December 31, 2014
2014–a wretched and horrendous year for Malaysia
Commentary by The Malaysian Insider
2014 has been a wretched and horrendous year for Malaysia, with very little spots of sunny cheer for Malaysians. All 52 weeks have seen us angry and sad – not quite the happy Malaysia Truly Asia that we portray in tourism advertisements.
Grief has been Malaysia’s main point of unity – from the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on March 8 to flight MH17 that was shot out of the sky on July 17 to the tragic crash of AirAsia Bhd Indonesian affiliate’s flight QZ8501 on December 28, in the last days of the year.
Three commercial plane crashes linked to Malaysia in just a year – what are the chances of that? And while that dominated the headlines, there has been other events that added to Malaysia’s grief. Statistics showed that 189 people died of dengue so far this year, up from 95 in 2013.
It has also been a record year for dengue cases which reached 98,128 up to December 6, according to the government statistics. That is about 40% of the record number of evacuees in the worst floods to strike Malaysia in decades. Even now, some 150,000 remain in evacuation centres as rescuers and aid workers try to grapple with a logistics failure to send food and water supplies.
At least 21 people have died in the current floods, the Police said.Ironically, Malaysia is suffering the worst floods in a year when a severe drought led to water rationing in Selangor and a few other states. Climate change and indiscriminate logging have turned Malaysia into a country of extreme weather and disasters.
Also, veteran politician and DAP National Chairman Karpal Singh was killed in a road accident in April while another towering Malaysian, ex-TNB Executive Chairman Tan Sri Ani Arope, succumbed to cancer earlier this month. But death was not the only thing to stalk Malaysia in 2014.
Fundamentalism strode in again in the second day of 2014 when Selangor Islamic authorities seized Malay and Iban-language Bibles, saying it cannot be used in the country’s wealthiest state.
There had been cases earlier, at least one still pending in court, but the Selangor confiscation pitted the state against the advice of the country’s top lawyer, the Attorney-General.
It would take a change of Menteri Besar and 11 months for the seized Bibles to be returned, but to another party. All the Bibles were stamped with a warning that it cannot be used in Selangor – reflecting Malaysia’s shrinking space for religious freedom.
Apart from religious authorities, other groups came to the picture to dominate the national discourse on race and religion. Putrajaya kept silent although on the global stage, Malaysia was a champion of moderation.
Kelantan’s renewed push for Islamic criminal laws, or hudud, tore up an already festering wound in a divided political pact and a country where some politicians and people believe an Islamic nation means a theocracy is in charge.
In a reflection of poorer electoral fortunes, Putrajaya went along with the idea of hudud, saying it will set up a technical committee to look into Kelantan’s request. This was an absolute reversal of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s stance that hudud was unjust to a section of Malaysians.
Regular as clockwork, Dr Mahathir took issue with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership, in a repeat of what happened to the person who held the same office between them – Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
With anything from the BR1M cash aid to strategic investor 1MDB’s accounts, Dr Mahathir criticised a man some called his political son. A gloomy global economic outlook and plunging global oil prices led to more criticisms from Dr Mahathir and the opposition.
But Najib, a politician who gets criticised when he opens or closes his mouth, kept his cool and silence, even managed to squeeze a golf game with US President Barack Obama in Hawaii on Christmas Eve – adding to the long list of global destinations he visited in 2014 while the country ran on auto-pilot.
That earned him some barracking as the golf round happened the same time that Kelantan and other states were inundated with fast-rising flood waters. In many ways, it was similar to Abdullah who was holidaying and opening a nasi kandar restaurant in Perth when floods struck Johor in 2006.
While the political drama within UMNO and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) played out in an already horrid year, Malaysians grouped up in civil societies in the last months of the year to write open letters to plead for rational dialogue, for common sense to set in.
The law courts made a few landmark decisions – that it was unconstitutional for religious authorities to restrict a Malaysian’s dressing or even seize books that have yet to be banned by the government.
And in the last week of the year, Malaysians went past the noise and rhetoric of fringe groups and divisive politicians to do what they do best – rally around other Malaysians in need.
They raised donations, bought food and water supplies and delivered them personally to flood victims in eight states – apart from a military and civil defence that did their job in the face of many hardships.
Perhaps Malaysians were happy that ministers and the fringe groups were abroad on holidays or silenced by the floods that the last week of the year showed us at our best – being Malaysians who help each other when push comes to shove.
We might want to forget 2014 for all the bad news and anger it has caused but if there is any lesson from this year, it is simply this – we are Malaysians united not by grief but for the great empathy and love for each other.
We proudly show it abroad and we dutifully do it when disaster strikes us. But we need to do it every day, no matter how much some try to divide us according to race or religion.
It has been a terrible year but when it came to the crunch, we are Malaysians for each other. May we have a better year ahead.