As we look forward to 2016, we should remember to support voices of moderation. Malaysia needs it.
I AM an optimist by nature. Most of us, in fact, are traditionally optimistic and hopeful at the beginning of a new year.
But I cannot help having apprehensions about the coming months. It will be a rough ride ahead with too many external factors beyond our control.
The price of crude oil, which is a dominant factor on our economy and ringgit, is likely to continue to be volatile. There are fears that it will continue to plunge.
Who would have thought that just 18 months ago, it was US$100 (RM430) a barrel and now it is hovering at around US$40 (RM172) a barrel?
The knockdown effect on our ringgit has been tremendous and 2015 will be remembered as a year when our ringgit was the worst performing currency in Asia.
It is humiliating but more than that, it means that the cost of doing business in Malaysia has become extremely high. Against the backdrop of a falling ringgit, weak market sentiments and escalating operating costs, most companies saw the need to reduce staff as a way out.
It will be the same scenario this year. It's not just the price of oil, but also China's economic pace which began to slow down in 2015 and will continue the same downward trend this year.
Malaysia, like other Asian countries, is more reliant on China than ever before. China is, after all, the second largest economy in the world and the top destination of exports from Malaysia. Any slowdown in China will have a negative impact on us.
The good news, as we wrapped up 2015, was the ringgit had strengthened as much as 3% since September, and as the year ended, it was trading about RM4.32 against the dollar.
Europe is still trying to recover while Japan remains technically in recession, and the value of the yen has also dropped against the dollar.
In short, the combined effects of the US interest hike, economic slowdown in the region and the instability of the oil price will all make 2016 a difficult year.
These are the external factors. As far as domestic issues are concerned, the 1MDB rationalisation exercise is near completion.
The issue has dogged the leadership and the country for the entire year. It has to end and we need to move on.
Be that as it may, there are still answers that Malaysians seek and if the authorities are not forthcoming, the 1MDB issue will continue to haunt the leadership into the new year.
It is clear by now that Malaysians will not accept failed standards and the violation of rules in institutions. We should be protecting these principles and we cannot accept excuses made to defend these violations.
Those who have spoken up have paid the price but we must also be apprehensive of those who pursue their political agenda in the name of justice and other purported noble values. These include people whose background needs plenty of explaining.
As we face the challenges this year, we must do away with some of the political and religious controversies.
Why should even a roof structure that resembles a cross be an issue and the developer ends up having to cover them up? It is plain ridiculous.
The cross is the symbol of Christianity, yes, but it has no supernatural powers. Even Christians will tell you that and, for sure, it won't shake anyone's faith, if that is the reason.
Some of us must have watched too many Dracula and Frankenstein movies to believe that a crucifix is enough to disfigure and disintegrate these characters with acidic effects. The problem with most of us is that we see too many ghosts when there are none.
We should be more worried about politicians who use race and religion. They are more devilish than dead people.
As Hyacinth J. Tagupa of The Inquirer of the Philippines wrote, in reference to such figures in her country, the people must not remain "zealous, unquestioning and defensive" about them.
"That's the kind of blind devotion for which we have always criticised the Nazis, and eerily, the kind of devotion we have started to display here.
"And though we could never imagine ourselves letting another Holocaust happen, if we continue to venerate our champions without scrutiny, we may already be tolerating too much."
What she has written certainly fits into the Malaysian context too. Many of us turn a blind eye to personalities who use race and religion, for fear that speaking up against them would appear that we are acting against the interest of their communities.
Deep in their hearts of hearts, they know these characters are tearing Malaysia apart with their continuous ranting of race and religion in social media and certain newspapers, but many have chosen to remain silent.
We are on a slippery path to a nation torn apart if they are left unchecked and unpunished. A couple of days in remand, without any formal charges, won't deter them.
In fact, they will appear more heroic in the eyes of their misguided supporters. Their indefensible actions will cost us dearly. We cannot let this continue in 2016.
More than 50 decades after independence, we are now told that being liberal is politically wrong. In fact, faithfully wrong, Muslims are told.
More frightening, some Umno leaders are saying the same thing, as the party gets cozy with PAS.
In the preamble to the Rukun Negara formulated in 1970 by the late Tun Abdul Razak, it is clearly stated that our nation nurtures the ambition "guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions".
Besides Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem and former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam, many of our politicians are fearful of declaring themselves as liberals. A few have become more outspoken after they retired.
In flirting with PAS, we should not be surprised if there were no dissenting voices when leaders of the Islamist party suggested that the best way to resolve cases of minors being raped would be for their perpetrators to marry them.
Yes, they are saying that rapists should marry their victims and that all will be well and fine. How brilliant but in the name of political expediency, many politicians, who claim to speak up for our interests, are strangely silent.
Perhaps, they have been away during the holiday season, but voters and politicians will be tested in 2016, as PAS pushes its agenda knowing that their suitors are currently unable to see, or chose to ignore their blemishes, in the heat of the courtship.
But remember, just three years ago, many Chinese voters were also infatuated with PAS, with many making excuses to defend them, looking the other way, or even closing their eyes to their transgressions.
The same apologists are now the same angry voices who pushed PAS to be kicked out of the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat.
The hudud laws were defended because they were purportedly suited for Barisan Nasional leaders, and that everything was allowed in Kelantan, as trips were organised for voters to see how exemplary "liberal" Kelantan has been under PAS rule.
Those who warned against working with PAS were scolded, even threatened for being political alarmists, in the heat of the 2013 polls but suddenly it has all changed now.
The very same DAP politicians who supported and worked with PAS are now asking why Umno is working with PAS. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and it's all about common interests - all politicians should know that.
But the sad part is the voters, who have sacrificed much of their time and money, as well as loss of friendship, will continue to be influenced by the same politicians, peddling unrealistic hopes, feeding on fears and emotions.
2016 is a crucial year - thanks to the Internet, we have become experts on all issues, and as Tagupa wrote aptly, "it's time we practised being more rational and analytical when faced with what others have to say about our heroes".
Please stop giving saintly status to some of our politicians. They are fallible human beings, so there's no need to be their echo chamber, accepting everything they say, and blindly rejecting other views and facts.
We need to support the voices of moderation more ever than before. And to do so consistently this year.