If our first prime minister was still alive, what would he say about Malaysia today?
THIS Saturday, Feb 8, marks the 111th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman. Not only did he take our country to independence in 1957, he also led the coming together of four entities – Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya – to form the Federation of Malaysia.
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) was launched on the same date back in 2010.
We chose to launch Ideas on the date of Tunku’s birthday because we share the vision of this great man.
Back in 1957 in the Proclamation of Independence, and again in 1963 in the Proclamation of Malaysia, Tunku affirmed that this nation shall remain as a democratic nation founded upon the principles of liberty and justice, and that the role of the state is to continuously seek the welfare and happiness of its people.
Ideas was founded to revive this very liberal vision of Tunku.
Liberalism is not at all an alien concept to Malaysia.
It is actually the philosophy that defined this nation when we were founded.
It is our country’s founding philosophy. Some may have forgotten this, but a quick history lesson will tell us that was what Tunku proclaimed in 1957 and 1963 as the foundational principles of our country.
At Ideas we have committed ourselves to reviving Tunku’s ideals and vision.
But we have been very careful to not fall into the trap of the typical “historical” approach.
That is why we quote Tunku only every now and then.
Instead, what we want to do is to mainstream his vision in the context of contemporary challenges.
We want his ideals to be implemented, not just quoted.
Now, as we prepare to hold a special event to commemorate Tunku’s 111th birthday this Saturday, I can’t help but wonder what he would say about Malaysia if he was still alive.
In a writing dated August 1975, he said, “... There was too much emphasis being placed on bumiputras, and not enough on Malaysians. Going about affairs this way makes it hard to instil Malaysian-mindedness in the hearts of the people. All the work being done to inspire patriotism among our polygenous population is being eroded as a result of this wrong approach”.
In 1983, he said, “There are some, among the Malays, who want Malaysia to be a Muslim state. This would alienate the loyalty of non-Muslims as they would feel that they have no rightful place in Malaysia, being a state for Muslims alone. As the saying goes, a country divided must break apart and fall to pieces. Nobody wants this to happen to our country”.
In fact, some of his views are quite radical.
He once even said, “When I hear now of Umno people shouting out at the top of their voices for Malay rights, it strikes me that the country is going back to where we started before Independence. It is a far cry from the time when we fought for our Independence and achieved success. So I think to myself, are we going ahead or are we slipping back?”
If he saw the increasingly aggressive tone used by some quarters in our society today, I doubt Tunku would approve.
Worse, I think he would be saddened to see the absence of leadership in defending the liberal values of tolerance and acceptance that he fought so hard to sow in our society.
As I reflect on what I observed over the four years that I ran Ideas, I must admit that I am becoming increasingly worried about the future of our country.
Since Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak took over as Prime Minister, his administration focused on reforming the so-called low-hanging fruits.
Now, it seems like the low-hanging fruits have all been plucked.
The pace of reform is slowing down very quickly because there are political roadblocks everywhere.
We are not moving forward as we should.
In the midst of all that, PKR has just engineered an unnecessary by-election that is bound to stir emotions and create more rifts, when what we need is national reconciliation.
We are in desperate need of leaders who are truly committed to reform the country.
We need people who will ensure that Malaysia will progress and become a developed nation that is in line with what Tunku envisioned – a nation based on liberty and justice that puts the happiness of its people as the primary aim.
I am not sure who among our political leaders today really subscribe to these values.
So, with that in mind, let me invite you to join us this Saturday, Feb 8 2014, to commemorate the 111th birthday of Tunku and the fourth anniversary of Ideas.
We are holding a free public event to mark this special day at Memorial Tunku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Dato Onn, Kuala Lumpur, from 9.45am.
Our theme this time is “Is the government serious about reform?”
I promise you that I will try my best to provoke the speakers – Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, Datuk Seri Idris Jala and Datuk Paul Low – to say something controversial!
More details can be found on our website (www.Ideas.org.my).
Do come early because seats are limited.
But even if you cannot find a seat, the memorial itself is worth a visit on this special day.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.Ideas.org.my). The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. The STAR Home Opinion Columnist 04/02/2014