Response to the Prime Minister’s unity-themed concept is positive but people expect the new administration to really walk the talk.
Malaysian Prime Ministers are known for starting out their new adminstrations with impressive slogans.
For Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, it was “Bersih, Cekap, Amanah” (Clean, Efficient, Trustworthy) while his successor chose “Work With Me, Not For Me”.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who assumed office as the nation’s sixth Prime Minister on Friday, has urged the people to join him in his quest to revitalise the country through the concept of 1Malaysia. His slogan is “People First, Performance Now”.
Satu Malaysia, the thrust of Najib’s new administration, which hinges on mutual respect and trust among the various races, will be the guide in programmes and policies as well as in his vision for the economy, politics and direction of the Government.
Sunday Star spoke to several Malaysian personalities for their views on Satu Malaysia. Their responses were mostly positive.
> Political scientist Dr Chandra Muzaffar says Satu Malaysia is an attractive slogan that can capture the imagination of Malaysians across boundaries but the concept itself needs to be developed further.
“From what little we know at this stage, the idea that has surfaced – bringing everyone together regardless of ethnic background, religion, generation as well as territory (between peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak) – has a lot of potential.
“I hope the PM will turn his words into deeds, meaning translate it into actual policies and programmes, which would have a direct impact on people. Only then will they be able to say, “Ah, this is something different; something that will have real meaning in our lives.”
Dr Chandra says Najib has to make everyone feel that he or she has a stake in the idea of Satu Malaysia, adding for instance, that he might want to translate the concept in terms of education or public housing.
“In any case, when it comes to helping the poor, we should help everyone regardless of their ethnicity, which is the first prong of the NEP.
“Similarly, when it comes to providing opportunities, recognising talents and achievements or contributions, it should be regardless of ethnicity. Only then it will have an impact.”
He believes that it is possible to achieve mutual respect and trust among the races in spite of the mistrust and uneasiness existing in our society.
“After all, we have held together as a nation for 51 years despite the differences. There is a functional relationship between the different ethnics in Malaysia, but to be united, we have to move towards a higher level – to have an empathetic relationship. That is what we haven’t achieved a so far.”
Dr Chandra says everyone has to play a role, not just the Government, but also the Opposition and the civil society, by giving greater emphasis to the idea of oneness and togetherness. Similarly, everyone needs to stop playing on and exploiting ethnic sentiments.
“There will be obstacles. It will be difficult with the polarisation we have in our society but I believe we can overcome it.
“For instance, there are segments in the Malay Melayu Boleh community – not the whole community – that have a tendency to be a little exclusive and somewhat apprehensive about really embracing the idea of everyone being together and part of this nation.
“Then there are also segments in the non-Malay community who have a problem in empathising and appreciating the special position of the Malay society. On both sides, there are problems. They have to try to reach out to one another,” he says.
In a nutshell, he adds, Malays need to understand this concept of being one as Malaysians and the feelings of the non-Malays who want to be treated as equal citizens while non-Malays have to understand the concept of the Malay community and their aspirations.
Dr Chandra says that when it comes to policies and laws, the administration has to be more inclusive.
“The idea of 1Malaysia is important, particularly in the face of the global economic crisis. We have not felt the full brunt of it yet but it is important that we are united and work together as one nation in facing the crisis,” he says.
> Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, principal research fellow of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies, says 1Malaysia is both “refreshing” and “timely” at a time when the country is faced with economic and political crises.
He opines that the slogan is better than “Bangsa Malaysia”, which indicates assimilation orientation and as such, has not caught on beyond the cliché dimension.
“1Malaysia gives a clearer picture of unity in diversity, taking a pluralistic and integrationist approach. If the idea is unpacked in practical dimensions, we might be able to really see major changes in the future.”
However, Dr Jayasooria says it must address individual concerns as well as institutional and structural issues which continue to divide Malaysian society.
“A major transformation exercise of the public sector is essential. There must be a review of the recruitment process and promotion prospects in the civil service which must be merit oriented.
“It must provide equal opportunities and all Malaysians must feel that the Government is for all and not for selected groups only.”
Dr Jayasooria hopes that the new PM initiates a social dialogue process to gather feedback on the theme of political parties using race and religion as their ideologies.
“This political transformation cannot be realised overnight but Umno must re-examine the vision of its founder Datuk Onn Jaffar. Just as Najib’s father Tun Abdul Razak created an inclusive approach to party politics after May 13, 1969, with the founding of the Barisan National, the time has come for the new PM to lead a new movement of change where all Malaysians will feel they are part of the nation.”
Dr Jayasooria hopes to see political and community leaders speak up for all communities and not solely from their own racial or religious backgrounds.
> Businessman Anas Zubedy, who recently took out a full page advertisemt urging political leaders to set aside their differences and focus on the economy, says the 1Malaysia concept is really favourable from a marketing viewpoint.
“It is short, snappy and to the point. The concept itself should be debated and discussed at all levels of Malaysian society.
“We must make sure that the Malaysian public owns it, not the Barisan or Umno or even Najib. It must be above politics, and the Opposition given a role to play,” he says.
Anas says that at the ground level, Malaysians generally practise peaceful living on a daily basis, adding that there are more good examples of mutual respect and trust than there are of bad ones.
“Visit any mamak stall and see for yourself; we live harmoniously in a multi-cultural nation. Occasionally we are a little angry with each other, but we hardly ever wish harm to the other. Malaysians get angry and disappointed because we feel that we are not being treated with respect and trust.
“But we have to overcome certain barriers. There should not be economic inequality; our nation cannot prosper if some are left behind. All must have a fair chance of upward mobility via education and no policy that separates our children based on ethnic background should be tolerated.
“We also want development, but minus the corruption. Politics should also be fair and gentlemanly; all states whether governed by Barisan or the Opposition should get a fair share of government spending. And we need great leaders both in the Government and the Opposition,” he adds.
Anas says that under 1Malaysia, the rakyat is the country with a Bangsa Malaysia, not Malay, Chinese, Indians, Kadazan, Iban or Eurasian, but without losing the beauty of each ethnicity.
“Unity must replace race as our consciousness and belief system. We must understand and accept that multiplicity is God’s gift.”
> MCA veteran Tan Sri Michael Chen says 1Malaysia is very conducive to the multi-racial society, adding that it is the right time for this new agenda and road map.
“In the past, some unscrupulous politicians have caused upset among the races. If we can influence Malaysians to work towards what the new PM wants, we will go one step higher and turn Malaysia into a great nation.”
Chen says politicians need to heed Najib’s call to be united, especially during this time of an economic downturn.
“To achieve mutual respect and trust, we need a lot of understanding among the various communities and their leaders. We are going to face tremendous challenges, so we should not waste our time and energy dealing with unnecessary issues,” he says.
Chen says it is about time the people regard themselves as Malaysians instead of only being associated with their own ethnic groups.
“We must not only think that we are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban or other races but as Malaysians with our own unique backgrounds. We should help each other and give the best to the people and the country.”
Chen says the concept should be seen as very noble as it aims to build Malaysia into a rejuvenated nation. It is something everyone should support.
> Former Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) President Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim says the concept is long overdue for implementation, adding that the future of the country depends on whether its people accept and celebrate cultural diversity.
“We have to look at issues very carefully and thoroughly. We have to recognise the fact that we must work at integrating different groups of people.
“There is no place for any race dominating another. It is really about getting policies right, policies which reflect our concerns for equal opportunity, fair treatment, equality and justice.
“I am personally delighted that the new Prime Minister has made the pledge to bring about natural integration and unity as the first item on his agenda.
“First, he will have to persuade his colleagues that this is the only way forward for Malaysia as a nation. Nothing else short of complete policy changes will be good enough for national sustainability. This is not just the vision of an individual, but of many,” he says.
Tunku Aziz says Malaysia’s future as a peaceful, united, prosperous and progressive nation can be achieved if leaders are clear about what really needs to be done in the context of national development.
“We are now at the crossroads – there is still a lot of mistrust, suspicion and ignorance because the Government has been changing its position in respect to its policies on education and other issues.
“1Malaysia is about a united Malaysia, where everyone shares common values on the destiny of the country. It is also about all of us committing and dedicating ourselves to the ideal of a Malaysia for all. This has to be translated into action,” he says.
> Newly elected Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin says the country needs such a new approach in trying to come up with a contemporary identity with many issues between the communities.
He says issues that crop up are often politicised and it takes time and subtle touches to resolve them.
“If there is understanding and they can be resolved quickly and with sensitivity, then mutual respect and trust can flow automatically, so long as the politicians don’t make it worse.
“It’s not easy because some issues like places of worship and religious conversions are sensitive and have been cropping up over the past year.
“We need to solve them quickly with sensitivity but sometimes it takes time. Nobody should try to politicise it for their own benefit,” he says.
Khairy says the notion is that these things are easily politicised and when that happens, people tend to take extreme views prevalent not just in the Barisan Nasional but also in NGO and community leadership levels.
Barisan Youth, he says, must come together quickly whenever there are issues, meet behind closed doors, thrash things out and come to a meeting point rather than discuss matters through the media where different parties will say different things.
“At the micro level, no matter what ethnic background one is from, there should be genuine friendship with the other communities.
“It should not forced integration at school or coercion. You don’t have to do it but you want to do it. That’s when you have succeeded.”
> Tricia Yeoh, research officer to Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, says concepts like 1Malaysia are not new and have been bandied about by many others in the past, including Barisan leaders.
“The key lies in the slogan’s materialisation. These philosophical statements must go beyond rhetoric and be equally matched by what is carried out in reality. Until the people see this, it will stay dormant as a concept.”
She stresses that it is important that all leaders take a stand in ensuring equal treatment in words and action is given to all, irrespective of race.
“Every ethnic, religious, geographical and socioeconomic group must be treated with the same level of respect. Government policies must reflect this equal treatment. Every citizen must feel they belong to Malaysia, their own nation.”
She says systemic and institutional barriers, like policies that are race-based, political interests and race-based political parties which eventually require the support of their own racial constituencies, must change in the long run.
“There must be political will to actuate change. There must not be any sort of policies that divide society or any political leaders who fail to understand the philosophy and ethos of the concept of unity,” she says.
She hopes to see a 1Malaysia that looks at racial and religious differences only for the sake of culture and heritage, but does not differentiate on skin colour or religion when it comes to creating a Malaysian identity.
> Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism president Datuk A.Vaithilingam says 1Malaysia can be achieved if there is genuine mutual respect and trust among the races.
He said all matters and issues pertaining to race and religion must be viewed in the light of the 1Malaysia concept.
Vaithilingam, who also heads the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, says achievement can only be possible when leaders stop using sensitive issues to gain power or hurt the feelings of people in the various communities through the choice of their words or actions.
His 1Malaysia is a nation which does not discriminate but gives equal opportunities to people of all races and religions,
> National Council of Women’s Organisations deputy president Datuk Ramani Gurusamy says 1Malaysia has stirred fresh and great expectations and hope for the future.
“Mutual respect and trust are cornerstones in building national unity, not just tolerance. There are great policies and plans put in place in every ministry but these plans of action must be seen to be done,” she says.
Ramani hopes that there will be fair and equitable representation among the races in employment in the public and private sectors and in policies involving housing.
She says all citizens, both men and women must have equal rights and opportunities, adding that good governance requires gender equality be the thrust of any administration.
“There should be greater transparency and accountability in policies and action plans. Engage with civil societies in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and action plans.
“Implementation and monitoring mechanisms must be effective and there must be strong political will in the new leadership,” she says.
> Pete Teo, a singer, songwriter and one of the driving forces behind Malaysian Artistes For Unity, says he will applaud it wholeheartedly if 1Malaysia is about building a nation where one’s ethnic identity ceases to be the defining attribute in social, economic and political life.
“Such talk must be followed by political will and action. We need policy changes that reverse racial segregation and build inter-communal trust in tangible and consistent ways. There is nothing fundamentally new about the concept, it is action that will determine its ultimate worth.”
He says that as long as there is widespread public perception that the system is biased along ethnic lines, inter-communal trust can never truly arise, and the level of distrust will never dissipate.
The Government can do much to improve things – implementing needs-based criteria for socio-economic welfare assistance rather than on ethnicity. Citizenship, not ethnicity, should be the fundamental criterion by which public assistance is dispensed.
“Additionally, the eradication of ethnic policies should extend to other areas such as education, the arts and party politics. Eventually, the ethnic identifier in our identity documents should be removed,” he says.
Teo says 1Malaysia must be a society where social justice prevails, regardless of ethnicity or faith and it should be a community where the rule of law applies to both the powerful and the weak.
“It should be a haven where our differences make us stronger, not weaker. It should never be ruled by fear or prejudice but rather an overriding sense of shared community and common humanity. It should be one country, not several.”
> Norhayati Kaprawi, Sisters in Islam programme manager, describes 1Malaysia as a good and hopeful start but stresses that the real challenge is for the new leadership to translate this aspiration into real and concrete actions towards building a progressive and harmonious Malaysia.
“Malaysians are fed up with rhetoric, and hope that the new leadership walks the talk,” she says.
Norhayati hopes that under 1Malaysia, there will be genuine respect for the diversity of cultures and religions, respect for justice, human rights principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion and also equality for women.
She says generally, the leadership’s vision is not shared by the Government’s machinery and beautiful speeches remain mere rhetorics.
“The new leadership must ensure that all ministers and government agencies truly understand, appreciate and support this Satu Malaysia vision.
“So the first phase should be in explaining clearly to people in the civil service about the leadership’s visions and goals and about their responsibilities in delivering the Government’s aspirations.
“Their policies and actions must not run contrary to the Government’s vision. The new leadership must have the courage and political will to remain true to its vision and promise to the people,” she says.
> See Tho Chee Seong, Youth for Change convenor says 1Malaysia is a great idea that everyone in the country should embrace.
“This idea is not something new to Malaysians Melayu Boleh. It’s been 52 years after independence and we should move forward to being truly united in diversity.”
He says that unjust distribution of resources and corruption are the key factors that have led to current divisions and mistrust in the country.
“Fair and just policies need to be implemented effectively. Engagement with the people is necessary and focus should be placed on our current education system to cultivate the concept of ‘unity in diversity’.
“Satu Malaysia means mutual respect among the people regardless of ethnicity, religion or social status. It is a Malaysia for all Malaysians,” he said.