The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many of us to the realisation that sympathy and empathy towards each other are crucially needed when there’s no certainty to what is going to happen in the future. As many waits for the Budget day to come, it seems that not everyone namely the politicians feel the need to empathise as their actions have deeply impacted rakyat’s optimism of what’s ahead for them.
Empathy means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and share the thoughts of that person but in reality, these politicians are far from empathising the rakyat, which is reflected by their behaviours.
Let’s start with the pessimistic sentiment expressed by the discussants during EMIR Research’s focused group discussion for our third quarter poll in August.
In their own words, one said: “Of course, the political instability which is across the board. So, I think, the political instability in the local sense in Malaysia itself that is the one most worrying, and we really cannot predict what is going to happen in the next probably 1 to 6 years.”
Another discussant added: “Basically, my concern is not so much of the Covid-19, at the moment, because Covid-19 is something that came and will go off. It is not going to be there permanently. My immediate concern now is that instability that is found in this country because of political instability. We are not even sure what is going to happen tomorrow, whether the Parliament … whether the government that is in … presently ruling will be ruling tomorrow you see.”
The political-oriented concerns have prolonged up until now as the political dramas played by the politicians appear never-ending when the needs of the people should come before petty opportunistic politics operating under the pretence of democracy.
The Sabah cluster showed that that political instability, and ensuing elections which drove campaigns and gatherings have contributed to a significant rise in Covid-19 infections.
This rising Covid-19 infection had then resulted in a stricter Movement Control Order (MCO) to mitigate the widespread of the virus, from Recovery MCO (RMCO) to Conditional MCO (CMCO), which has been extended further until 9 November.
What’s more heart-breaking to see is the large impact the CMCO has on the masses since schools have to be closed, and small businesses have to be shut down as most people are staying or working at home. All of this started from the political games.
So, to avoid the same pitfall, Malaysia must hold off political interest, and focus on what truly matters – the people’s health and economic well-being – which politicians have been promising rakyat over and over again.
Although the general scepticism on the reasonings behind serious considerations such as an Emergency Declaration showed a general distrust of government motives, no one can deny the rise in infections, lives that has been lost, and people losing their jobs causing more Malaysians to fall below the poverty line.
It is good to know that the decision of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) and the Malay Rulers to not declare a state of emergency was met with positive support from MPs from both sides, which at the moment appears to support the tabling of Budget 2021 which is happening on 6 November.
The budget is expected to be driven by four main thrusts – caring for the people, steering the economy, sustainable living and improving public service delivery.
This is not a Machiavellian budget, made for mega projects or aesthetic extravagance. This budget should be about showing empathy and it should be a generous budget, aligned with the ‘Economics of Empathy’ as coined and fought for by EMIR Research.
It would be an unprecedented budget to meet the needs of unprecedented times. But successful implementation requires a shift in the mindset of politicians to stop the unrelenting urge of politicking.
The recent back and forth between closely-linked and mutually-benefitting political parties regarding ‘demands’ against the backdrop of people’s suffering is shameful and unempathetic. Battling on their high chairs oblivious to the sufferings below, their clamouring for power have exposed them as self-serving politicians, instead of leaders for the people.
Although a ‘ceasefire’ was called, there was a concern that because certain demands may not have been met, the apparent ‘truce’ acts a placeholder until real action would be made in the form of rejecting the upcoming budget.
Even with the so-called ceasefire, there are news of senior political party members still asking for the resignation of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and other senior ministers – despite the YDPA’s expressed confidence in the government in handling the pandemic, and His Majesty’s warning for politicians to stop politicking.
Some politicians have even gone as far as blaming the voters for the current political crisis. The rakyat are the victims, not the cause.
Sincerity and genuineness are not known to be common denominators in politics, which is why even if the ceasefire and the support for the budget proves itself to be true, the people will still evaluate if the apparent unity is simply a case of “I scratch your back you scratch mine”. There will be significant lash back should it involve dealings with figures under criminal investigation, or other indications of politicking that surpass both justice and the people’s needs.
Therefore, political differences need to be put aside to deliver a national budget that the people deserve by addressing the worrying socio-economic and health-related issues that have been worsened or caused by the pandemic – unemployment and underemployment, financial anxiety, mental health, vaccines, digitalisation and others.
All in all, politicians need to behave as leaders and cooperate in the best manner in ensuring the best assistance are given to the rakyat in order to weather through the storm.
Article By: Ameen Kamal and Sofea Azahar, the research team of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research