Report: Malaysia en route to ‘failed statehood’

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The desperate plight of poor Malaysians plus the latest political shenanigans of the nation’s leading parties amid an open-ended lockdown are signs of the descent of a once-proud nation, a column on Bloomberg read today.

Daniel Moss, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian economies, said the white flags flown by Malaysians to signal a need for food and a bit of cash were “shorthand for discontent at the atrophying state and troubled economy”.

The politicians, meanwhile, are caught up in a years-long saga, the most recent twist coming from Umno, which declared “it will leave the ramshackle coalition presided over by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and urged him to quit”.

Moss warned that this may not be the end of the machinations as Umno was split between the members who wished to reclaim the party’s dominant position and MPs who wanted to keep the “nice cabinet posts” that Muhyiddin had given them.

He said impoverished folk had raised a flag of surrender with no hope and little desire to overthrow the government and in any case, it wasn’t clear these days that there’s one to topple.

“The country’s prime ministers were once given grudging credit for stable leadership, albeit with authoritarian traits. However, lawmakers have proven breathtakingly unable to coalesce around a figure or programme to guide Malaysia through this plight,” Moss wrote.

“The nation is beset by multiple crises — social, economic and political — fed and worsened by each other. It may only be a slight exaggeration to invoke the dreaded label of a failed state.”

He said the surrender flag captures the end of a strutting, can-do mentality, or “boleh.”

“Citizens are stepping in where authorities have failed as the pandemic has delivered seemingly endless misery.

“Only a bit more than 8% of Malaysians have received both vaccine shots, as of Monday. Some of the strictest lockdowns have been in Kuala Lumpur and the nearby commercial powerhouse of Selangor state, and taken a toll. At their worst, factories have been shut, public transportation has run on a skeleton schedule, and the military has manned roadblocks. Some measures have been eased, but large parts of the country remain shuttered.”

In the past, Malaysia had shone as an emerging-market icon, he said.

“During Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s premiership from 1981 to 2003, the country grew rapidly with relatively low inflation and stable budgets. He resisted aid from the IMF and challenged orthodoxy by imposing capital controls and fixing the exchange rate during the Asian crisis. Contrary to predictions that the efforts would fail, they shored up Malaysia.”

It all started to go wrong when Najib Razak bungled the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in front of the world’s cameras. Najib led Umno to defeat in 2018 and has been convicted of corruption related to 1MDB, he said.

“Mahathir’s return at the helm of an opposition bloc offered a brief moment of renewal. But he couldn’t give up on political wheeling and dealing — even well into his 90s — and opened the door for Muhyiddin to edge him out of office.

“Longstanding ethnic and religious fault lines have been worsened in recent years by an urban-rural divide and a generation gap that no political organisation has come to grips with. The credibility of the ruling class will keep eroding the longer it takes to vaccinate against Covid and for a recovery to take hold. The current intrigues sadly seem far removed from the daily needs of business, finance and even putting food on the table.

“The Southeast Asian country lost its status as a role model for the developing world some time ago. Now, it may be relegated to the lane of also-rans that shone during the heyday of globalisation but failed to capitalise on a strong start.” – TMI