Jason Chow a 2nd year Psychology student in London interned with me in July/August this year. Below are his thoughts.
Sometimes I wonder if ‘home’ is really worth coming back to.
I’m one of the few lucky enough to be studying abroad. I’m one of the few unlucky enough to have an interest in politics. I’m also part of the growing community realizing that there is something seriously wrong with our country.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t one of those pieces that goes on and on about how good being abroad is. This is a piece that deals with how bad the current situation is, and whether or not we have something to move forward to.
Bear with me while I wade through the more depressing bits.
Our local landscape can hardly be described as positive. Anaemic growth is touted as an economic success, while the core problems of corruption and overdependence on government funding remain unaddressed. Note how well the rest of the region is doing. It’s like cheering at a bag of peanuts while everyone else is getting ready to play for real money.
Crucial issues like education and race are both politicized and sidelined – institutions play up the hype but never sustain any meaningful reform. Our leaders aren’t much help. They deliver crude, patronizing statements that condescend the intelligence of our citizens and play up the public’s ignorance.
Most members of the public aren’t even ignorant by choice. Force-fed extracts from biased media sources, they are led to know what they know from misrepresentative facts.
Don’t even get me started on the state of our civil liberties.
But far from being an authoritarian dystopia, Malaysia is a country with incredible potential. And it is changing. More precisely, it is teetering on the edge of change, waiting for something to tip it over. And this possibility is exactly why I haven’t given up yet.
I’ve always been a skeptic. This doesn’t mean I have no ideals; I just find it very difficult to believe in the ones I have. So even though I found some hope in the notion that our country was changing, I had to justify that.
Was change a realistic assumption? Were we headed for a better time and place? Did we have good alternatives, not just in terms of leadership, but also in terms of policy?
I took my questions with me to the Opposition, via the DAP’s internship programme.
I applied under YB Tony Pua.
The decision had been an easy one. He was one of the more vocal Opposition MPs. His forte was economics, my extra-curricular interest. He had a penchant for explaining complicated things in a relatively simple way, so he seemed like a good sort of mentor.
My one-month stint worked out pretty well. Attending a wide range of events gave me a powerful sense of political exposure – I encountered people as far up the ladder as Pakatan Rakyat’s own leadership, all the way down to some of Tony’s own grassroots communities.
The pieces came together quite easily. I was able to see how individual politicians handle their daily routine, and how political organizations attempt to function from the inside out – all on a first hand basis. Everything about the whole process was quite enlightening.
While my time with them was short, I managed to learn a few key things, particularly about the attitudes of our potential leaders.
There is a refreshing, genuine quality to their actions, particularly amongst the younger MPs, that has been absent from our political system for a long time. To put it bluntly, they seem to genuinely care about the needs of the people. Whether out of political necessity, or for more heartfelt reasons, their purpose, at the moment, seems strong: Undo unfairness and prevent future injustice to the electorate.
Maybe I’m being too charitable. We still see hiccups – the issue in Kedah, for example, a strong example of how worryingly new this alliance is. Decisions made were reconsidered, and the media plays it up as evidence of over-compromise and factionalism.
But the willingness of leaders to make necessary changes isn’t a sign of weak governance; on the contrary, it demonstrates the requisite humility needed to admit mistakes and make tough choices, something that we haven’t seen in a while. If anything, it highlights the strength of the between-party relationship, built on mutual respect and some level of consideration for the people.
I know I’m slightly biased. They say the youth tend to support the Opposition, and I think we have a good reason for that – we’re more invested in the country’s future.
There’s a principle in private portfolio management. Young people can afford to take more risk, because they have the rest of their lives to make up for whatever loss incurred. Older people aren’t so lucky. So the young are advised to go for broke on high profit, high-risk assets (I am not liable for any losses you make on this investment advice).
The parallel is simple – we stand to lose more if things turn out terrible. The current situation is pretty bad, and most of us don’t see it getting worse. So we place our bets on change. We want it to change for the better, and the only way to do that is by getting the future to change at all.
Move from race-based politics to a system based on more meaningful policies and philosophies. Become a more mature democracy. Free up the media channels, giving everyone access to the same facts. Fairly represent the electorate. Properly unite the people under a single banner – sloganeering and logo-mongering don’t help when the spirit of a message is consistently violated.
Then we can start tackling the bigger problem of economic reform. Kudos to Penang for getting a headstart on this one.
It isn’t impossible; all we need to do is start making the right decisions. While it may be a lot tougher than it sounds, I think we’re already on the right track.
Change isn’t far off. We just need to make it happen.