even murder, because he controls the police, media and public institutions.
A politician, a nobody, can acquire political power and act as the overlord of the nation. He alone can destroy a nation as the late Tunku warned.
This rise of a dictator is, of course, utter nonsense in a democracy and a reflection of how far behind the nation has lagged in its political and democratic development.
"Muslims buy from Muslims" is a stupid idea because there are some things you can never buy from a shop regardless who owns it.
Had democracy thrived, the 1MDB scandal might have been stopped. The government gave Najib the rope to hang himself.
A nation where politicians become rulers and act like feudal lords without public restraint is a seriously flawed nation.
Make politicians your overlords at your peril. Give them the power to rule over you as they like is the sure route to eventual national implosion.
Najib provides the lesson and a Zakir-sponsoring, manifesto-breaking Mahathir, requires constant and vigilant restraint, rather disappointingly.
MCA leader Wee Ka Siong is right in telling Mahathir to zip his lips and not offend other countries. A good country leader is characterised by diplomacy, not an undisciplined tongue.
Those who exposed corruption and abuse were demonised, victimised, even vaporised. The Harapan government has yet to make radical changes because it lacks a solid nation-builder leader like the late Lee Kuan Yew.
Mahathir complained about the "police state" not long ago when Najib was ensconced untouchable in the high seat of power. Has it changed?
The different arms of government exist in a democracy to provide a check and balance on one another. Not in Malaysia though. The executive has twisted those arms until they are dysfunctional.
Rule of law became selective because despite Mahathir's proud reference to it some allegedly "big fish" are still untroubled by the MACC. Justice is not seen to be done.
When I see all, not just a select few, of the super-rich politicians investigated, then I will believe Mahathir's rule of law.
Who ordered the killing of Altantuya?
Until every politician who got super-rich while holding office is investigated, the MACC's job is not done, even after Najib is jailed.
Malaysia is not only a graveyard of scandals but a breeding ground for racketeering and dubious, dirty politics.
Vulnerable Muslim Rohingya girls are forced into prostitution in a Muslim country. And they are worried about what's happening in China.
But for the first time in its chequered past, some of the buried scandals are now exhumed to undergo the legal tests of truth, and hopefully for the culpable to face justice, real justice.
The sad saga of Altantuya Shaariibuu is one such buried scandal. It has been front-page news for many years and will hog the limelight once again, and rightly so.
Najib's former bodyguard Azilah Hadri (above) has done the right thing in revealing the truth. It would have been impossible for him to spill the beans when Najib ran the "police state".
For a long time the question, "Who ordered the killing of Altantuya?" has remained unanswered.
Now Azilah has given us the answer in his statutory declaration. It is what the public has long suspected.
When the government will solve the Raymond Koh plus three kidnappings, is still the nagging question.
Allegations that Azilah met a VVIP outside jail are inconsequential. They are distractions. Even if Azilah met everyone, his story still sticks and that is the point.
It is now up to the court to determine the truth. Sirul Azhar Umar, the other convicted murderer, languishing in his cosy cell in Sydney, will no doubt have to come clean sooner or later. His extradition to Malaysia may unearth more skeletons.
And while the cat is out of the bag, Malaysians will want to know who the other 7-8 victims were that Azilah claimed he had killed in the course of carrying out his orders.
Why was this not followed up by the media and public, and the police?
When did extra-judicial killings become part of police modus operandi?
There are many cold cases waiting to be exhumed. The Pandora's Box is opened. Let the truth be known.
The system of governance needs a major overhaul. No leader in government should hold so much power that he can hold the truth and justice to ransom. No leader should be allowed to bury scandals like what has happened for so long.
The system has perpetuated a culture of dishonesty that is translated into acts of murder, kleptocracy, corruption and cover-up. Even religion is politicised, no need to guess by who.
Mahathir is an integral part of the system and will find it impossible to be the solution unless he makes some radical changes. I doubt he has the volition to rise to the challenge.
He is not the man of the hour anymore. And considering his questionable track record, lapses and gaffes in recent times, more and more Malaysians will not support him.
Until Malaysians reject the system that has resulted in Najib facing a barrage of charges and accusations from kleptocracy to alleged link to Altantuya's (photo) murder, Malaysia will stay vulnerable and pre-eminence of the rule of law across the board will be a big challenge and a pipedream.
The redemptive aspect though is the truth often has an uncanny way of surfacing, sooner or later, even in scandal-ridden Malaysia.
Let's hope the truth will see the light of day in other much-publicised murders in the scandalised nation.
Politicians especially must realise there is no perfect crime. Sooner or later, the culpable will be exposed and face justice.
Crime does not pay even if you have stashed away the stolen billions but end up in prison and utter public disgrace.
There is hope for Malaysia but the need for a solid, inspiring and honest leader, is critical.
The trouble is those who contributed little or nothing to Malaysia's economic success make the loudest noises and their negative ideas result in a disunified and disenchanted nation.
Malaysia is fast becoming the new South Africa with its brand of apartheid and the hidden deep state may yet become the visible state because the government is not building a nation for all but perpetuates a "they and us" national mindset.
Islamophobia is a myth.
No one is afraid of Muslims or Islam. The day those who resort to violence, suicide and murder in the name of Islam stop, the religion may yet benefit from a better image. It is not Malaysia's problem though because the people get along but for the political and religious stirrers.
The late Tunku, the Merdeka PM, did more for the cause of Islam than any leader I know.
He began the dakwah movement in Penang. He tolerated none of the nonsense seen in Malaysia today.
Mahathir should call it a day and let another take over in leading the country out of the confusion and conflict his leadership has caused.
A new leader, a new system, a nation of shared destiny, this is what Malaysia badly needs.
"A saviour has been born to you today", the angels declared when Jesus Christ aka Isa al Masih was born. But who will save Malaysia?
STEVE OH is an author and composer of the novel and musical Tiger King of the Golden Jungle. He believes good governance and an engaging civil society are paramount to Malaysia being a unique and successful nation.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.