Tuesday, August 13, 2013

MORE FALSE HOPE? The Prime Minister can do it! - Zaid Ibrahim

MORE FALSE HOPE? The Prime Minister can do it! - Zaid Ibrahim

The Prime Minister’s remark at his Hari Raya open house regarding the change needed in UMNO should give comfort to those waiting to hear a clear commitment on his part to bringing about reform. He agreed with the remarks of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that UMNO must change to continue to be relevant but added that this would be a “gargantuan task” that may perhaps take generations because it would involve changing the minds and emotions of the people.
One of my favourite songs from the 1970s was Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want”. The song is a reminder that Dato’ Seri Najib Razak can also do what he sets out to achieve, and changing UMNO is not that difficult and can be done during his term in office. Najib is after all a young Prime Minister and has many years left to effect the changes he wants to see.
Values, philosophy must also change
Changing the UMNO Constitution helps transform UMNO in some ways but this kind of structural change does not address the core problem. The real change in UMNO must entail changing the values and philosophy of the party.
Early leaders such as Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tan Sri Senu Abdul Rahman, together with other Malay intellectuals (including the young Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), published the book Revolusi Mental some 43 years ago, but the book was set aside by those in a hurry to make UMNO the powerhouse of Malaysian politics where values do not matter and only the brute force of obedience and compliance would take centre stage.
Revolusi Mental was inward-looking and sought to transform the values of the Malays so that they could embrace reason, accept the rights of non-Malays and believe in the value of science and technology. The book urged Malays to participate in the economic and social life of the country. It was one of those motivational books that, if you were to read it today, would still yield some useful ideas for the Malays in UMNO.
Obviously the Najib needs more than just an old edition of Revolusi Mental to bring change in the light of current developments. He needs to redefine the party’s struggle in much wider terms. Taking the country to developed status means that he must make the core values of the party consistent with the values of developed nations; for it is impossible to bring about physical and material uplifting without the accompanying moral and social values found in the developed world.
For instance, one of the greatest obstacles he will face—but which he must overcome—is the wrongly-held belief within the UMNO right-wing that citizenship granted to the non-Malays at time of Independence was a gift, an act of grace by UMNO, that can be withdrawn at any time.
This thinking is prevalent and it is why those who are opposed to UMNO are perceived to be ‘disloyal’ and that non-Malays among them are ‘ungrateful’ and deserve condemnation in the strongest terms. When a government opposes dissent, it is undemocratic—but when it describes dissent as ‘disloyalty’ then this represents the kind of outdated thinking that would similarly burn people at stake for believing the world is round.
These attitudes and beliefs are not merely misconceived. They have resulted in UMNO members treating non-Malay Malaysians as inferior citizens. Each time UMNO gets angry with the Chinese they will say “pendatang go home!” or “revoke their citizenship” and so forth.
Revolting Umno
Granted that the conferment of citizenship to non-Malays at that time was regarded as an act of “generosity” by some people, the present generation of non-Malay Malaysians do not deserve to be treated as inferior to the Malays. Just as the Malays, they are entitled to all the rights and benefits of citizenship.
No developed nation anywhere in the world questions the loyalty and dedication of their “immigrant citizens” several generations after the fact, whatever differences there may be. To treat and differentiate citizenship on the basis of race or religion is pure and unadulterated discrimination. It is a concept so revolting that no developed nation condones it today. If we recall, even Malaysia opposed apartheid in South Africa.
But today, both Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and our affirmative policies have been forgotten in terms of intent and scope. Instead of viewing such policies as a safety net to address social imbalances, our primary policy today is that of the ‘Malay-Muslim first’.
The scope of the “special position” of Article 153 has been unilaterally expanded to justify discrimination. This was certainly not the principle on which this country was founded. Developed countries (being democracies with citizens enjoying full rights and responsibilities) run their governments based on the acceptance that all citizens have equal rights and opportunities.
Malay-first is detrimental, not helpful
On a more practical level, the ‘Malay-Muslim first’ policy is detrimental not only to those excluded by the discrimination. It also jeopardises the potential of Malays to succeed and has resulted in mediocre individuals holding positions beyond their capabilities. In Government, there are policies that cannot be properly implemented because such individuals have achieved positions of power and influence simply by being Malay and linked to UMNO. Some even deprive other Malays of opportunities because they consider them their opponents.
Mediocrity has seeped in into every level of our social institutions. And if we have a mediocre university vice-chancellor, or mediocre senior civil servant or police officers, the people most affected are the Malays as they make up the largest ethnic group in the country. It is in the interest of the Malays and the country to have leaders of ability regardless of ethnicity. This is painfully obvious.
The holistic development of the Bumiputera community will depend on the Government initiating non-discriminatory policies so that the best Malaysians can rise. It is certainly a challenge to convince those blinded by years of indoctrination that non-Malays are after their wealth and trying to wrest the country from them.
Kuan Yew wasn't wrong
In view of the statement by former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew that Malaysia was being dragged down by race-based policies, there were the usual protests from UMNO leaders and even leaders of the Pakatan Rakyat. These leaders are too scared to tell the Malays the real cause of the problems affecting their community.
Lee Kuan Yew is recognised by the world as one of the more successful political leaders of our age. He transformed his Third-World island nation into one of the richest nations today. But instead of examining what he says with a cool head, many are quick to dismiss him, and the truth is that we cannot avoid assessing the merit of race-based policies if we are serious in becoming a developed country. There will be the initial outcry but I believe that the Opposition’s wresting of the popular vote from the Barisan Nasional at the last general election suggests that people, including Malays, are ready to accept the values of equality and fair play in the policies of the country.
I believe that dismantling discriminatory practices, which can be done in stages for practical reasons, is the only way to bring right-thinking and fair-minded Malaysians together to move this country forward. It is also the only way for the Malays to succeed.
UMNO leaders will say that the Malays are not ready to have a new policy to replace the old one. To them, the Malays will never be ready because they themselves do not want such a policy. It is the task of the Prime Minister to convince them otherwise, and it is not necessarily the case that a return of non-Malay support for Najib will result in the Bumiputera ditching him. There are enough Sabahan and Sarawakian Bumiputera who can see the reason in any policy that is intrinsically fair to all.
The Prime Minister has the resources to overcome the concerns of all Malaysians. Mindset and values don’t need generations to change if a leader can clearly articulate what this change means. We can see for ourselves the benefits that have accrued to countries possessing progressive policies. Malaysia is no different.

Source : Malaysia Chronicle


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