People First means Ketuanan Rakyat: we believe that it is the people who should shape our politics, manage our economy and build our nation. No one leader, political party or coalition, and definitely no one race should be dictating terms or policies to the Rakyat.
Today, we the Rakyat are faced not only with an increasing level of politicised racism and bigotry but also the blatant promotion of neo-liberal globalisation by the elite ruling class, profiteering cronies and exploitative investors. The struggle for justice and sustainable development for the Rakyat, especially the poor regardless of ethnicity, religion and gender has become that much harder as the gap between the rich and the poor widens.
People First means that we the people must be able to live with dignity — with proper jobs, decent wages, access to affordable health care, a clean and safe environment, quality education, and space to learn and promote our various cultures and religions. Indeed, People First also means accepting our differences and safeguarding basic rights. For all this to happen we must encourage political education and participation.
Democracy Now complements People First. It is about creating room for public participation, not just during elections, but also in between elections. It is about breaking the shackles of coercive laws including the Internal Security Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Official Secrets Act. It involves encouraging public participation in good governance and democratic practices. In the quest for Democracy Now, we welcomed the results of the 2008 elections, which we hope will open the way towards a two-party system. It is clear that the struggle to achieve multi-ethnic New Politics characterised by participatory democracy, social justice, accountability and transparency is an ongoing one. But without the participation and support from ordinary people, this goal will not be achieved.
Since its formation in Penang on 12 August 1977, Aliran has persevered towards its vision of a Malaysian society imbued with universal values like justice, freedom and equality for all regardless of gender, ethnicity and religious background. For 33 years, we have challenged the dominant political, social and economic development orthodixies and provided alternative ideas and analyses.
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Our critical thinking on the pressing issues of the day has been put foward in talks and forums and carried in Aliran Monthly (now in its 30th year of publication!). Earlier this year, we launched a ‘Thinking Allowed online’ section on our website (www.aliran.com), which features our daily commentaries on current affairs.
By networking and collaborating with like-minded NGOs, as well as, reaching out to those who think differently, we hope to consolidate Malaysian civil society and expand the autonomous public sphere to provide more space to debate alternative ideas and gain insights about our past, our present, and our future.
On this merry occasion, we re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle People First, Democracy Now! and invite all of you to join us. For your presence here tonight, for your continued support for Aliran, the Aliran Monthly and our website, and for journeying with us in the struggle, we thank you. Enjoy the evening.
Aliran Executive Committee
Aliran’s ‘People First, Democracy Now!’ dinner,
PJ Civic Centre
26 June 2010