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Being Grateful: An Expat and His Opinion on Current Issues in Malaysia

It’s clear to many expats that the Malaysian government suffers from a credibility problem with certain groups in the country, particularly those living in the bigger cities. Since coming to power after independence, the government here has had to walk a fine line to find a balance between the desires and demands of the various people who make up the Malaysian population. Unlike its neighbours, the minority groups in this country represent a sizeable percentage of the population. Adding to the challenge, the varying groups are quite dissimilar, both culturally and in their religious beliefs. Clearly, there is plenty of opportunity for conflict.

The problems between the Muslim majority and Christian minority in Indonesia have routinely led to violent confrontation, and similar conflicts have arisen with the Muslim minorities in the Philippines, Burma, and Thailand. Creating and implementing policies which adequately address the needs of the various diverse groups presents some real challenges, exacerbated by the strong emotions which often arise over religious issues. The recent heated debates about the use of the word ‘Allah’ are a case in point. This is clearly a very sensitive subject to many people on each side of the argument. Interestingly, the Muslim Chief Minister of Sarawak saw no problem in Christians using the word in their Malay language versions of the Bible; however, the Federal government took the opposite view.

Adding to this, the government faces the problem all long-term governments face at some point; a growing desire for change in the belief that things will get better with another party in power. This happens routinely in many developed countries, with the major political parties rotating in and out of power.

The Malaysian government has developed some ambitious plans for change which are encompassed in the Economic and Government Transformation Programmes. However, many people met the plans with a fair degree of scepticism, and reports of some of the impressive achievements are questioned as to their accuracy.

The recent demonstrations against the Good and Services Tax is another example of the almost automatic opposition to new policies, with many protestors either unaware of or unimpressed by the fact the tax has already been implemented in most countries around the world and is considered a fair and reasonable way of collecting taxes. In fact, the biggest issue is usually not the inflationary pressures, but the additional accounting required by companies to record the tax.

Malaysia has yet to see any opposition party in power, and it is clear that in recent years there have been increasing numbers of people who want change. Whether it would result in a real improvement in the country’s future economic growth or the quality of peoples’ lives is not known. Change often seems desirable, but does not always achieve the expected results. Indeed, the regular changes in government in Western countries is often attributable to the perception, and often the reality, that campaign promises of improvements were not met.

As foreigners, it is not our role to express our views on who we think is the best party to rule. What cannot be questioned is that Malaysia has made impressive progress over the last 30 years, and we doubt that it would have been possible if the ruling party had changed every few years. We can also be grateful that the often bloody protests that broke out against the democratically elected government in Thailand have not happened here.

There are plenty of challenges ahead and we hope they will be handled without the need for violent protest and with the continued focus on ensuring that all segments of the population share in the country’s development and economic growth.

Homepage Highlight Photo credit: Stuck in Customs / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Source: The Expat Magazine June 2014

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