Faisal S Hazis argues that political reforms which have a structural significance on Malaysian politics should be pursued first in order for them to have a strong impact on the economic and social spheres.
The increased competitiveness of Malaysia’s elections over the last decade have inadvertently divided an already fragmented society. To make matters worse, the ruling party has stifled dissent and evoked ethno-religious nationalism as measures to maintain power.
This has raised alarm over the state of democracy and ethnic relations. On the economic front, slow growth coupled with endless allegations of corrupt practices and abuses of power, has cast doubt over Malaysia’s ability to remain competitive in the future.
To resuscitate Malaysia, numerous efforts had been initiated, i.e. the Government and Economic Transformation Programme, calls for change of government, the Save Malaysia campaign and the Citizens’ Declaration. Although sharing the spirit to save Malaysia, these measures have different objectives, methodologies and intended outcomes.
Regardless of the many criticisms hurled at them and the limits of their success, these measures should be lauded because they intend to guide Malaysia back onto the right track. We need action, not just talking and these measures are the embodiment of this spirit.
Core principles of NCC2: Independence, inclusivism and political will
Lately, the proposal to set up the National Consultative Council 2 (NCC2) as a platform to save Malaysia is gaining popularity among prominent Malaysians. Similar to previous initiatives, the NCC2 should be supported because it intends to prevent the country from suffering further decline.
Additionally, the NCC2 aims to tackle structural reforms that other initiatives tend to sidestep and promotes an inclusive and holistic solution. This is very important in getting the support and commitment of the general public, political elites, corporate leaders, social activists, academics and community leaders in pushing for reforms.
I am joining the chorus of support for NCC2 as an independent, inclusive and progressive initiative to make Malaysia great again. While expressing my support, it is crucial to reiterate the core principles of NCC2, as outlined by its main proponent, Nazir Razak, which are independence, inclusivism and the need for political will. The support for NCC2 hinges on these core principles.
Narrow partisan interests that could further divide our nation should not be the guiding principles of NCC2. Instead, the interests of Malaysia and her people should supersede other agendas.
Hence, it is crucial that the appointments of members of NCC2 should come under the auspices of the Council of Rulers with the support of the government, as suggested by Nazir. The appointments must be above partisan politics to ensure their independence.
The NCC2 should not be seen as an elitist solution to our country’s problems. It should be an instrument to represent the many voices of Malaysians as the source of solutions. Therefore, we need bright and critical minds that best represent the heterogeneity of our society.
The committee should not only discuss Malaysia’s problems internally. Instead, they should hold town hall meetings with like-minded people and commission research on related issues as an objective way of providing policy input to the government.
Another core principle of NCC2, which Nazir did not explicitly spell out, is the need for the incumbent government to have political will. The NCC2 could propose good solutions and innovative ideas to steer the country forward. But ultimately the government has to accept and implement them. Without political will, the NCC2 will only be an elaborate and high-profile PR exercise, which lacks meaningful outcomes.
Political reforms should be the main focus of NCC2
In proposing the establishment of the NCC2, Nazir outlined several issues that the council should address: constitutional reforms; electoral reforms; economic reforms – affirmative action; role of the government; national unity and the social contract; the preservation and strengthening of the integrity of the federation; and institutional integrity – checks and balances between various branches of government and within government itself.
It is clear that the proposed reform agendas of NCC2 are very holistic, covering political, economic and social spheres, which are intertwined and inter-related.
Since politics shapes institutions and ultimately society, it is essential to make political reforms the key guiding agenda for the NCC2. But this does not dismiss economic and social reforms which are equally important.
What I am suggesting is that political reforms which have a structural significance on Malaysian politics should be pursued first in order for them to have a strong impact on the economic and social spheres. Piecemeal political reforms are not an option because they would just become a hindrance to economic and social reforms.
The big question is what kind of reforms does Malaysian politics need? Our country has to go back to its democratic roots as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. But since our democratic institutions have been compromised and deliberately weakened over several decades, it is important to revive and strengthen them.
Political reforms in Malaysia should bring about structural changes to the country.
They should reinstitute democratic rule, establish free and fair elections, promote a free press, uphold political freedom, improve governance, de-politicise the bureaucracy and liberate the instruments of checks and balances (i.e. the MACC, the Attorney General’s Office, Suhakam, the Public Accounts Commitee).
They should also re-establish the independence of the judiciary, decentralise federal power, promote deliberative politics, protect human rights and restore public confidence in political institutions.
Our beloved country needs us especially during these trying times. So put aside partisan politics and self-serving agendas so that we can put our heads and energy together for the benefit of Malaysia. She deserves better. We deserve better.