Thursday, 24 July 2008
Our nationhood was based on the 1957 Merdeka social contract that promised us much, but delivered little. Fifty years ago, we were promised democracy. We were promised justice, equality, rule of law and integrity. We were promised that we’d be treated with human dignity.
We were promised freedom.We are still awaiting these promises.Why are these promises unfulfilled?First, our fundamental human rights, civil and political liberties embodied in the Federal Constitution as the highest law of the land, were slowly emasculated, diluted and rendered meaningless by repeated amendments. Second, those constitutional provisions that could not be amended were shoved aside by a unilateral declaration by then prime minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Sept 29, 2001 that Malaysia is an Islamic state.
No heed was paid to the pronouncements made by our first three prime ministers prior to the 1980s nor to the ruling of the highest court in our land in 1988 that the Constitution defines Malaysia as a secular state.Third, the promulgation of state interventionist economic policies, led by the New Economic Policy (NEP), which was set up to eradicate poverty regardless of race but had promoted racial preferential quotas under the pretext of equitable wealth redistribution, and sanctioned political patronage and self-aggrandisement under the guise of wealth creation.This gave the NEP a bad name.
What many Malaysians, regardless of race, are furious with is that the NEP has been used to enrich the wealthy.Finally, the insidious erosion of our national psyche by systematically dividing Malaysians by race and religion - bumis and non-bumis, Muslims and non-Muslims.Whilst we can blame the British for introducing this divide-and-rule policy, the fault lines created have sheared our souls and haunt future generations by creating many nations of different races within a nation-state. Ethnicity and religious beliefs, not universal values of justice, end up shaping out outcomes. What is so difficult about accepting Bangsa Malaysia, which was described by Mahathir “as people being able to identify themselves with the country, speak Bahasa Malaysia and accept the Federal Constitution”?These are among the many challenges we face in realising the promises of Merdeka 50 years ago.
What’s stopped us from overcoming them is the failure of leadership, the absence of moral courage and outrage as well as, yes, the small-ness of our politics.We should look at the big picture.Globalisation is upon us and yet we are so unprepared. Looking at the big picture entails an international mindset that empowers every Malaysian with equal opportunity and does not entrap us with mediocrity and mindless slogans.
To lead Malaysia forward, we need intelligent, rational and unprejudiced Malaysians who respect diversity. At a time when we are celebrating our 50th Merdeka anniversary, we should be looking forward to one national ideal grounded on principles of justice, respect for human rights, freedom, integrity and human dignity. Let us transform Malaysia by being Malaysian first, based on democracy, equality and social justice for all.Let us transform Malaysia into a crime-free neighbourhood.Malaysians should enjoy the four basic rights of security – to live, work, study and play in a safe environment.
Let us transform Malaysia into an environment-friendly place, where fishes swim in clean rivers and orang utans, hornbills, pygmy elephants, tigers and rhinos roam freely in protected forests.Let us transform Malaysia from what it is now into what it should have been as envisaged by our founding fathers, by restoring the Merdeka Constitution. The original Merdeka Constitution did not allow for repressive laws such as the Internal Security Act and the Printing Presses & Publications Act. Not only was there independence of the judiciary, but there was also independence of the Elections Commission.
To ensure every Malaysian is allowed to participate in the democratic process, some of the elements of civil society must be evident: free association and expression; regulated but open and market-oriented economies; aid to the poor, orphaned, elderly, sick, or disabled; and finally, civic cultures that cherish diversity and individual freedoms but also respect human needs for community and shared visions for the common good.Our youths should be allowed freedom of expression, in the words of the French philosopher Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
We may disapprove of their views but we should not eat our young for their courage in expressing them. Repressing their courage will result in a creativity deficit.Can we discard our different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs for Bangsa Malaysia?
I have faith in the common decency, respect for diversity and proper sense of justice in our fellow citizenry to believe that Bangsa Malaysia Boleh!