Facing a post-2020 future

Ivy Kwek


LETTER | I was four when Vision 2020 was introduced in 1991. Growing up, I remembered a lot of drawing competitions and later on, many karangan on the theme of 2020. 

The year 2020 sounded so futuristic and long way ahead in my tiny brain (Funny enough, I actually thought that we will have a flying car, so the recent kerfuffle on the flying car project does add an ironic twist to this).

In short, I practically grew up looking forward to 2020.

As I grew older I came to realise that not all things were going to be rosy. Significant events happened as I skated through my blissful childhood, in some ways merely glimpsing what was going on. 

I remember the front page of a newspaper featuring a black eye on Anwar Ibrahim as he emerged from a police station. I remember waking up to the news of 911 with sleepy eyes after pulling an all-nighter for exams. And of course, I remember the 1997 Asian financial crisis as I, as a 10-year old, watched helplessly as my parents lost all their hard-earned savings on the stock market and in the business they had recently ventured into.

My university years were my first face-to-face challenge with the idea of “Bangsa Malaysia”. Having grown up in a Chinese-majority environment, the local varsity was the first truly multiracial setting I found myself in. I quickly came to realise that students kept to groups based on ethnicity. 

Being a minority I was advised to stay in close touch with the Chinese community club since the seniors there would look out for me should I get into trouble (also because they would know where to get nice Chinese food [read: pork dishes] outside of campus). 

Be that as it may, I ended up nevertheless having many non-Chinese friends, and looking back, the university was one of the most defining experiences in making me Malaysian.

Then, as a young adult who had chances to travel and live abroad, I often found myself having to, begrudgingly, refer to Malaysia as “the country next to Singapore” to foreign friends. Whenever I introduced myself as a Malaysian, the responses I got were usually either “Mahathir”, “Lee Chong Wei”, “Malaysia Truly Asia” or since 2014, “MH370”.

The thing is, I always feel proud of being a Malaysian more than ever when I’m overseas, but it also comes with a tinge of sadness for what my country could have been.

I belong to a generation raised to believe that “Malaysia Boleh”, that Malaysia would be a shiny developed, problem-free nation by 2020. Our country would stand tall among others and we would be brimming with pride at the mention of its achievements. 

Even if we were cynical about it, and were told to look to other countries for greater opportunities, we often referenced 2020 as a point when these ideals would have come true. Granted that some of these hopes were not realistic, Malaysia has certainly come a long way in the last 30 years and even so-called developed nations are not without problems.

But the truth is, we have fallen far short of the strategic goals of Vision 2020. Our nation has been derailed by sustained mismanagement. While the change in government in 2018 still provides hope for a peaceful transition into the new country that we can be proud of, the optimism that this would indeed occur has simmered out faster than one could have expected.

The country certainly does not feel united, race and religion remain sensitive issues that divide us. We might have embraced technology but our uptake on innovations has been slow. Economic growth has been sluggish, inequality persists. 

A large number of Malaysians still struggle to make ends meet. As the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 document points out, income disparity has widened over the years while the compensation of employees to GDP ratio remains undesirably low (only 35.8 percent in 2018).

Meanwhile, world events around us evolved. China has risen to challenge the United States as the unilateral superpower and sole economic powerhouse. The impact of sectarianism in the Middle East and the US’ “War on Terror” still reverberates in this part of the world. ICQ, MSN Messengers and Friendster came and went before the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram arrived and changed the social media scene forever.

Politicians are not in denial about the fact that we will not achieve Vision 2020 goals in time. The previous government rolled out TN50, some said in an attempt to replace Vision 2020, while the Pakatan Harapan government has launched the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. Obviously, 2030, or even 2050, is the new 2020.

As we usher in 2020, how do we reconcile ourselves with the harsh reality that we have failed in hitting the mark?

Things could definitely be better, but not all hope is lost. The next 10 years will be crucial for us to make up for the lost time and to steer our country back on track. For Bangsa Malaysia to be realised, we must first learn to shed our identity politics. 

And we can only do that by efforts to find common ground, and stop the tit-for-tat between “us” and “them”. Providing for the many and harnessing the innovative spirit of Malaysians must be the necessary game in our economic policymaking.

Entering the year 2020 is not only a significant benchmark for Malaysia, but also a very personal one. Vision 2020 had a huge bearing on my journey of becoming a person, and a Malaysian. 

It was an adulting process for me, perhaps for the nation too. Vision 2020 was my Malaysian Dream. The question is, with that dream unfulfilled, where do we go from here?

As the curtains lifted and imagination of 2020 demystified, the struggle continues. It might have felt anti-climatic, or even a letdown, but that’s life. 

Dreaming ahead is how one has to live. Would we muster the courage to dream again as a nation? After all, somewhere out there, many more four-year-old boys and girls are longing for what Malaysia can become in 20 or 30 years’ time.    

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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