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LETTER | Malaysian culture, politics and leadership

LETTER | We need to have a serious discussion about the future of Malaysia. I would like my children to live in a country where people from different and diverse cultures can live in harmony – without the sickening petty politics of today, without the crippling economic structures, and without an education system that dumbs our children down.

Let me start with what I consider to be very important: Culture. I once asked a friend, Roshan, "What determines culture in an organisation and whether we can transpose that to a country?"

He said yes emphatically, and continued, "It all begins with what we believe, which in turn determines our values and how we behave."

Roshan made a profound point. I believe policies and laws have a secondary effect on how people and communities behave. They are secondary to culture.

Even a country with a plethora of rules and regulations that threaten strict punishments cannot control how people behave if the politicians themselves flout those rules and regulations. At the end of the day, people will do what they feel like doing as long as they can get away with it.

From my observation, four cultures drive the way Malaysians think, speak and act:

1. The culture of fear

2. The culture of apathy

3. The culture of mediocrity

4. The culture of corruption

I think the above list is pretty self-explanatory if you look around you and see how people behave.

Values

Let's move on to values. If we want to change our culture(s), we need to work backwards. Beliefs < values < behaviour < culture.

I think we lack courage, compassion, self-respect, and integrity.

If we had these values, we wouldn't be so scared to say something when someone says or does something unacceptable.

If we cared and had compassion, we would not look away when people are bullied, when our young people are subjected to stupid programmes, when our society is rotting to the core.

If we had self-respect, we would stand up for what is right and demand better public services from the government and corporations.

Most of us are like sheep when dealing with public agencies that provide lousy service – be they public hospitals, schools, local councils – or even when we deal with corporations that bully us with unfair deals and sub-par customer service.

If we had integrity, we would not offer the police office or government clerk a bribe; we would not just accept that politicians are corrupt. We would not keep quiet and do nothing. If you're wondering what you could do, you can join a #RasuahBusters initiative – look for them on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Briefly, let me say something about the beliefs we hold: We don't believe we can do anything to change things, so there's no point in trying. And we don't believe in meritocracy, instead, we believe in so-called pragmatism – we are a divided country, so let the politicians divide and rule.

Coming back to values, if we had integrity, self-respect, compassion and courage, we would tell our elected representatives and public servants what we expect them to do.

We would tell them to stand up for our rights, not bow to the demands of corporations. We would tell them to stop messing around with our children, not bow to political agendas. We would tell them to give us the sustainable development we deserve, not bow to bureaucratic procedures.

Leadership

In a feudalistic society like ours, I don't expect people to suddenly wake up and become courageous and compassionate and suddenly have self-respect and integrity.

The responsibility to steer our nation on a path where our people will learn, grow and flourish is on the shoulders of our leaders.

From an economic and social viewpoint, Malaysia's human resources are under-capitalised. What is the greatest asset of any country? Her people.

Why did Singapore, Japan and South Korea become economic powerhouses? Because their governments invested in education and social services that enabled their people to become intelligent, skilled, resilient and socially aware.

In contrast, Malaysian politicians have done the bare minimum to educate the masses – and sometimes completely make a mess of things – and have deliberately cultivated mediocrity, fear and apathy.

Worse, our politicians are driven by personal agendas and greed, which is evidenced by the record-breaking corruption cases in Malaysia that involve top political personalities.

Politicians

Under this Pakatan Harapan-led government, despite their partnership with BN, GPS and GRS, many Malaysians expected better governance, more transparency and accountability, not to mention the values embedded in Madani (which include respect, trust and compassion).

Alas, the people are sorely disappointed, to say the least. When are the politicians going to wake up and smell the smoke? The country is being torn apart and people are suffering, yet they are still going on with their petty politics.

Are they waiting for the people to rise and revolt before they take us and our problems seriously?

On that note, I am wondering what happened to our brave NGOs and CSOs? I thought they were going to organise some street activity after the discharge not amounting to an acquittal of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Indeed, I also notice that many NGOs and CSOs are also plagued with the cultures of fear, apathy and mediocrity.

Sorry if I sound too harsh. I am angry and impatient. I would like to see some changes before this so-called Madani coalition government serves the next general election to the opposition on a silver platter. The year 2028 will arrive faster than we think.

It's time for Malaysians to act. Don't wait for the politicians or the activists. Be courageous, take the first step and join a group that takes your problems seriously and is doing something positive to make things better. You don't have to take action alone, but you need to make that decision on your own.


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

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