NB: This article was first published in the March 2011 issue of The Rocket.

“A new star rises in the eastern sky – a star of freedom for yet another Asian people. A new hope comes into being, a dream long cherished now materialises. It is freedom for the Malayan people and once this torch of freedom is lit let us hold it up high so that all around us will glow with radiant happiness. Let freedom be secured for all the law-abiding people. There shall be freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of want, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.” – Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, 1957

The aspirations above were cast 54 years ago by the buoyant father of a fledgling nation. Were he alive today he would undoubtedly lament over the fact that we, his children, have collectively failed to live up to his ideals of nationhood. The torch that he lit is now all but extinguished.

Over the last five and a half decades, every basic tenet aforementioned has been compromised for the sake of political and economic expediency by a government intent on maintaining their stranglehold on power. But what’s worse, we let it happen.

Our democratic institutions did not collapse overnight. It was a deliberate process over three decades, in which our country’s proud foundations – the civil service, judiciary, police, civil rights – were abused and dismantled piece by piece until we are left now with a dark void of tyranny where once there was a beacon of freedom and dreams of an august future. It happened systematically before our very eyes, yet we shrugged it off and allowed the decay because we were satisfied with the spoils that trickled down. Our country was rich enough that we could overlook the excesses of the regime because we were comfortable.

But we cannot afford to any longer.

Our finite resources are running out, and the Barisan Nasional government, mutated as it were to its current despotic form, will run our country aground if left unchecked. Our national debt is more than half of our GDP, and soaring from year to year. Our resources are mismanaged – operating expenditure increases exponentially while development expenditure remains stagnant. Inflation is accelerating by the day, and the government’s response is to reduce food subsidies that total only RM4 billion a year while conveniently maintaining the irrational subsidies for independent power producers and highway toll operators that cost us RM23 billion a year. Cost of living is spiralling and the income gap between the rich and the poor is acutely widening. The bottom 40% of our population earns 14.3% of total income while the top 20% earns nearly 50%. With an average household income of RM1,500 a month, millions of Malaysians exist only to subsist.

Yet the solutions proffered by our federal government are as maniacal as they are megalomaniacal. A RM36 billion MRT project and a RM5 billion 100-storey tower are championed as the answers to our economic woes. These are nothing more than the desperate salvoes of a government in decline. Whither goes our beloved country?

Not only have we been rendered economically impaired, but the BN formula of governance has left racial relations severely fractured. The mainstream media is used to antagonise ethnic fault-lines on a daily basis in an attempt to polarise the country to suit the political needs of the incumbents. Is this the country that we wish to raise our children in? A country in which deaths in custody are an accepted norm, in which the words ‘judiciary’ and ‘circus’ have become synonyms, and in which corruption is endemic and the term ‘cost overruns’ has become a part of everyday lexicon?

The future of our children is at risk unless we act collectively and immediately. The genesis of change must come from us: conscientious Malaysians who are willing to stand up for truth, justice and a natural sense of what is right. Our country is ailing, but it is not yet terminal. It can still be saved. I believe that, and so must you.

Change now, save Malaysia. This is our hope, and this is our cause. The time for change is now, and the champions of change are you, and me, and every true Malaysian out there. This, in essence, is our perjuangan.

I began this article with words of hope, a rhapsody to the stars on the birth of a new nation. Although we despair that our father’s dreams have thus far been unfulfilled, we must also persevere and believe that they will soon be. And so I end now with the words of a man who inherited the dreams of a nation, and who against all imaginable odds, succeeded in making change happen.

“We are the hope of the future. The answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided, that we cannot come together, that we cannot remake this world as it should be…. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama, 2008