Embrace spiritual renewal before advocating reforms

Unless Malaysian society as a whole embraces spiritual renewal, reforms would be impossible and an uphill battle

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Photograph: avi_acl/Pixabay

In the political realm around the world and in Malaysia, there have been political slogans such as transformation and reforms.

In the Malaysian context, the opposition parties usually advocate the importance of changing unjust political, institutional and socioeconomic systems through reforms.

The slogan reformasi came about when Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from Umno, and the entire government machinery and institution was used to demonise him. The whole episode had its roots in authoritarian rule, differences of opinion on how to deal with the financial crisis at that time, a power game within Umno, and the internal trust deficit between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar.

When Najib Razak became Prime Minister, he introduced the so-called transformational programme in the socioeconomic sphere, which led to some substantial changes such as ensuring that government services cater to public convenience. But this was overshadowed by grand corruption and abuse of power, which was not dealt with at source.

The 1MDB scandal demonstrated a deep-rooted institutional illness, inherited from a system that gave the sitting prime minister unfettered powers.

The question is will reforms actually take place in Malaysia to deal with powerful prime ministerial powers, hegemonic tendencies among political parties for power, a partisan political understanding of the Federal Constitution, ethno-religious superiority, and a bureaucracy that is fed with ethnic and religious indoctrination, with its small Napoleons thwarting reform effort?

As the short stint of Pakatan Harapan in governance has shown, efforts at authentic reforms were derailed due to an ethno-centred party within PH competing with the likes of Umno and Pas to champion the the cause of the Malay community, where privileges were deemed far more important than doing what an honest, just and competent government would do.

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For example, the reversal on the pledge to ratify a UN convention against racial discrimination for fear it could dilute privileges for the majority of ethnic Malays, after a strong protest from Umno and PAS, clearly shows that doing the right thing is an uphill battle in Malaysian political culture.

Doing the right thing would have undermined various vested interests within the government and the corporate world who were not prepared to surrender their entrenched interests built over the years.

In this context, the real solution would be for political elites and Malaysians as a whole to engage in introspection and renew their inner conscience before reforms can be instituted. This entails the renewal of spirit and mind to embrace the wholeness of the nation while doing away with partisan, racial and religious politics.

For example, politicians should renew themselves by reading the Federal Constitution as a whole document with a sense of balance and appreciate its diversity and complexity. Wholeness also means a renewal of perception from destructive partisan politics and acknowledging the good when politicians from the other side do something right.

Renewal for politicians would also mean breaking the barriers of race and religion by engaging in dialogue and standing up for the other when human rights are violated.

Religious institutions should renew themselves and understand that every human person has dignity and is equal in the eyes of God. God, who is understood to be powerful and all-embracing, cannot be reduced exclusively to any religious or political organisation.

Civil servants should renew themselves by showing allegiance to professionalism and ethical conduct and not be emotionally inclined towards ethno-religious tribalism, expecting privileges without merit and competency.

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The truth is unless Malaysian society as a whole embraces spiritual renewal, reforms would be impossible and an uphill battle. They will remain a political slogan. Let’s embrace renewal before reforms. – Malaysiakini

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