The author of this op-ed is a 28-year-old Malaysian politician who served as the country’s youth and sports minister from July 2018 to February 2020. He is currently a member of parliament and a co-founder of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance, a youth-led, multi-racial political party.
Though I’m a member of parliament in Malaysia, I’m writing this during a mandatory 14-day quarantine in Singapore, where I’ll be completing a course in public policy.
Ahead of my trip, which was my first in more than a year since the virus hit, I heard rumours back in Malaysia that I could have requested for special treatment to expedite my arrival process in Singapore. But I did not request for it, neither was it offered to me by the Singaporean embassy and government.
As soon as I landed at Changi Airport, I underwent strict procedures laid out by the Singapore government—just like any other foreign visitor arriving in the country during the pandemic.
Rules are in place to protect the public health and safety of citizens, and no one should be exempted.
If I had allowed myself to be excused from following the same procedures as others, I would only be putting myself, as well the people around me, at great risk because of my own interests.
I can’t help but make comparisons with the way things are done in my own country.
In 2018, I became the youngest-ever minister to be appointed in Malaysian political history.
I enjoyed my time as youth and sports minister. My team achieved many goals, including campaigning to gradually increase the minimum wage. But due to political infighting, which eventually led to the formation of a controversial “back-door” government, I was unable to continue in the post and went back to serving my constituency in Muar, a district in the state of Johor.
As a politician, I strongly believe that when we lead, we should always lead by example.
And looking at the ongoing actions of those in power speaks volumes about the failures of the current administration.
The pandemic has greatly crippled Malaysia. Daily caseloads spiraled into the thousands, and there have been many instances of alarming double standards: ministers and other high-profile individuals blatantly disregarding public health protocols or being given special treatment, with no action against them taken by the authorities.
This is in stark contrast to the millions of Malaysians who are still struggling to get by on a daily basis, or the economic migrants who risk infection to go to work.
One example was of a powerful and influential member of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, who had tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling interstate, which to this day is not allowed. No action was taken against him. It was as if no wrongdoing was committed and everything was swept under the rug.
There is also a huge lack of empathy towards the sufferings of those on the ground. I have read reports of ordinary citizens slapped with disproportionate or heavy-handed fines amounting up to RM10,000 ($2,500) for breaching movement control orders—which many of our ruling party politicians have regularly done. Just last week, a 17-year-old student from the state of Malacca was fined heavily for not using our public safety app to register his details when visiting a grocery shop.
While I understand and accept that the laws are there for a reason and enforcement officers are merely performing their duties, what makes the situation most frustrating is that regular Malaysians who are hit with such fines would never be able to pay them off, while those with means—are being let off even when they have the capacity to pay.
It is unfair and more importantly, shows that the ruling government chooses to remain deaf and blind to the plight of the public. They continue their practice of draining the poor, even for the smallest of mistakes.
This isn’t the sign of a democratic country.
It is blatant injustice.
And sadly, it has been the norm for us in Malaysia.
The views are those of the author and do not reflect those of VICE World News. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. We have since added a line clarifying that the Singapore immigration authority does not offer any special treatment to all foreign visitors arriving in Singapore during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.