The world is currently experiencing a moment of transition. This comes after the certainties and stability of the ‘end of history’ — the period spanning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Global Financial Crisis.
By Krishantha Prasad Cooray
We are witnessing many changes. We have seen the rise of China and to a lesser extent, India. The world is beginning to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. The crisis in Ukraine has generated uncertainties regarding the global energy and food situations. We have seen the end of cheap credit and also the resurgence of populism, nationalism, parochialism, extremism and fundamentalism across the world, which among other things also reflect uncertainty and anxiety.
It is in such a tense world that Malaysia is set to determine her destiny and her place in a rapidly changing world. In such a moment it is imperative that the implications of global, economic and political processes for South-East Asia in general and Malaysia in particular are examined, assessed and responded to.
It is not all bad news. Opportunity typically is a quieter twin of crises. We should recall, for example, that there are always favourable tailwinds.
For example, China joining the WTO in the early 2000s enabled it to compete far more effectively in global markets. Twenty years later China’s dominant role in the global economy simply cannot be denied or dismissed. Of course this situation made it harder for Malaysia to avoid the middle-income trap and attract further investment in manufacturing.
Now, however, with rising labour costs and in a context of geopolitical tensions, Malaysia has been provided with yet another opportunity to complete its transformation from a Third World nation to first.
This opportunity is particularly evident in electronics. After nearly two decades, Malaysia has returned to its previous place at the high table of electronics exports. In 2004, 4.2% of world electronics exports originated from Malaysia, but following a dip thereafter, Malaysia once again accounts for more than 4% of the world’s electronics exports.
This opportunity is not only being harnessed by Malaysia. Other ASEAN countries are also exploiting the situation effectively, which in turn also creates greater opportunities for Malaysia to trade and develop. Southeast Asia as a whole is poised for growth. The World Bank estimates that growth this year will be 5.8%. Malaysia is excellently poised to benefit, provided that the lessons from past successes and failures, of its own and of others, are duly learnt.
When Malaysia opened up to ideas, immigration and capital; when Malaysia chose merit and equality; when Malaysia tolerated not impunity and corruption and, most of all, when Malaysia united behind a common purpose for all Malaysians, opportunity swiftly translated into prosperity. When the above thinking and measures were abandoned or neglected, Malaysia fell back.
Malaysia is no longer a young country. The next decade may be the last chance to complete the transformation from a peripheral and poor country to a rich, developed nation at the cross-roads of emerging Asia, fully equipped to seize opportunities and surge ahead. Malaysia has the talent, it has a solid economic foundation, it has resources. All that is left is to unite around a clear vision and a clear plan for completing the governance and economic reform journey.
As always there are key issues that will have to be dealt with. The economy, for example. Malaysia has to re-imagine development, curb the rising cost of living, end corruption among politicians, address race and gender inequalities, battle discrimination and champion rights, make public institutions more efficient and significantly improve customer service.
Most of all, Malaysia has to ensure judicial independence and media freedom as non-negotiable elements of putting in place a solid social, economic and political foundation that enables the country and the people to withstand the fallout of adverse global headwinds. And indeed seek and seize the opportunities that may come Malaysia’s way.
In short, Malaysians need a reforming leader who will unify and empower the people to accomplish their dreams, a captain who has the vision to look well into the future, a statesman who has the wisdom to discard that which shackles the people and embrace that which liberates them.
On the 19th of November, Malaysians will choose. They will choose between parties, politicians and promises. But most of all they will choose whether to take their fate into their own hands. They will choose whether they want to build a Malaysia where all Malaysians can play a role in shaping its destiny, where Malaysia looks forward to the future with hope and confidence.
The collective decision will go a long way in determining whether Malaysia will prosper or if the Federation will join the collective of nations floundering because their leaders lacked the vision and ability to trust the wisdom of their people. And their people lacked the interest or courage to do anything about it.
Malaysia, though far from perfect, remains a democracy. It is ultimately the people who are sovereign; no one else can make the fundamental decisions for Malaysia. There will be no one else to blame for the choices made on the 19th. Exercise your choice, exercise it wisely and exercise it with hope.