1Malaysia – Continued fragmentation

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K Haridas looks at Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ slogan and wonders how different it is from Mahathir’s ‘Wawasan 2020’ and Badawi’s ‘Islam hadhari’ buzz-words. Can we really trust the premier’s reform pledge?

RM5b mega tower in Najib’s 2011 budget – Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office

It was April 2009 when Najib Tun Razak inherited the Prime Ministership from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was held accountable for the 2008 election disaster, which saw the Barisan Nasional (BN) lose its two thirds majority. Like his predecessors Najib on assuming power outlined ‘1Malaysia’ as his Charter calling on the Cabinet, government agencies and civil servants to strongly emphasise ethnic harmony, national unity and efficient governance as key parameters.

In the fast paced 21st century Najib highlighted that it was time for new vision, commitment and bravery to make changes.”I need to find the ingredients in order to attain the objectives of developing the country and its peoples. By upholding the virtues in the ‘1Malaysia’ slogan we will progress to become excellent, brilliant and a glorious nation”, he said when addressing people near Kuantan soon after taking office three years ago.

Najib stressed that the focus of his administration would be to take care of the well being of all Malaysians regardless of race and religion.”We need to do this together and by being united we will have extraordinary strength to make changes. Our mindsets must not be confined by the differences in our racial backgrounds,” he stressed.

The slogan for 2009 was ‘People First, Performance Now’. The following year 2010 it would be ‘Generating Transformation’ and in 2011 it would be ‘Transformation Successful, People Prosperous’. He indicated that this was giving continuity to the earlier slogans of Badawi ‘Excellence, Glory and Distinction’ and Mahathir’s ‘Vision 2020’.

We have been a nation of visions and slogans. We can remember Mahathir’s slogan of creating a ‘Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy Government’ and the ridicule this created. Badawi, meanwhile emphasised ‘Work with me not for me’ and soon found himself out of office. When Najib announced his ‘1Malaysia’ policy, there were thumbs up from several quarters. In response, however, many exclaimed that they would like to see these ideas in action and the need for politicians to walk the talk.

What a paradox

Today, in 2012, as Najib enters his fourth year in office, what can we say about ‘1Malaysia’, which stresses national unity and ethnic tolerance? What a paradox that after 55 years of independence, with several charters and vision statements, we still have to talk in terms of unity and tolerance when the dialogue should be about unity and greater understanding.

The values he articulated were perseverance, a culture of excellence, acceptance, loyalty, education, humility, integrity and meritocracy. Speaking of improving the Government’s efficiency, he stressed the need for Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and National Key Results Areas (NKRAs). He outlined his Government’s commitment to carrying out a transformation programme based on the approaches and philosophy of 1 Malaysia – people first, performance now.

He directed the much maligned Biro Tata Negara (BTN) to provide training to civil servants: “We will ensure that the BTN courses will also inculcate the ‘1Malaysia’ concept and its eight values, namely high performance culture, accuracy, knowledge, innovation, integrity, strong will, loyalty and wisdom.”

This saw the establishment of 50 ‘1Malaysia clinics’ that were to provide basic medical services for a treatment fee of RM1. What an amazing outreach that will meet the needs of Malaysia’s 28m population! A RM50m contract was then awarded to Tricubes Bhd to run the ‘1Malaysia’ email process as part of the government’s social networking project. Through this free email opportunity, accounts would be opened for the public to communicate with the government.

This led to an uproar causing Najib to backtrack saying that this was a private sector initiative and that the acceptance of email accounts was voluntary. The company awarded the contract was found to be facing financial difficulties. This was thus perceived as a bailout process with good intentions covering up a money-making exercise.

In 2011, the ‘1Malaysia’ franchise went into the grocery stores business by opening up the ‘Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia’ (KR1M). This aimed at helping low-income groups obtain cheaper groceries. Allegations of poor quality products were highlighted. KR1M was then instructed to ask its suppliers to send their products for periodical lab testing. Another serious embarrassment for the Najib administration.

Other initiatives include the ‘1Malaysia Foundation’ and the ‘1Malaysia Youth Fund’. The Foundation was established in 2009 to promote and develop ideas of ‘1Malaysia’ and to coordinate and supplement government and private sector activities. The youth fund with RM20m was to provide support for young people to undertake creative projects that nurture national unity.

A year after the concept’s launch, Mahathir Mohamad indicated that he still did not understand the ‘1Malaysia’ concept. This was not surprising because Mahathir neither understood nor was he committed to the values of his own ‘Vision 2020’. His recent racist utterances attest to this fact. Based on an opinion poll in 2010, the public were weary of the ‘1Malaysia’ concept. According to an online news media, 46 per cent of respondents to an opinion poll believed that the concept had the political agenda of winning over the non-Malays.

Having gone through numerous slogans and vision statements the Malaysian public were questioning the sincerity of this programme. When Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin indicated that he was Malay first and Malaysian second, he conveyed the hollowness of the government’s position. How many in his own Cabinet have come out to say that they are ‘Malaysian First’ before their ethnic identity? The sceptics have been proved right, and the ‘1Malaysia’ champion has been unable to mobilise his own cabinet and his coalition for his cause.

Much cynicism

Today we have a situation where there is much cynicism about the ‘1Malaysia’ agenda. Will this meet the same fate as the ‘Rukunegara’, ‘Vision 2020’ and ‘Islam Hadhari’? How can we expect race-based parties to promote a concept whose first principles must be value based, beyond issues of identity. There is a lot of rhetoric but everyone seems to be struggling within their ethnic or racial ghettoes shouting ‘1Malaysia’ while also promoting ‘ketuanan Melayu’, Hindraf and issues of Dong Jiao Zong.

Every group is longing for justice and fairness but race-based parties can never provide the answers. Every race wants justice for itself even at the expense of the other. The formula is based on a win-lose agenda and not a win-win model. We have experienced this over the last three or more decades of slogans and visions and it seems as though we have not learnt any lessons. Is ‘1Malaysia’ also doomed to failure because its fundamental basis again does not rest on justice, fairness or equity but on ethnicity?

What we have in the ruling coalition party in Malaysia are ethnic-based political parties. When they create a coalition, then we have an ethnic-based coalition party and not a multi-ethnic party. This is the fallacy. BN charades as a multi-ethnic party while essentially being a coalition of ethnic parties committed to championing ethnic causes.

We can see evidence of this with the subtle support that is covertly given to right wing groups like Perkasa. More than any other group, they together with Hindruf and the Dong Jiao Zong provide stress to the spirit of ‘1Malaysia’. They have genuine issues but what does this mean for the larger goal of ‘1Malaysia’. All these groups should dialogue together in the context of justice and fairness with a win-win model under ‘1Malaysia’.

Until we come out of the box of ethnicity, we will never see a Malaysia that has so much to offer all Malaysians. As long as our viewpoints, perceptions and mindsets are conditioned by ethnicity we will always champion for our share even at the expense of the other because we view our problems and challenges from narrow viewpoints and in the context of fear and scarcity. We will only go forward when we pull together and recognise that there is enough for all of us irrespective of our ethnic origins.

With all the virtues and values enunciated by ‘1Malaysia’, what is the situation on the ground? There is greater ethnic polarisation. Corruption is endemic, and the Najib administration is on the defensive. Where are the role models who walk the talk of ‘1Malaysia’? Ethnicity cannot be the basis for transcending race. This is the critical lesson that the last three or more decades offers us. It is so obvious in its logic that even intellectuals have missed it.

We need to find a cause that will embrace the best from all Malaysians, one that commits itself to justice and fairness. Without such an end position, we cannot transcend the ethnic dilemma that confronts our nation and our people. Where is the high performance culture in the midst of corruption; where is there integrity when there is so much gerrymandering and unfairness in the electoral rolls and vast differences in the constituency make up? Where is there fairness when money is given only to the ruling representatives to assist development at the constituency level? What do the values of ‘1Malaysia’ mean beyond the political divide and context?

There will be many believers about ‘1Malaysia’. We live with hope but believers do not change the price of cheese. They just protect and maintain the status quo. What we need are practitioners who walk the talk and show by example what ‘1Malaysia’ exemplifies. Who in the present administration exemplifies such leadership, character and conduct? Look at Najib’s team of Muhyiddin, Zahid Hamidi, Nazri, Shahrizat, Yen Yen, Chua, Palanivel and Kaveas to mention a few. Do they inspire confidence?

We have numerous forms that require us to identify our ethnic origins. We are Malaysians first and why can’t we even adopt the notion of ‘Bangsa Malaysia’, as highlighted in Vision 2020, as our overriding national identity. We travel with Malaysian passports and have one Yang Di Pertuan Agong. Even this, Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ has been unable to achieve. The polarisation in schools and universities continues despite the stress over decades on national unity.

Najib must walk the talk

Najib neither has the spine nor leadership credentials to fly the flag of ‘1 Malaysia’. Had he done so and walked his talk, people would have seen the difference between him and his predecessor Badawi. Sadly they are made of the same mould, and we have not seen him take a ‘1Malaysia’ position against detractors like Ibrahim Ali, Hasan Ali and other groups for their strident expressions and claims.

A committed leader to his cause would have started by first transforming BN. Real transformation involves the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly – a transformation that would have seen the ethnic coalition parties within BN coalescing into a new an effective BN, a party where the BN is more significant than the sum of its ethnic parts. Such a butterfly would pollinate and germinate the garden and add to the colour and diversity of nature. With such a transformation, the new multi-ethnic party can then shout the cause of ‘1Malaysia’ loud and clear.

All contentious issues can be addressed, be it inter-religious dialogue, education, corruption, a more level playing field and even issues raised by Bersih. The values that ‘1Malaysia’ speaks about would provide the guiding light for direction into the future. People will respect and respond to such transformation and have hope for the future. So long as transformation is sought in the other or is a reaction to a stronger political opposition, no effective change can take place. It is positive reaction at best but remains purely a reaction.

We have a lot of rhetoric about the achievements of ‘1Malaysia’ in a matter of just three years. Where are the tangible results in terms of employment created, factories established, inflation controlled, crime being reduced, prices stabilised, the corrupt being punished and efficiency heightened? We are inundated with much rhetoric and accomplishments that can only pass as mere election gimmicks. You cannot continue to fool the people as BN has done for so long. The propaganda machine of the government through its mainstream print and digital media is inadequate to respond to the challenges provided by the more credible online, social media and social networking.

If the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms is one example, then we can take it that words on paper mean that issues have been addressed. This is very different from providing specifics as to a time-line for action to be taken on the issues raised. This is sordidly absent. So, how can we likewise trust the rhetoric of the PM that much has been achieved?

At the end of the day things are made very complicated like Space Science. The present formula is BR1M+BB1M+KR1M+MR1M+ GTP+ETP+KPI+NKRA+IMF+ 1MYF=‘1Malaysia’. Unlike space science, however, many may appreciate that the formula is simply unattainable. This is the reality of the Rukunegara+Vision 2020+Islam Hadhari+1Malaysia over the last several decades. The rocket remains grounded even on the issue of national unity. With no change in mindset, we swim in the same swamp and hope for clarity.

The challenges we face require us to pull together in one direction beyond considerations of ethnicity because this represents what is right and best for our nation. Najib speaks about the need to find the ingredients to attain the objectives of ‘1Malaysia’ but he like all of us will not find this sitting conditioned by a narrow mindset imprisoned by ethnicity.

If he has not learnt the lessons, then have we? If we have, than we will vote wisely at the forthcoming general elections for a different future based on a new Paradigm for Unity.

K Haridas is an Aliran member based in Petaling Jaya.

This article first appeared in Malaysiakini.

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