by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 14 August 2015

It is the season of student events – many young Malaysians studying overseas are back on holiday and are collaborating with each other, local universities, NGOs and the private sector to create platforms whose viral effect bodes well for the future of civil society. As I mentioned at the first Global Policy Symposium at Sunway University, it gives me hope that our democracy is still salvageable.

Indeed, when I gave the keynote speech at the Malaysian Student Leaders Summit last Saturday, it was competing with three other major events – TEDxKL, the GLC Open Day and the KL City Grand Prix (whose track bordered the hotel where MSLS was happening) – and yet the ninth edition of UKEC’s flagship event was just as packed as on the previous two that I’ve attended (in 2010 and 2012).

My speech was an updated version of the “Healing the Nation” series which I’ve been giving throughout the year, but the dialogue session began with a question that many people are keen to pose to me at these sorts of events: the role of our constitutional monarchy in our democracy. Though it is usually clear that I attend such events in the capacity in which I was invited – in this case as President of IDEAS – sometimes people get a tad over-excited and read too much into references I might make about certain institutions.

To clarify: if any individual, regardless of their affiliation in civil society or otherwise, expresses opinions on any of our national institutions, it is not normally understood that they are speaking on their behalf. Maybe it is a sign of the situation that the country is in that people are so frustrated and impatient that they search high and low for any indications of sentiment or possible contemplations of action. Perhaps the best exposition of the complexity of institutions under pressure in a time of crisis is given by Tun Salleh Abas in May Day for Justice. I again recommend it.

As if there wasn’t enough adrenaline pumping around, two recent races have interspersed to the programme of dialogues.

First was the Seremban Half Marathon on 26 July. This time I completed the 10 kilometre event in one hour six minutes, though my running app tells me that the route was slightly short of the advertised distance. No matter: the hilliness was certainly enough to compensate. Now in its 28th year, the Seremban Half Marathon is one of the oldest continuously organised running events in the country, and in recent years has attracted an average of 10,000 participants.

Obviously there is some disruption to the traffic flow at big running events and at one particular location, a four-way junction was closed with queues stretching back as far as the eye could see, accompanied by much honking and even some irate people outside their cars screaming at deflated policemen and RELA personnel. In the past I too have been angered by long-winded diversions as a result of similar closures; and I asked what efforts were made to tell motorists of the upcoming closures, for I am confident that most Malaysians would be happy to avoid a particular route if they knew about it (I know now to avoid two Sunday mornings per month in KL).

Another recent incident highlighted the importance of solid planning: the date of this year’s Standard Chartered KL Marathon – an internationally-known event that attracted 35,000 runners last year – was briefly moved to 10 October and then moved back to 4 October, after a torrent of angry feedback. Such incidents, whatever their motives, do not inspire confidence for future editions.

But an event even more disruptive to the roads occurred over the weekend: the KL City Grand Prix, to which I was invited by the event’s Chairman Tunku Naquiyuddin, who was keen that I see the third ‘M’ of urban races: Malaysia, after Monaco and Macau – the first in KL in decades, though Johor Bahru’s was the first, taking place in 1940. Leading up to the event there were certainly many horrified urbanites who condemned the entire thing. But from the spectator numbers – over 400,000 on the last day alone – it was a tremendous success, though I’d be curious to see numbers showing the effect on the local economy. The massive party in the KLCC park afterwards again suggested a good influx of tourists. In any case hopefully next year the authorities do a better job saying where and how the closures will be.

In the chit-chat after these events, I couldn’t get away from answering the same questions that the students ask. Even with all those endorphins, nothing can overcome the feeling that our nation may soon lag behind.

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Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS

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