AUGUST 31 — It is Merdeka under a new government. What a glorious day!
Sixty-one years ago, we (Malaya) gained self-autonomy in order to steer our own path. In Tunku Abdul Rahman’s proclamation of independence, Malaysia’s first prime minister urged Malayans not to think that they had reached the end of the road.
“Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour – the creation of a new and sovereign state,” he had said.
We are still continuing the process of building Malaysia in 2018, 66 years after the Umno-MCA alliance defeated a multi-racial party in the Kuala Lumpur local council elections in 1952.
The momentous act of changing the government is not the end of the road.
Like the achievement of our independence, electing a new federal government is indeed a milestone, but only the threshold to lots of work.
As citizens, part of the work we need to do, for a start, is to simply tell lawmakers and the government what we want.
It is a bit like being in a relationship with someone – if we don’t regularly tell our loved one our thoughts and expectations, how will they know what makes us happy?
So, for Merdeka (a bit like Christmas, what with a new government and all), I want faster rising wages so that my stagnant salary does not shrink with inflation.
I want better ways of financing health care so that I don’t have to wait at least six months (if I’m lucky) to see a specialist in a public hospital after the first diagnosis if I were to get cancer.
I want a more rigorous, empowering, and inclusive education system so that when I get married, my children can learn well in a public school, know their constitutional rights through civics education, and mix with kids from other races as they learn and speak the national language.
I want safer streets so that I don’t feel the need to carry pepper spray with me all the time everywhere, including in my own neighbourhood because crime statistics at the local level (or even national) are not available.
I want more parks and nice open spaces in the city so that when I go home after a stressful day at work, narrow spaces and ugly buildings under construction beside huge towering cranes don’t stress me out further.
I want a new decent-sized house that doesn’t cost more than half a million ringgit.
I want women to be equal to men, where they can be leaders in all fields and get the same high-paying jobs as men without having to choose between career and children.
I want local council elections and be able to elect my councillor and mayor so that I have a greater say in the planning of my neighbourhood and city, instead of having millions of people outside my constituency elect the federal government who in turns decides who is the mayor of Kuala Lumpur or the Federal Territories Minister.
I want the freedom to say whatever I want as long as I don’t punch (or threaten to punch) someone I disagree with.
I want an end to every single race-based policy that is created for the interests of specific ethnic groups, including the creation of exclusive political parties that shut out citizens of a different skin colour or religious belief.
Although a list of “I wants” may seem selfish, paradoxically, it is by being comfortable with expressing what you want that good governance can begin. When we state what we want, politely, the other party is forced to respond – either by giving you what you want or negotiating to give you less or something else altogether.
As a friend told me, if we need RM20, we need RM20, even if we only have RM1. So we cannot only ask for RM5. We must ask for what we need.
And if we don’t ask for what we need now, chances are, they will postpone giving us what we need while they do other things with the money, whether it is giving it to other more demanding people or simply forgetting that they had the money in the first place.
So, this Merdeka, ask for what you want and what you need, politely but firmly. Christmas comes twice this year.