Are we a Failed State? Certainly not!

Image from

By Dr Jeniri Amir 

FORMER Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad celebrated his 96th birthday on July 10. The Pejuang president prayed for Malaysia — that all parties will work towards making the country fully developed.

His prayer couldn’t have come at a better time, especially a day after Bloomberg published an article entitled, “Malaysia is staggering down the road to failed statehood.”

When he was the fourth prime minister, Dr Mahathir introduced the Vision 2020 ideal that promised a modern, industrialised, developed and united Malaysian nation.

When he presented Vision 2020 as the nation’s development goal three decades ago at the first meeting of the Malaysian Business Council on Feb 8, 1991, he said: “Malaysia (by 2020) should not be developed only in the economic sense — it must be a nation that is fully developed along all dimensions — economically, politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally.

“We must be fully developed in terms of national unity and social cohesion, in terms of our economy, in terms of social justice, political stability, system of government, quality of life, social and spiritual values, national pride and confidence.”

So, have we attained that status or are we far from being a developed nation? Or is Malaysia a failed state as claimed by a Bloomberg columnist whose analysis has raised eyebrows.

Daniel Moss had argued that political instability, poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the white flag movement by Malaysians asking for aid were a sign of the country’s slide.

“The current intrigues sadly seem far removed from the daily needs of business, finance and even putting food on the table. No country can continue on this course indefinitely and be a model for anything other than dysfunction,” he said.

What was argued by Moss in terms of the strain on the health system, challenges of a social safety net and issues in terms of governance encountered by Malaysia — to be fair and objective — are also encountered by other countries. Some weaknesses in the way the government handles the issues have created a negative perception and exposed the PN government’s shortcomings.

But bear in mind, Malaysia has passed the 10 million mark for the number of vaccinations administered to its population as of July 8. The Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV) expects more than 14 million doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm’s Sinovac this month.

Is Malaysia teetering on the brink of collapse or is it at the trajectory of becoming one as claimed by the columnist?

You might want to know examples of failed states and why they failed.

Among the countries that are categorised as failed states are Yemen, Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Is Malaysia descending into utter chaos like the top 10 failed nations?

Certainly not! Malaysia is far from being a failure. Based on the ranking by Fragile State Indexes 2021, Malaysia is ranked at 157 out of 179 nations. Obviously, it is not a failed state but some sceptics and pessimists will not agree with me.

What is a failed state? What constitutes a failed state? According to the Oxford dictionary, a failed state is one whose “political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control”.

In essence, a failed state is a nation in anarchy with dysfunctional administration system and very low Human Development Index.

All the government agencies are still functioning and operating effectively despite some complaints and weaknesses.

Malaysia is among the top 25 Most Peaceful Countries, currently ranked 20th in the 2020 Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) which ranks independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.

Afghanistan is the least peaceful country in the world for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Iraq.

According to Wikipedia, a failed state is 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 people, and it cannot protect its national boundaries.

Failed states have the following characteristics:

• Rise in political and criminal violence

• Loss of control of borders

• No press freedom

• Rising ethnic, religious and cultural tensions

• A civil war against own citizens

• Weak institutions

• Food shortages

• Rising unemployment

• High inflation

• Drop in GDP falls

• High infant mortality

You may read books like Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, A Failed State authored by Andrew E. Coussens, Failed State by Noam Chomsky and Fixing Failed States by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart to understand the real meaning and factors that contributed to failed states.

Failed states exhibit flawed and weak institutions or there is a tendency by the government to manipulate or abuse the institution by the government. If legislatures exist at all, they are rubber-stamping machines.

Democratic debate and discourse are noticeably absent. There is no press freedom and the government has the tendency to use and abuse the instruments of hegemony to muzzle the press.

The judiciary becomes the tool of the executive rather than being independent.

There is an obvious lack of respect for the doctrine of separation of power.

Citizens cannot rely on the court system for redress or remedy, especially against the state. Frankly, are we in that impasse and quandary at the moment?

Some regarded Malaysia as in an imbroglio with no clear direction and leadership that can salvage us from the current predicament but definitely, we are not a failed state albeit the PN government and Malaysia — like any other government or nation — are not perfect.

There is room for improvement in many aspects, especially the way we handle Covid-19 pandemic.

We need a government that can govern and leaders that lead and show the way during this challenging time. We cannot be in the current quagmire forever. We have been in this quandary for more than 16 months.

At the time of writing this article (Monday), the Health Ministry reported that after breaching the 9,000 mark for three consecutive days, the number of new Covid-19 cases in the country dropped to 8,574 yesterday.

According to Worldometers, Malaysia is ranked at 34 in the world in terms of the cumulative number of cases with almost a million cases.

Now we have no other option and failure is definitely not the option in fighting the battle against the lethal coronavirus.

That’s why there is a loud political and social narrative and discourse in social media that the prime minister must step down and his position is now untenable.

More people are losing their jobs, and the number of suicide cases is increasing on average of four cases per day. With all these negative news, is there light at the end of the tunnel for Malaysia?

We have to admit that the delivery system, law and order, and the government are still functioning. There is no sign as yet that the system is on the brink of collapse, except probably the health system as the number of Covid-19 cases increase.

If the number of new daily cases shows no sign of coming down, there is a possibility and risk that the health system will be paralysed. But Malaysia and its government are no way near being paralysed, and public administration is still continuing as per normal.

Yes, we failed to fully achieve the objectives of Vision 2020 but we have somehow achieved some of the objectives.

I do agree that Malaysia should have done better in many aspects, especially in economic growth and quality of education. But on the economic front, S & P Global Ratings, had in June 2021 affirmed its ‘A-‘long-term and ‘A-2’ short-term sovereign credit rating of Malaysia.

In fact, it has also affirmed its ‘A’ long-term local currency rating on the country.

In terms foreign direct investments (FDI), RM80.6 billion worth of investments in the manufacturing, services and primary sectors were approved in the first quarter of this year, a surge of 95.6 percent from RM41.2 billion a year ago (The Star, June 11, 2021).

If at all, Malaysia is a failed state, we would not have achieved great improvements in terms of economic growth, including our success in terms of creating T20, M40 pre-Covid-19. The majority of our population would have been poor. Remember before 1970, and pre-New Economic Policy, more than half of our population were poor.

Yes, despite the pandemic and the various problems that we experienced; the poverty rate remains under 10 percent out of the 33 million population in Malaysia. We reckoned that due to Covid-19 and MCO, the T20 and M40 groups were also economically and financially affected.

More than 600, 000 households from the middle 40 percent (M40) income group have slipped into the bottom 40 percent (B40) category as the Covid-19 crisis dented Malaysians’ income level. Against the country’s 7.28 million households, as reported by the Statistics Department for the year 2019, this represents at least eight percent of households that have seen incomes drop below the B40 income maximum threshold of RM4,850 a month.

But does that mean the United Kingdom is also a failed state? According to the Guardian, in 2020, about 700,000 UK citizens were driven into poverty due to the pandemic. Just because of a white flag campaign amongst some quarters in the community, it does not mean we are down the path of a failed state.

In a nutshell, Malaysia is not on the path of being a failed state despite the current political, health and economic crises we are facing. As Malaysians who love this country, we should continue working hand in hand to make this nation a great nation, not a failed nation.

Yes, Malaysia is far from becoming a failed state as claimed by Moss.

Dr Jeniri Amir is a Senior Fellow of the National Professors Council. This article first appeared in the New Sarawak Tribune