(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Dragon Year has come to an end, dashing hopes that it would lay the foundation for a new Malaysia of justice, democracy and good governance. The greatest challenge in the Snake Year is whether Malaysians can make up the lost ground and the missed opportunities in the past year.
The past year should have seen a paradigm shift in Malaysian politics where Malaysians move into a new and higher stage of nation building, where Malaysian politics is not so dominated by the primordial issues of race and religion but issues-centred as on questions of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
But this was not the case, and the past year saw the recrudescence of communal politics of the worst kind accompanied by the politics of communal blackmail and gangsterism and where calls for "Malay unity" drown out calls for "Malaysian unity".
The only silver lining was that although the Bangsa Malaysia concept had been abandoned by its original advocates, more and more Malaysians were transcending their traditional communal and religious divisions to uphold the vision of a Malaysia for all Malaysians where communal affinities take secondary and subordinate position to the common nationality of Malaysians.
However, the ham-fisted handling of SKJ © Damansara issue and stubborn refusal to adopt a Malaysian "3-Win" solution to the controversy for the past three weeks is a sombre reminder of the hard and long struggle ahead before such a paradigm shift in Malaysian politics can take deep root in the country.
The past year had also been a lost year and missed opportunity for economic reforms, a prerequisite to sustainable economic recovery for Malaysia. Warning voices that the Malaysian government was repeating the same mistakes that had plunged the country into the nationís worst economic crisis 1997-98 as it had not taken significant measures to strengthen Malaysiaís economic fundamentals went unheeded.
Malaysia would have been in a stronger position to face the impending economic hard times, with forecast of economic growth this year falling below 5 per cent, if economic reforms and restructuring to eliminate cronyism and all forms of economic distortions and inefficiencies had been undertaken in the past three years.
Malaysia has also failed on the political reform front, with the dubious
distinction of being the only country afflicted by the Asian economic
crisis which has
refused to undergo both economic and political reforms.
Everything is not bleak despair however. Hopes had been rekindled by the public commitment of the new Chief Justice to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary and the efforts of Suhakam to protect and promote human rights that there could be a turnaround in the unmitigated erosion of the rule of law and human rights for over a decade, although the jury is still out.
Malaysians irrespective of race, religion or political beliefs should keep faith with the nation in the Snake year to abjure rank communalism of any form and rededicate themselves to the cause of a Malaysia for all Malaysians where justice, freedom, democracy and good governance is a bounty enjoyed by every Malaysian citizen.