Thoughtful Malay
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Thoughtful Malay

Is Malaysia A Failed State?

In the midst of a massive crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, the question of what constitutes a failing state becomes increasingly more pressing. Malaysia’s administration appears to have failed at every level. In phases, various, inconsistent levels of movement control orders (MCO) were established. Not only did the many types of MCO confuse many residents, but the penalties for minor and large offences varied dramatically. Worse, it appears that enforcement varies from state to state. The police officers participating in the enforcement add to the uncertainty, as it appears that they strictly enforce some MCOs while ignoring others, seemingly at random.

While most of us have been tracking the development of the pandemic through news reports, the day-to-day reality of mass quarantines and loss of civil freedoms has become our new normal.

The government has grown increasingly bureaucratic. It has also become increasingly unconcerned about its citizens. The military was called in to help enforce the quarantines, and it is still present throughout the country. ICU wards are increasingly overflowing with Covid-19 and its derivatives victims. Despite the rigorous lockdown, the number of reported cases continued to rise.

The economy, on the other hand, is in a state of disarray. Many people lost their jobs as a result of the quarantine’s economic repercussions. Even those who have jobs must suffer belt-tightening. The government is doing little to address a tide of political and public unhappiness. Many Malaysians are wondering if the lockdown is actually working. White flags, flown from homes, flats, and even businesses, are a regular sight in the nation

The nation is gripped by a sense of despair, which, combined with the pandemic, is catastrophic. The sickness is spreading, and it’s evident that present measures aren’t working.

It makes us wonder if Malaysia has devolved into a failed state. Peopleoften expect the government to fail in the face of natural disasters or military invasion. Nobody expects a government to fall short of meeting its residents’ basic necessities, such as security and health care. But this is exactly what is happening in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government appears to have abdicated its responsibility to safeguard its inhabitants from a lethal disease, and it is unable to assure food security. The public has lost faith in the government’s ability to safeguard its existence. Failure of the government to provide fundamental essentials, when it cannot even ensure security and safety from a simple sickness, constitutes a failed state.

In Malaysia, the overall picture is bleak. Due to its vast size and resource wealth (even if inaccessible or lost), it may not yet be regarded as a failed state, but the writing is on the wall. Malaysia may not survive the pandemic despite its best attempts.

A failed state is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as follows:

“A state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries. The governing capacity of a failed state is attenuated such that it is unable to fulfill the administrative and organizational tasks required to control people and resources and can provide only minimal public services.”

On this basis, we must admit that Malaysia has not yet failed. Looking at the realities on the ground, however, paints a less positive picture.

Poverty and corruption are recurring themes in failed regimes, and they are frequently connected. Following this trend, we may predict that failing states will have (1) poverty and (2) a lack of openness with their governmental structures.

In Malaysia, the economic impact of the lockdowns has been severe. Major infrastructure projects in Kuala Lumpur’s capital and the business-friendly province of Selangor have come to a halt. Malaysia was formerly a popular international tourist destination, so the tourism industry has suffered as well. It goes without saying that the poverty rate among those who rely on these industries has risen (e.g., restaurant owners, hotel staff, taxi drivers, etc. etc.)

There isn’t a week that goes by without another corruption scandal. Within the last week, a raid on a police station revealed that officers were planning an unlawful party with marijuana, beer, and karaoke within the police station itself. The most disturbing aspect is that this illegal activity occurred within a station tasked with dealing with illegal drug enterprises. It is both disgusting and concerning that those who are expected to enforce the law are brazenly breaking it in a way that is harmful to society.

Such unethical behaviour is not limited to the police force. The sheer amount of scandals involving high-ranking officials is disturbing, ranging from illicit property deals to corruption to sexual misconduct and even handing illegal immigrants citizenship in exchange for profit. These criminal acts have not only eroded the country’s law and order system, but have also harmed the country’s international reputation.

It is also worth emphasising that the common people’s daily lives are not easy. For years, mass unemployment has been an issue, and many of those who are working have had their wages reduced or their jobs outsourced to foreign countries with cheaper labour. Indeed, even the middle class is battling to exist in this harsh environment, and there are fears that this part of society may soon vanish.

The parliament has been shut down indefinitely. Despite the Council of Kings’ order to open the parliamentary chambers, the government continued to postpone the opening date under the guise of guaranteeing parliamentarians’ safety. Prime Minister Mahiaddin Yassin is dragging his feet in carrying out the Council of Kings’ orders AND the people’s demand to open the chambers. There is much speculation as to why this is the case: some believe he is keeping parliament closed out of fear for his own political survival, while others believe he is trying to use the crisis to impose even tighter controls on the country. Some even suggest he has his own agenda, although no one knows what it is.

All of this is happening while the country is dealing with a pandemic outbreak, which has affected the lives of every Malaysian.

As a result, we must consider whether Malaysia is truly “boleh” anymore, or whether the principles it once symbolised have crumbled and vanished like a corpse on a death bed.

People’s actions, I feel, hold the key to the solution. Although the government has undoubtedly played a significant role in bringing about the country’s deterioration, it cannot be argued that the people have eventually permitted this to happen. The government does not have a magic wand to make things better; the people must have an active role in keeping the country together.

We must not give up our ideals: it is boleh to question, if not challenge, the government. It is boleh to disagree. It is boleh to protest. It is permissible to vote out a leader or a failing system. It is boleh to assist your fellow man (or woman).

What is not “boleh” is wasting our God-given time and abilities on complaining and doing nothing. Despite the unfavourable scenario, I am glad to see so many of us banding together to face this challenge. Many people are assisting their fellow man, while others are working hard to make our cities and neighbourhoods safer. Food banks have been established, and many families are banding together to get through these terrible times.

What I’m trying to say is that, even if our government appears to be too weak to guide us, it is up to us whether we sink or swim. We cannot wait for someone else to do the work; instead, as Malaysians, neighbours, parents, and human beings, we must take matters into our own hands.

Let us not dismiss the spirit of solidarity that exists around us, a solidarity that may be unseen to some but is very much present in our society. We have the ability to support each other and make this country stronger if we just open our eyes and recognise that there are those who require our assistance.

The country may appear to be in a state of failure, but I prefer to see the wider picture: a country pulling together, helping each other through difficult times, and triumphing over all obstacles. We must demand of our government what we require of ourselves: to put the larger good of the country ahead of our personal interests. We must all work together to solve this challenge, for only then can we genuinely declare that we did not drown, but swam through the pandemic.

Politicians who are crooked and greedy, businesses who are greedy, and all those who have damaged this country and taken advantage of the average man will drown. Let us not follow them. Let us loudly proclaim that we are Malaysians, and that we have what it takes to triumph in the end, together.

Let us reject the claims that we are self-centered and lack the ability to withstand this pandemic. Politicians frequently criticised us, the people, for not doing enough, for failing to do our part in combating the pandemic. Let us demonstrate that they are incorrect. Let us demonstrate to them that we can only solve this problem if we all work together.

Let us make a decision: will we let ourselves drown or will we swim for our lives? Our country’s death knell has been rung early and frequently. Our forebears have encountered and overcome adversity. We can do it as well.

And when we get out the other side of this pandemic, let us make a solemn pledge to never again be helpless in the face of great danger. We have the power to change our fate. Let us not drown, but rather swim.

We will demonstrate to the entire world that we are more than a match for our crooked politicians, law-breaking celebrities, and law enforcers who misuse their power. We’ll show them that we can withstand everything they hurl at us.

Let us go swimming, my darling people, let us go swimming. Let us raise the black flag as a sign of our rejection of all those who have let us down.

The government may have failed, but we, the people, will not be defeated. Let us demonstrate that we have the will to thrive as well as the will to live. We shall thrive rather than just survive.

Malaysia boleh.




We strive to be thoughtfully Malaysian. We do this by providing a non-partisan platform for people to discuss and debate current affairs. We also provide a place to share people’s opinions, talk about books, music, and other media.

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Fayyadh Jaafar

Fayyadh Jaafar

Business writer at The Malaysian Reserve. I write other things here too, you know.

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