My essay in The Malaysian Insight – June 8, 2018. https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/53372

Let’s Work Smart In New Malaysia

THERE has been intense debate – in both mainstream and social media – over how far-reaching reform, whether political or economic, should be in a post-14th general election Malaysia.

There are some who argue that we need rapid and drastic change to ensure that the gains made on May 9 are solidified.

Others argue that there is a need for a more gradual pace, especially regarding the so-called “sensitive issues”, i.e. the monarchy, Islam and the special position of Bumiputeras.

Pakatan Harapan was elected based on its promises to correct the abuses of Barisan Nasional, not perpetuate, or worse, intensify them.

Malaysians, at long last, exercised their power to change the government – peacefully and constitutionally.

They will not hesitate to vote PH out if all we can deliver is more of the same old “business as usual” under BN.

This includes not only failing to crack down on corruption and abuse of power, but also if we, who believe in change, cannot make our government more efficient and accountable, our economy more equitable and dynamic.

On May 9, the rakyat also chose to abandon the politics of division, which had been exploited by the previous Umno-led government and its proxies. We must not let this be reignited, spirit of unity be squandered.

Indeed, in the long run, the only way that Malays and Bumiputeras can move forward is in a Malaysia that is a multiracial, diverse democracy.

The kind of Malaysia that Umno and PAS wanted, the kind of country that a great many leaders and grassroots still want – ethnocentric, exclusive, and where anything goes if it suits the whims of the powerful – would have been an unmitigated disaster for our people.

But, the leaders and grassroots of PH – indeed, all Malaysians – need to realise that we must also “work smart” when it comes to reform.

In the months and years ahead, attempts will be made to bring identity politics to the fore again.

Race, religion and the royalty will be used to divide the government and the people.

These “wedge issues” will be used to set the stage for a reversal of the movement for change that culminated a little more than a month ago, a reversal of the newfound openness and freedom that we have enjoyed since then, to reduce it to less than what we had before.

The Malaysian people and the PH government should not take the bait.

Not all of those who disagree with our government are close-minded reactionaries or religious radicals.

We must know how to pick our battles.

PH, in my mind, was elected to restore the spirit and letter of our founding documents: the federal constitution, the Malaysia Agreement, the Rukunegara.

Of the Rukunegara, most of us can recall its five pillars, but rarely its preamble:

“Whereas our country Malaysia nurtures the ambitions of:

Achieving a more perfect unity among the whole of her society;

Preserving a democratic way of life;

Creating a just society, where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner;

Guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and,

Building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology.”

These ambitions must be our lodestar from now on. We must always be guided, and abide by, our foundational principles.

These include the precept that Malaysia is both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, and that there exists a social contract between our people, but whose function is emphatically not to exalt one race and derogate others.

It is possible – even necessary – for openness and transparency to exist side by side with civility.

It is not a defeat, much less a “betrayal”, if the pace of reform in the New Malaysia is sequenced, makes common sense and is “sane”.

It is also not about giving a “free pass” to the beneficiaries and surrogates of the abuses of the old administration. They must, and will be, dealt with according to the law.

Gradual reform also does not mean tolerating racism or prejudice in any form.

In the New Malaysia, all its people must be given opportunities, regardless of who they are.

However, the risk of a backlash is real.

Let us not forget how, in the US, Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were followed by Donald Trump’s in 2016, or how the Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron eras in the UK culminated in Brexit.

This is not a call for excessive caution or a retreat from reform. Far from it.

Rather, Malaysians who believe in change must realise that there is a lot of work ahead of us.

If democracy is to survive in Malaysia, the PH government must be able to assuage the concerns of all Malaysians, as well as uplift them, in terms of both their dignity and economic standing.

To do that, its leaders and followers must work together. We won as a big tent, we must govern as a big tent.

There must be honesty, mutual respect, and most importantly, an acknowledgment that no one has a monopoly on serving, or defining what is or is not, national interest.

Wisdom, prudence and inclusiveness on all sides must be the order of the day, moving forward.

These are interlinked and crucial if the reforms that Malaysians voted for on May 9 are to be made permanent.

* Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is Pakatan Harapan and PKR Youth leader. He is also Setiawangsa MP and formerly a Selangor exco. He has written a few books in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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