By INS Contributors

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has seen some remarkable community level organising by the Malaysian public who are independently working together to help the hardest hit among them to weather the storm.

On Tuesday, a “white flag campaign” kicked off on social media, with those facing food shortages and financial constraints being encouraged to raise white flags to signal that they are in dire need but allowing them to keep their dignity by not having to openly beg.

Suicides and indignity

The campaign follows an alarming spike in the number of suicides in the country as businesses fail and money runs out with a never ending series of lockdowns and movement restrictions, with daily wage earners and service sector workers being particularly hard hit.

Several videos being spread on social media showing how some people have hung themselves and others leaping to their deaths, finally prompted health authorities to admit the problem: an average of four suicides a day in the first quarter of 2021.

“The Royal Malaysia Police found that there was an increase in suicide cases reported in 2020 which was 631 cases compared to 609 cases in 2019. As of March 2021, a total of 336 suicide cases were reported to the Royal Malaysia Police,” an official revealed.

Inadequate economic packages  

Despite billions spent on economic stimulus packages and various attempts at governmental assistance, many have raised that the aid has been insufficient: sub-standard food baskets, phones that catch fire, difficulties in banking relief among others has left many feeling disappointed.

Even wage subsidies and micro-credit schemes have failed to have any impact with petty traders not being able to access them due to a lack of proper bookkeeping or documentation to qualify for any assistance.

Where is the government?

All this on top of a lack of clear leadership and direction by the Perikatan Nasional government, which critics have called disconnected with the people, openly practicing double standards in anti-COVID-19 enforcement and spending big on projects that will not give the people the immediate relief they need.

Instead continued political intrigue, both from within and outside the loose PN coalition ensures its figureheads remain paralysed, with the country’s parliament being suspended since an emergency was declared in January.

The lack of parliamentary oversight, in combination with continued spending through various stimulus packages and an opaque vaccination procurement and rollout could see Malaysia losing out on economic opportunities when the pandemic is finally brought under control.

Despite calls for parliament to reconvene with Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah adding his voice to the chorus, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin instead called in sick on Wednesday, drawing ridicule from the public.

Discontent grows louder

With all that is happening there is already talk of a strike involving more than 15,000 contract doctors who will wage a nationwide strike for a single day next month to protest against the government’s contract scheme for junior doctors.

Alarms have already been raised that the healthcare system is already at the breaking point and any disruption, such as a strike could be the straw that breaks the camel's back and catalyses the wider public to take similar action.

The huge pressure on Malaysia, its economy and its people may well see the birth of a “People’s Power” movement that could shape up to forever change the way politics is done here. Mass protests are not only likely but are even being seen as inevitable.

Despite restrictions, the ability of the Malaysian public to effectively organise might well see them gather together to remove what they see as the source of their problems: not the invisible virus that torments them, but a government that is incapable of leading the country.