About Nick: i am an economist based in malaysia. I write about development economics, while sneaking in a pop culture reference or two.

Co-authored with Dr Nungsari A Radhi

Published in The Edge Malaysia, 13-19 May 2013

There is a life time separating the two of us; one of us is twice the age of the other. Apart from the years between us, people recognise that we also look somewhat different. However, we both share a passion for economics and its applications in public policy although we do not necessarily agree with each other all the time. We also share a dream of a Malaysia that offers endless opportunities for individuals to thrive, to improve themselves if they chose to, but a Malaysia aware that it is also a community that shares a common history and destiny. The 13th General Elections is a wathershed of sorts as elections tend to be, and we would like to share some common views of how we move forward from here.

It is heartening to see a record turnout of voters participating in this political contest that will define the future of Malaysia. Elections cannot be about pandering to the voters' base instincts - their fears and insecurities. It should be about elevating them in the dialogue to chart a common destiny. Governing, therefore, should be about development of peoples, institutions and the nation, which, is an inclusive process. Elections are not wars where there is a victor and the vanquished. It is a process to elect a government who is subsequently responsible for the welfare of all, even if they did not receive the vote of all.

The practicality and perhaps even the expediency necessary in politics must be built on a platform of ideals. Ideals are critical as they determine how we deal with and treat one another. Ideals define trade-offs and determine priorities and policies. Politics and government devoid of ideals can be both decadent and damaging. We would like to propose four deals that guide the way we think about the Malaysia we want and the type of society we create, as we move forward post the 13th General Elections. The ideals we suggest are equality, mobility, maturity and unity.

Equality

The notion of equality, by law, is obvious but can sometimes become a divisive issue in Malaysia. Articles 5 to 13 in the Constitution define the Fundamental Liberties of all Malaysians, from the right to life and liberty to freedom of association and the rights to property. These, we believe, should be minimum expectations from any government, vis-à-vis equality. Rather, when we speak of equality as an ideal, we speak of the equality of opportunity. We hope for a Malaysia where a low-income rubber tapper's child in Segamat can fight for and achieve the same successes as a high-income lawyer's child in Bangsar. We hope for a Malaysia where inclusiveness is not limited solely to growth, where the rise of overall national prosperity lifts everyone up the way a rising tide lifts up all boats. Rather, we urge the government to craft policies that allow all Malaysians an equal chance to fight for political, economic and social opportunities.

Mobility

It is one thing for the rubber tapper's child in Segamat to have the equal access to the opportunities as the lawyer‟s child in Bangsar. It is quite another to be equally able to fully harness these opportunities. Not only do they need to both believe that they can be whatever they want, they must also have no arbitrarily-imposed obstacles, based on their respective backgrounds, towards achieving what they want. They must be able to move up the political, social and economic ladder by virtue of their merit and hard work. For this, we need to move forward towards a society which holds mobility as an ideal. We hope for a Malaysia where anybody, with the right qualities and the right mindset and the right work ethic, can be, for instance, the Managing Director of Khazanah Nasional. We hope for a government that will build policies that allow for smooth upward mobility, where people are limited only by their own effort, abilities, passions and drive, not by the people they know or the wheels they grease. We hope for a society where the poorest Malaysian child can one day be the richest Malaysian. Only a government that upholds the ideal of mobility can hope to build such a society.

Maturity

The next ideal is the ideal of maturity. The shenanigans that occurred throughout the election process have sent a very clear indicator that the Malaysian political process is still not sufficiently mature. It pained us to see mudslinging and ad hominem attacks among politicians, rather than attacks on differing policy positions. We were disappointed at the instances of explosives set off at ceramah sessions and ethnic profiling of foreign nationals. This is not the Malaysia we want. We know Malaysians are and better than that. We must strive for a mature society that treats each other with respect. We want our leaders to treat their political opponents as constructive collaborators in nation-building, not as critical enemies. Our rakyat should take heed of this ideal as well, recognising that the differences and the diversity between one another are things to be understood, not to be feared. And we can try to synergise and celebrate them, rather than treating them as the 'other.' We must all strive for maturity.

Unity

The first three ideals naturally lead to the fourth. A society or nation based on the ideals of equality, mobility and maturity will be a society of individuals who see themselves as equal to one another, have the ability to move upwards in society, treat each other with mutual respect and interact as collaborators, not opponents. This will naturally lead to a society that prides itself on the ideal of unity. When people believe that they have common access to achieve their goals in a mature, non-discriminatory way, they will be united naturally around the promise that their particular society can provide them. They will see each other as collaborators, not competitors, in achieving their dreams. Our fellow rakyat and our politicians must continue the hard-fought push for unity, recognizing where cracks exist and attempting to fix them, not further stoke them Government policies must facilitate these efforts by removing all obstacles to inclusiveness, allowing people to build on one another and stand on the shoulders of one another, united in the 'Malaysian dream.'

The government elected by the 13th General Elections faces a lot of political, economic and social challenges. These include growing government and household debt, income inequality, dependence on oil, crime and corruption, China's looming presence in the geopolitical scene, and many, many more. That government will therefore have a myriad of policy decisions to make. It is our collective hope that the policy decisions made will be based on ideals, just as much, if not more, as they are on evidence, meticulousness and comprehensiveness. Policy decisions must follow ideals, not the other way round. We urge that the government hold, in their mandate of our great nation, the ideals of equality, mobility, maturity and unity as the building blocks of policies and initiatives that will lead Malaysia and her rakyat in becoming a truly developed society and nation in the years to come.

 

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