K Harisas is convinced that the BN cannot deliver on the challenge to create a united Malaysian nation. The BN, he says, has not evolved as a party that can transcend ‘race’.
When the contradictions of the Rukunegara became obvious, then it was back to the drawing board for the next big Charter that could draw people.
This was not a Vision that was envisaged by the Barisan Nasional (BN). It was perhaps the tireless work of a think tank and people like the late Tan Sri Noordin Sopiee who had crafted this fresh vision. Like the Rukunegara before it, the same was then handed over to the BN government, which through Dr Mahathir launched it. He presented it as a working paper at the inaugural meeting of the Malaysian Business Council on 28 February 1991.
Now twenty years on, we have an opportunity to review if this Charter has done any better than the earlier ‘Rukunegara’. Those born at the time of the launching will now be in their twenties. The goal of the Vision was for the nation to become a fully developed nation – a united nation, with a confident Malaysian society, infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable, progressive and prosperous, and in full possession of an economy that is competitive, dynamic robust and resilient. There are enough ‘Key Performance Indicators” (KPI) mentioned to evaluate Vision 2020.
The paper than went onto enumerate nine central strategic challenges that have confronted the nation since independence, confessing obliquely that the earlier Charter was a failure.
This was obvious as the first challenge enumerates the need for establishing a united Malaysian nation with a sense of common and shared destiny. The words used were well crafted, “a nation at peace with itself, territorially and ethnically integrated, living in harmony in full and fair partnership made up of one ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ with political loyalty and dedication to the nation.
The second talked about creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society with faith and confidence in itself with a whole lot of words to prop the nation’s self image so as to be respected by the peoples of other nations.
The third related to fostering and developing a mature democratic society, consensual, community orientated, that can be a model for other developing countries.
The fourth enumerates the need for a fully moral and ethical society with citizens strong in religious and spiritual values.
The fifth highlights the need for establishing a mature, liberal and tolerant society in which Malaysians of all colours, cultures and religious beliefs have a sense of belonging to one nation.
The seventh talks about a caring society while the eighth stresses the need for an economically just society leading onto the ninth thus creating a prosperous society with an economy fully competitive, robust and resilient.
More polarised than ever
The paper nevertheless stresses that the first strategic challenge namely the establishment of a united Malaysian nation is likely to be the most fundamental and most basic challenge. Twenty years later this remains true, and failure in this regard has been fundamental to the failure of Vision 2020.
In fact we now live in a more polarised society than was the case in the early 1990s. You can crunch the economic figures and make indicators look great, employ international PR companies to paint a glorious picture but the reality on the ground is otherwise.
Again Vision 2020 is another example where a broad and inclusive paradigm, which was the basis for Vision 2020 crafted by a think tank, was handed over for implementation to an ethnic-based coalition party which did not have the capacity to internalise the Vision and come up with actions to meet the strategic challenges.
This was beyond their ambit of goals and power and would call for policies that were inclusive and empowering – something that was impossible for each of these ethnic parties to consider. From their narrow race-based paradigm, this was a leap to failure.
It is said that a vision without action is at best day dreaming while action without a vision leads to nightmares. Today Vision 2020 remains a pipe dream and we can imagine the nightmares facing our society.
Inability to internalise
Let us look at the Champion who propagated this Vision. Even Dr Mahathir is an embarrassment with his involvement with Perkasa and the racist statements now attributed to him. For Mahathir this was yet another policy speech that sounded so brilliant that it created a ‘halo’ around him as a visionary leader. It soon became another slogan for Ministers and BN sycophants to repeat like a ‘mantra’. It is as though by repeated utterances the vision would suddenly spring to reality.
Anyone who lives by a personal vision statement would understand that it is only through internalising the vision can one evolve actions – which help as a powerful tool for change. A person with a vision is immediately alerted by his conscience when he or she acts incongruently. The same goes for the vision statement of an organisation. The vision statement provides the strategic direction and all departments act in a synergistic manner, and through developing policies, processes and procedures in keeping with the vision, the organisation both honours its vision and delivers on its promises.
Vision 2020 has remained purely a political slogan. Apart from lip service, this has meant nothing to the civil service and the delivery mechanism of the government. One has just to evaluate the events from 1991 to 2001 to underline this reality. The Biro Tata Negara (BTN) would have been revamped or removed as this was one department that was not congruent to the aims of Vision 2020.
Corruption increased and with draconian laws (ISA, OSA, etc) in place, these undercut the goals of Vision 2020. This was also because the prime mover of Vision 2020 himself did not engage seriously in making the Vision a reality.
These goals were in no way a part of the democratic framework within Umno or the BN, where leaders manipulated democracy to ensure that they retained and remained in power. So there was never any sense of ownership.
Vision 2020 developed from an all inclusive paradigm that would have given birth to a mindset that transcends race as a critical factor. Sadly it was launched by people with no commitment to such a mindset; hence their inability to internalise the same and value it deeply to inspire the strategic changes that were being enunciated. It was reduced to mere political sloganeering and everyone in BN and the administration excelled at this. Those who had hopes and expectations that this could make a difference soon felt that their trust was once again betrayed. Those who have lived though the last twenty years will realise how their expectations were once again manipulated by the BN.
The BN itself remains an imperfect model where one component party is perceived more powerful than the others. They could not exemplify the ideals stated in the Vision. The other component parties lacked the will and courage to take a stand. So they were all collectively trapped within their narrow ethnic mindsets incapable of steering the priorities outlined in Vision 2020. Thus beyond a pipe dream it has come to manifest serious challenges for our society that stare at us as nightmares.
“You cannot make good omelettes out of bad eggs” says the chef. The basis must be right. To expect ethnic-based parties to transcend ethnicity is to ask for the impossible. They can only do so if they are collectively committed to a value-based approach – namely, the quest for justice, equality and fairness. We must get our first principles right.
Race is not a value and when you make a norm out of race you promote selective justice and undercut values. To pull together you need a commitment to values and while these are expressed in the ‘Rukunegara’ and ‘Vision 2020′, we have in both instances clear examples of the inability of race-based parties to deliver.
The formula is wrong because it is based on reactions and the mindset arising there from is incapable of generating an inclusive spirit critical for solving the problems of a diverse society.
Race is not a value. Like religion, language, colour, these are issues of identity. These have immense emotional powers; hence politicians the world over prey on such issues, manipulate these to secure popularity and power. When such issues are elevated as a norm, then we see powerful forces being exploited.
Even Islam becomes dwarfed by race as exemplified by politicians who champion race, religion and royalty. What we then see is race-based ‘Islam’, the exploitation of Islam by narrow-minded Muslims to promote race issues. Islam is more majestic and encompassing and its call for justice for all of humanity is fundamental.
This is what a race-based mindset creates and this is applicable to all the component parties of the BN and their respective agendas. Couple this with calls for ‘stability’ or now ‘moderation’ and what you get is the subtle promotion of the status quo with fear being a motivating force. Issues will be continually swept under the carpet, and injustice and unfairness will continue. Corruption rears its head under such circumstances fortified by nepotism and cronyism. We have over 25 years of experience and serious data in this regard that we have to confront and be honest about.
Loss of faith
Najib wants us to have faith in him. How can we support a formula that is guaranteed to fail. His first transformation agenda has to be within BN itself. Unless he can transform BN to champion values and causes stressed under the ‘Rukunegara’ and ‘Vision 2020′ and make his party democratic, liberal, tolerant with an emphasis on developing a sense of common and shared destiny made up of one ‘Bangsa Malaysia’, where is there an example to emulate? Umno itself is not a great example of the democratic tradition so what has it got to offer but race polemics like its other component members.
It is easy to preach but the challenge lies in the practice and creation of a just society. Najib and the BN do not possess the political will to stand up for ’1Malaysia.’ He expects us to have faith in what is going to be yet another guaranteed failed slogan and programme. His predecessors in retrospect have failed and what illuminating difference has he shown except for the shopping spree and doctorate award for his wife to secure any accolades or faith in his leadership. He is there by virtue of his antecedents and does not have the grass roots political acumen to make a difference.
At best the BN has responded to the opposition’s clamour and done away with some of the draconian laws only to replace the same with what has been perceived as equally unjust. The changes that are evident are because of a vibrant opposition and the lack of a two thirds majority by the ruling coalition.
In his working paper Mahathir says that Malaysia is said to have one of the best educational systems in the ‘Third World’. As of now we are progressing and will soon have a ‘Third World’ educational system. We have national schools, national-type schools, smart schools, international schools galore, Mara residential schools – all of which have become ethnic ghettoes providing a wide range of different syllabuses.
Education which is one of the best social instruments for inspiring multi-ethnic bonding and giving birth to ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ has itself become a victim of race. You have matriculation courses, assasi sains, vernacular schools, STPM, A Levels, schools that teach Maths and Science in BM and others that teach in English, urban schools and rural schools. The garland of education is in the hands of incompetent people; so what can they deliver but polarised minds like the Education Minister who is still ‘Malay first’ but will shout Vision 2020 and has no conception whatsoever of either ’1Malaysia’ or ‘Bangsa Malaysia’.
Time for change
I have lived over 40 years under the ‘Rukunegara and NEP’; over 20 years under ‘Vision 2020′, nearly four years under ‘Islam Hadhari’ and now for nearly three years under ’1Malaysia’. I am convinced that the BN cannot deliver because it has the wrong formula. BN has not evolved as a party that can transcend ‘race’.
A caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly and we witness a transformation, but nothing of this nature has happened within the BN. They have remained ethnic butterflies hopping here and there.
What we are going to get in the future is more of what we have received because they will never be able to deliver. This is not complicated science and the programmes so far under all the four slogans reveal no spectacular achievement even in the realm of national unity; why do we need to give them yet another five years? One has already accepted that one has been stupid and I can live with that reality. However when you do this a third time and a fourth time, then I shall leave you to complete the description because there is no more time for continued failures.
For the sake of my children, I have to repose faith in another combination that could work things out differently. When you have politicians who are scared to declare their assets; unable to declare publicly how scholarships are awarded; when there is a lack of transparency – then one knows that by supporting such leadership one is just throwing away the future of all Malaysians.
When one sees rampant corruption and mismanagement, monopolies and crony companies one asks what does the future hold?
Anyone but them is the only option available and this again is an exercise in faith. At least in those states where the Opposition are now in power, they have shown the capacity to make a difference. Why not give them an opportunity because this may be better than going back to the mess we are presently in? Why not give them an opportunity to create the ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ that we dreamt about under Vision 2020? This is the only choice we have and it would be good for BN to be in the opposition bench and do some real soul searching.
K Haridas is an Aliran member
This article first appeared in malaysiakini.com