As I mentioned in my article last week, the Montreal-based Arton Capital recently released its Passport Index 2017, a worldwide ranking for passports, in which the Malaysian passport is ranked as the world’s ‘fifth most powerful’, the second in Asean, only behind Singapore, and the third in Asia, just behind Singapore and Japan.
In other words, Malaysians can visit up to 154 countries without a visa.
The findings no doubt surprise many. Quite a few Apple Daily readers in Hong Kong actually started cursing the Special Administrative Region’s government for not doing enough, as a result of which the HKSAR passport lags far behind that of ‘Malai’ (a derogatory term used by Hong Kongers to refer to Malaysia).
But I was actually not a tad startled with the advanced position of the Malaysian passport. In fact, I have been monitoring the Passport Index and other similar rankings for several years and am well aware that our passport has often made it to the top ten. Another agency whose indices are worth consulting is Henley & Partners, whose index last year listed the Malaysian passport at No 12 globally.
The Passport Index is informative not only because it does tell us something about our diplomatic relations with other countries, but also raises the question as to why the goodwill gesture shown by Malaysia towards countries such as Morocco and Somalia is not reciprocated.
I remember when I had to go to the French embassy for a visa before travelling to Paris way back in 1991. Just a few years later, a visa waiver agreement was signed with most of the European Union (then known as the European Community) countries, which Malaysians have been able to visit without a visa for more than two decades.
Just last month, the visa requirement by Serbia for Malaysians was abolished, signalling a full resumption of bilateral ties between the two countries once bitterly at odds over the Bosnia issue. I am indeed glad that we have patched up and moved on.
Therefore, the Malaysian passport is now able to travel to more than 80 percent of the western countries, with the exception of the United States and Canada. Ottawa cancelled the visa waiver agreement with Malaysia after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001.
Many still lament that Malaysians do not enjoy the privilege of being on the US visa waiver program. However, we must not lose sight of the blessing that, in addition to Europe, our passport is also welcome in most of the developing world, especially in Latin America, the Middle East and a significant portion of the African continent.
Lest we forget, two-thirds of the United Nations is made up of developing countries, and their friendship and goodwill may go a long way at some critical moment. Forget not, the People’s Republic of China succeeded in replacing the Republic of China (Taiwan) at the UN all thanks to the support of many small and developing nations, not those rich and powerful states in the west.
As of today, more than 120 countries – virtually all from the developing world – recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, putting enormous pressure on Israel as well as those western nations supporting it.
However much I disagree with Dr Mahathir Mohamad, I have to admit it was his proactive foreign policies that raised Malaysia’s international profile. According to the late Professor Chandran Jeshurun, Mahathir’s “first priority (as prime minister) was the Asean countries, then the small countries, and only then the Commonwealth countries”.
‘Mahathir became a household name in third world countries’
Mahathir went on to visit near and far-flung countries in the southern hemisphere. His South-South cooperation did pay off handsomely in that Malaysia, while doing less well than Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore economically, became a household name in many of the third world countries.
Of course, diplomacy is not the only factor in securing the visa-waiver agreement. Granted, issues such as corruption and financial irregularities have never gone away, but Malaysia is not a poor country, making it possible for most of the countries in the world to have a visa-free policy for Malaysian travellers.
The latest Democracy Index by the Economist considers Malaysia as having a “functioning government” as Singapore does, meaning that the government, despite being confronted with the twin scandals of 1MDB and the US$2.6 billion ‘donations’, has not lost focus on managing the country.
I am writing all this not to give credit to the Najib Abdul Razak government, but to stress the point that, for all its flaws, Malaysia remains a prosperous, relatively efficient and economically vibrant country.
If the opposition earnestly hopes to present itself as a government-in-waiting, it would do better by convincing the electorate of the need for a change with concrete policies and solutions to the problems identified than merely making irresponsible predictions that Malaysia is now on the verge of a ‘failed state’ and going to be ‘bankrupt’ by 2020.
What if all these fear-mongering predictions did not materialise? Would that not undermine the credibility of those who made them?
After almost 10 years of political suspense, Malaysians are only growing disillusioned with both sides of the political divide, and even tired of the sad reality that the opposition is only busy with cheap antics, empty rhetoric and infighting. Just look at Lim Kit Siang who is now behaving like a headless chicken.
Umno has been ruling the country for nearly 60 years now, and knows how to survive so long as the opposition remains unfocused, bereft of policy alternatives, and divided over religion and race. The Passport Index and the Democracy Index thus serve as a wake-up call for those who have been dreaming of capturing Putrajaya.
After all, being just a nay-sayer doesn’t get one very far.
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.
Source : @ Malaysiakini