Like a coin, Malaysia has two sides; the tourist experiences a tropical idyll, a shopping paradise and gastronomic delights, but the man in the street sees the obverse.
In the markets, housewives moan about the increasing prices of everyday food items, but at any Malaysian Airlines check-in counter in London, New York, Dubai or Sydney, one can see Malaysian officials and their spouses deposit box after box of shopping. It is alleged that they seldom pay excess baggage charges.
To say that Malaysia is a nation in chaos is an understatement. Minister after minister shows levels of incompetency that any half-decent company would never permit. Who runs the country? Who is in charge? Is Malaysia like an air plane cruising on auto-pilot until it crashes when it runs out of fuel?
While ministers are busy playing politics, the country is going to ruin. In Sabah, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's 'Project M', made illegal immigrants instant citizens of Malaysia. Last week, more than 100 armed foreigners breezed in and occupied a village, without any resistance.
Elsewhere in Malaysia, people of distinction, whose only weapons are truth and the tenets of justice and democracy, are harassed and discouraged from entering Malaysia, or are deported. These people include a French lawyer acting on behalf of Suaram, a British lawyer acting on behalf of Hindraf, Thai pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand and Australian Senator Nick Xenophon.
Armed forces caught unawares
The Malaysian navy boasts an impressive and expensive array of weaponry, including submarines and fast naval boats. Despite this, our armed forces were caught unawares by the militants. The Starreported that in a press conference, Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said, "These men are not terrorists." Most Malaysians think that when 100 armed rebels invade, they are terrorists, not friendly visitors.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who bungled the recent controversial trip to Gaza by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, has maintained a low profile. With armed foreigners on their doorsteps, Malaysians, especially Sabahans, might be reassured by an official statement from Wisma Putra regarding this impasse.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said we should leave the security forces to deal with the situation, "Let the authorities with the expertise and responsibility resolve it without bloodshed. If anyone is killed, then the government and authorities will stand accused."
Hishammuddin's words sound hollow. If only he applied the same standards to his own police force when they attacked Bersih demonstrators, caused hundreds of deaths in police custody, indiscriminately shoot at people, including teenagers and women, or allegedly beat security guard C Sugumar to death.
Among Najib's list of skills is his prowess as a drummer in the Chinese lion dance. More notable is his economy with words, especially in critical situations. Has he become a Benedictine monk and taken a vow of silence? It is most alarming that he has said nothing about the rebel threat.
Is he still licking his wounds, after the humiliations that he suffered in Penang at the Psy concert?
In Sabah last November, two men - the manager of an oil palm estate and his assistant - were kidnapped by armed men and taken to southern Philippines. As a result of this, marine patrols were increased, especially as there were rumours that armed militia from the Philippines were preparing to land in Lahad Datu.
Days after this abduction, men armed with M16 rifles raided a fishing platform off Tawau and took away a 40kg bag of ikan bilis worth an estimated RM350. Were these men testing the capability of our security defences in the area? They were not challenged, so it is possible that several more men have slipped into the country between November 2012 and February 2013.
Could there be another more simple explanation for the Sabah incursion?
Sabah intrusion not seen as a threat
The armed forces and police see no threat in the 100 armed rebels and yet an Australian senator is perceived to be an "enemy of the state". A casual, almost complacent, "tidak apa" attitude has been adopted by our leaders.
We are aware that BN is trying to divert our attention from the damaging revelations that have been unearthed by the Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI). It is generally true that reports from our intelligence services are good. How is it that they were caught unprepared in Sabah?
Could the real reason be another distraction? It is without doubt that BN will do its utmost to cheat in the coming general election.
The lackadaisical attitude of our ministers and authorities suggests that BN is trying to portray Najib as the "hero" who saves the nation from an armed invasion. Is it an attempt to make Sabahans beholden to BN and so vote them in?
Perhaps, Najib is going to use the armed rebels as an excuse to station several army units in Sabah and then cheat using the army votes and postal votes.
In a worst case scenario, will Najib use the rebels as a ploy to declare emergency rule to delay the election and instil fear in Malaysians?
Najib appears clueless and is silent about the invasion. This might be a plot to embarrass him and show him as an inept leader, hatched by none other than Mahathir and those who are plotting to overthrow Najib.
Do we really want to be ruled by a party that expends its energy on internecine wars rather than governing the country? We must vote for a party that will lead us, the country and all Malaysians, to peace and prosperity, and expel our enemies but not our friends.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.