Malaysia's wealth not uniformly shared among the people, Malaysia Madani may be the solution
Since November 2022, Malaysia has been holding a seemingly never-ending series of elections, with yet another by-election lately. The untimely passing of Pelangai's previous assemblyman made the holding of a by-election in that constituency absolutely unavoidable. In place of making an analysis of the projected consequence of the status quo, I am more interested in dissecting the reported wish list of voters in this Pahang state constituency.
One of the things that voters were upset about was the fact that there are not enough supermarkets, ATM machines and petrol stations to serve a population that is greater than 16,000 people. There are many things that can be improved about the district of Pelangai–located in the interior of the Malaysian peninsula–including the quality of its roads, so that no other visitor to Pelangai will be required to look for paracetamol at any of the available mom-and-pop businesses.
A GDP per capita estimate of $13,382 for the year 2023 indicates that Malaysia is a highly prosperous nation. However, it is fair to say that the wealth is not uniformly shared among the people. For example, a district like Pelangai, which has three Felda settlements, lags behind in terms of development when compared to a city like Kuala Lumpur or even Kuantan, the capital city of the state of Pahang.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Datuk Amizar Abu Adam, who is the newly-minted Pelangai assemblyman, suggested building the Pelangai Gateway to stimulate growth in the local economy. But first and foremost, he needs to fulfil the desire of the people for fundamental infrastructure and facilities that would make day-to-day life easier for all.
It is interesting to note that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in his role as an adviser to the State Government 4 (SG4), recently expressed the opinion that Kelantan has the potential to attract foreign direct investments if it is equipped with the appropriate infrastructure and amenities.
It is common knowledge that Kelantan is one of the poorest states in the country. And according to the former prime minister who has served as leader of the country for the longest amount of time, the greatest method to boost the state economy is to look into basic necessities that are crucial to attract investments.
Forcing the government to make necessary repairs to fundamental infrastructure and offer sufficient amenities may appear intuitive and unrevolutionary at first glance. On the other hand, there are some people in Malaysia who are resistant to such proposals because they believe we should not place an excessive amount of importance on earthly things.
This is the part where people in Malaysia get things wrong.
It is not going to make Malaysian Muslims give up their religion if they have roads that are free of potholes, street lamps that are in good working order, and, in the 21st century, a reliable internet connection.
On the other hand, Muslims are cautioned not to place an excessive amount of importance on life in the hereafter at the expense of life in this world or vice versa, as is demonstrated in verse 77 of surah Al-Qasas. More than that, having the appropriate facilities allows Muslims to carry out their religious observances in a peaceful manner.
This is made possible, for example, by the availability of clean water for ablution. The protection of the five elements of Maqasid al-Shariah, also known as the objectives of Islamic law, is made possible when the government makes providing necessities one of its top priorities.
It is upsetting to see Muslims making fun of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's attempts to modernise and improve the facilities of the toilets in public schools. It is possible that discussing this won't feel as exciting as discussing artificial intelligence, robotics, or aeronautical technology. However, in order for Malaysia to build the human capital that might further extend the country’s scientific field, they need a favourable environment to learn, and this includes a clean and comfortable classroom as well as clean and functioning toilets in schools.
The concept of Malaysia Madani has been ridiculed for being difficult to understand. However, at its core, the Madani idea is about achieving balance in all aspects of a civilised nation. True advancement is not just judged from an external point of view, such as the number of buildings in a city, but it also needs to be measured from the spiritual point of view, which is the process of generating human beings who are respected and honourable. What is the point of sending men into space if those walking on earth are unable to even travel securely from one kampung to another due to the terrible road conditions?
Bringing the Pelangai district into the 21st century will not be an easy task for the new assemblyman. The same can be said for each and every other elected and appointed political leader across the nation. It is not enough to simply be proud of a growing GDP if the benefits of that growth are not felt by most Malaysians. Beyond the realm of economic development, the provision of working facilities is intended to make life easier for the people so that they may lead lives that are more satisfying on all fronts, including spiritually.
Syaza Shukri, PhD, is an associate professor and the current Head at the Department of Political Science, IIUM. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.