IN THEIR FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS: Keeping Malaysia on track is a tough job and both men soldier on in their own way
IT WAS on Jan 14 that Malaysia observed Tun Abdul Razak Hussein's passing, not in dramatic themes or outpouring of grand affection, but in understated remembrance, chiefly through prayers primed by his sons and conspicuously, a heartfelt ode by his youngest, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, that honoured the second prime minister's profound vision, mission and achievements.
The benignly circumspect person that Razak was would have approved the minimalistic fuss: he was after all admired for his honesty, frugality and uprightness in just about everything that he did as PM, from playing down his successes to taking great care that he and his family lived in a way that reflected his unpretentious outlook.
But Razak's primary construct was his zeal for a vision that Malaysians of all races can harmonise in all socio-economic configurations that concurs with the idea of a prosperous and dynamic nation.
The Razak brothers' parallel quests ~ Former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein (centre) during
one of his visits to a Felda settlement. File pic
His vision is prescient: can anyone deny Malaysia's prosperity and dynamism now, which was propelled by Razak's mission in those precious seven years he helmed a country fraught with political intrigue, social unrest and the Communist terrorist threat.
Despite the difficulties, not just from political manoeuvring but also his failing health, Razak ignored the debilitating pain and put up a command performance on sculpting the nation with well-intended policies while conquering the throes of growing pains.
When he inherited the premiership from Tunku Abdul Rahman's Merdeka-minded stewardship, racial divisions had just boiled over, forcing Razak to pick up the shattered pieces of the May 13 incident, doing so with that same zeal to succeed.
He saw what needed to be done: setting up the National Operations Council to shape, first, the democratic prototype then, but now fully developed into the principle that Malaysians take for granted.
All the while he was driving the NOC, he never abstained from imposing Malaysia's true paradigm -- a multicultural, multireligious and multiethnic hub that aids in overall development and yet foster social, cultural and religious underpinnings.
It was a hell of a job, but then, Razak had a hell of a mission. Nobody could have begrudged him on the magnitude of the task and its unpredictable consequences.
Ah, to be a fly on the wall eavesdropping on how his mind worked out the problems, drudged through the complexities but eventually overcoming the odds to fashion a working nation, not a failed one.
Razak could have been sucked into the demands of racial density in charting national development prerogatives but he set the tone then, again presciently: Malaysians should not battle one another for the primacy of one race or the defeat of another. Sounds familiar.
In shaping the tone, Razak put in straightaway this crucial principle: there is no need to fear one another, all rights and positions regardless of race or religion are enshrined and guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. Till this day, this doctrine holds true despite the current battles over racial and religious rights.
Razak, knowing that his mortality was imminent, battled for life, one that is fought over and over again to accrue a sense of survival for a united and reconciled Malaysia. This was his cherished ambition.
You could see that the cherished Razak doctrine is what the son, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, is also trying to accomplish, difficulties and the opposition critique aside.
But Najib will be the first to concede that maybe, somewhere along the way, from the time his father promulgated the New Economic Policy, to the current cultural wars beleaguering all comers, that Malaysia seems to be tottering on a wrong footing.
From the day he took office, Najib sounded the warning: Government doesn't know best, some draconian laws have to be consigned to the dustbin of history and economic policies that were the pragmatic rage then may not be so now.
Above everything else, he knows that peace is paramount in the forging of Bumiputera economic progress because if the community feels they are being ignored, threatened or sidelined, the stability or hope of becoming fully developed by 2020 will float away.
Najib is aware that the socioeconomic gap between the races is still wide, going by 2011 figures that show that the average monthly income of the Chinese was higher than Bumiputeras by a 1:43 ratio.
But since he took over as PM in 2009, Najib could demonstrate that the numbers show a narrowing income disparity between the Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera communities.
Razak's NEP initialisation has been reformulated into the New Economic Model, a policy of inclusivity that plugged previous loopholes that Nazir watched worryingly.
The big responsibility is to maintain this socio-economic balance, keep the country stable for further progress through many creative tools, one being the new Bumiputera Economic Council that endeavours for equitable Bumiputera benefits from the enlarging economic pie.
Nevertheless, Najib is aligned to Nazir's plea that Malaysia, having lost its way in the tumultuous 43-year development advancement, returns to the point of origin, the point where their father set the tone that affirms his true legacy.
Yes, the din of today's cultural and religious wars have been cultivated into what is perceived to be "interethnic and intraethnic tensions", mutual trust and respect among races and religious communities a depleting commodity, a commodity that is of Nazir's yearning to return to the point of origin that could become the most important message for all leaders and politicians.
What is needed is a sober, mutually respectful debate behind closed doors away from the opportunists and the troublemakers so that even the tiniest morsels of understanding, compromise, trust and respect could be distilled with the idea of cultivating methods to encourage unity and reinvigorate the Rukun Negara.
In May 13's aftermath, Razak's superlative task was to persuade ministers, politicians and opposition leaders to stop bickering and posturing and start meeting one another over coffee or tea.
Najib intends to reprise this idyllic atmosphere with critics from all divides, hopefully over an open house feast, Malaysian style where we all know that harsh and resentment aside, nobody declines the best of Malaysian food, even if it is prepared by your foe.
To reminisce, the word goes that Tunku Abdul Rahman would hold a block party at his house for all members of parliament and lawmakers, allies and rivals alike, when Parliament reconvened. Where everyone attended to stay up until the early hours talking to one another and foster warm relationships.
Somehow, this technique stood in good stead: when MPs debated bills, all of them were more familiar with each other and thus, mutual respect and common interest abounded.
And in the coming "unity" feasts, one of Najib's instructions is to jettison the VIP tables and sit as part of a bigger, mixed as a way to figure out how to appeal to the various races and remove barriers, especially on empathising with the younger generation -- whether outings in gotong-royong to clean up a park, a Facebook campaign to save historical sites or a futsal tournament -- who will inherit and stew over the rebuilding of a united and reconciled Malaysia.
Najib has started the ball rolling: a practice he inherited from his father was a commitment to public service, the surprise visits on the ground to get a feel of what's bubbling and what's rotting from either side of the political fence.
It is hardly surprising then that the two Razak brothers have toiled for years to live up to their father's legacy, striving in parallel to create a culture of integrity in government and civil service.
Najib's big ticket push in the Government Transformation Programme even empowered the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, with numerous arrests and graft convictions, not just on the takers but also the bribers, complemented by a bill to enable MACC to independently pursue all big and small classes of the corrupt.
All said, even Razak would agree that what Najib is trying to accomplish in 2014, first, to be consonant with the father's legacy and, second, to build further on that historicity, is a far bigger and different kettle of fish, one that is extremely difficult, more so by a PM who is only human.
Flaws are creeping in the delivery system but they are steadily being amended and corrected. However, that doesn't take away the fact that Malaysia, by any standard, has been steadily moulded as a lovely and great country.
Thanks to the far-reaching heirloom Razak bequeathed the nation, which Najib has acceded to, he will soldier on to rebuild trust among all races, spread value for money and enhance Malaysia's global standing. Or Najib will die trying while Nazir will do the same on their parallel but unique quest to complete their father's hallowed mission.
Azmi Anshar email@example.com : NST Online Opinion Columnist 17/01/2014