THE New Economic Policy (NEP) was formulated with the overriding objective of attaining national unity and fostering nation-building through the two-pronged strategy of eradicating poverty and restructuring society.
The first prong was to eradicate poverty, irrespective of race, while the second sought to restructure society by eliminating the identification of race with economic function.
The key element of the second prong was the creation of the Bumiputera Commercial and Industrial Community (BCIC) to ensure a viable participation of Bumiputera individuals in the modern sectors of the economy. The target was that Bumiputeras would own and manage at least 30 per cent of the total commercial and industrial activities of the economy by 1990. The 30 per cent target was a means to an end, namely to achieve better distribution of assets and income.
With the NEP, corporate equity ownership by Bumiputeras had improved and there were more Bumiputeras involved in modern occupations.
Despite the NEP and other efforts, the threat of disintegration of the carefully crafted unity of the nation would however continue. This was primarily because of dissatisfaction over growing economic disparity and perceived inequalities in various sectors such as education, as well as between urban and rural areas.
At the end of 1974, high rates of inflation and increase in food prices led to peasant demonstrations in Baling and Sik in Kedah, supported by university students in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The government intervened with millions of ringgit in subsidies to alleviate tensions.
It became clear that the education system under the British did not take into consideration the needs of development, the creation of a national identity and the unity of the nation. Instead, it had deliberately focused on reinforcing the loyalty of the migrant workers and their descendants to their countries of origin and suppressed the spirit of development of the local people.
Therefore, in 1957, an educational policy was developed for the new Malaya which focused on its future needs as follows:
“The educational policy of the Federation is to establish a national system of education acceptable to the people as a whole which will satisfy their needs and promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, with the intention of making the Malay language the national language of the country whilst preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of peoples other than Malays living in the country,” as stated in section 3 of the Education Ordinance 1957 (F.M. No. 2 of 1957) and later reproduced in the preamble to the Education Act 1961.
Therefore, we all need to read and understand the preambles and sections of laws carefully before making comments. The policy was construed and implemented with the guidance of the Razak Report 1956 and later the Rahman Talib Report 1960. The goal of the policy was to unite multiracial schoolchildren and prepare a work force of the people for Malaysia’s economic requirements.
By the end of its period in 1990, the NEP had achieved remarkable success. Poverty levels had dropped, corporate equity ownership by the Bumiputeras had improved, there were more Bumiputeras involved in modern occupations, enrolled in universities and there was a booming Bumiputera middle class. But it was not the panacea for all of Malaysia’s challenges.
In Theories of Social Order, Thomas Schelling said that, “When all individuals pursue their own preferences, the outcome is segregation rather than integration”. Where then does Malaysia stand in its 57 year as an independent nation in terms of national unity and national harmony?
One of the biggest challenges to social order and national harmony today is actually our own ignorance of and indifference to our history, our laws and our values and principles as a nation. This is aside from the multiple external threats such as corruption, religious intolerance, radicalisation and extremism, and organised criminal activities.
Appreciation of the symbols of national unity
Charles de Montesquieu said, “There is no nation so powerful, as one that obeys its laws not from principles of fear or reason, but from passion”. If there is a root cause of our current dilemma, it appears to be a lack of understanding of everything that is supposed to make us a nation. Such passion for our nation is supposed to be inculcated from cradle to grave, by parents and teachers. But as J. Edgar Hoover said, “No amount of law enforcement can solve a problem that goes back to the family”.
First, the most important national symbol of all, namely the Federal Constitution. It is the supreme law of the land and the cornerstone of our social order and national unity. However, aside from a specialist group of lawyers and historians, does anyone read its actual provisions, and each and every one of its provisions? Some seem to read selected articles and then claim to be lawyers!
Second, let us take that foremost symbol, the national flag. Do we respect, take pride and understand its power to unite our nation? Or is this something only for security forces and schoolchildren? And we forget our times and days as schoolchildren, too.
Next let us consider the national anthem — “Negara Ku”. How many truly understand and appreciate the meaning of those first words in our national anthem — “Negara Ku, Tanah tumpahnya darah ku”. Taken literally, it means my country, the place where I am willing to spill my blood in defending it or the land of my birth. Metaphorically, it means my country, my Malaysian motherland or homeland. Our security forces, who had to fight in the attacks against Sabah last year, proved they were willing to die for their country. Others make noise but the question is whether they are willing to die for our country.
Fourth, do we understand the importance of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the living symbol of our unity. If we did, would we be so quick to disparage this highest constitutional office?
Finally, let us revisit the Rukun Negara (Articles of Faith of the State). Do we merely recite or do we actually internalise the five principles which were intended to be the moral compass and key to national harmony and unity? Bear in mind that the Rukun Negara was specifically crafted for the success and stability of Malaysia’s multicultural society. Do we epitomise and practise these values which are supposed to define the national character of the people? Do we realise that the Declaratory Preamble to the Rukun Negara holds equal importance to the five principles, if not more. To be frank, how many have read the Preamble?
Perhaps it is worth for us to take a moment to reflect on the continuing relevance of the Rukun Negara today.
TOMORROW: Part 4 — Revisiting the Rukun Negara