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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on January 23, 2023 - January 29, 2023

The launching of “Developing Malaysia Madani”, the mandate of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is an important marker that will determine whether the 10th premier will put the nation on a new path that sets him apart from his predecessors.

Malaysia Madani is envisaged as a civilised, skilled and inclusive society based on six core values — namely sustainability, compassion, respect, innovation, prosperity and trust. 

A key message that Anwar has sent out is that his unity government wants to free the poor and marginalised from poverty’s grip that they have fallen into in an unbridled capitalistic system that nurtures inequality in wealth and living standards.

“Our responsibility is to try our best to help them break free from the shackles of poverty,” said Anwar, stressing that giving aid is not a solution to poverty. This signals the government’s recognition that the nation’s subsidy burden must be rationalised and augmented by income generation measures for the target groups.

The mandate spells hope that narrowing the wealth gap will be given the attention that has long been necessary. Towards this end, Anwar shows resolve to support the growth of small and medium enterprises and curtail the concentration of wealth in the hands of a well-connected few.

He also gives the assurance that minority communities, including those in Sabah and Sarawak, will not be marginalised by the unity government. This is important in order to overcome the feeling among minority communities that opportunities for their upliftment are limited.

How these goals will be translated into action plans will be clearer when Anwar, who is also the finance minister, retables the national budget next month.

The Malaysia Madani concept also has an important psychological aspect as it is aimed at restoring the dignity of the country. It is undeniable that the country has lost a decade in economic development due to deeply rooted weaknesses in governance. The evidence of this is that neighbouring countries are catching up fast with Malaysia, if they have not already overtaken us in terms of competitiveness. 

Malaysia, once an Asian tiger that roared with its strong currency and healthy economic growth in the 1990s, has to get its act together to fix the problems that have been hindering the country’s progress.

With the new mandate, Malaysians have a chance to unite for the sake of the country’s future, as it cannot afford to lose any more years letting problems such as a poor education system, racial tension, religious extremism and a brain drain erode the nation’s fundamentals.

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