In Defense of University of Malaya Law Professor Azmi Sharom


September 2, 2014

In Defense of  University of Malaya Law Professor Azmi Sharom

by Din Merican

The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, and other news portals have reported that University of Malaya LawAzmi Sharom Professor Azmi Sharom will be charged with sedition later today ( September 2) over his remarks on the Selangor Menteri Besar crisis. He joins the ranks of a number of Opposition politicians – PKR Vice-President Rafizi Ramli, Padang Serai MP and Lawyer for Anwar Ibrahim, N. Surendran (PKR), Shah Alam MP and PAS central committee member Khalid Samad, and Seri Delima assemblyman R.S.N. Rayer (DAP) –who have been charged under the Sedition Act, 1948.

Seputeh MP Teresa Kok (DAP) and Batu MP Tian Chua (PKR) are also facing trial for sedition, while former Perak MB and Changkat Jering assemblyman Nizar Jamaluddin (PAS) was charged with criminal defamation for a statement he had allegedly made two years ago. But Professor Sharom is the  first academic and civil society activist to be hauled up before our courts on charges of sedition. That is shocking news  to me since I know Professor Sharom well as a man of integrity and reason. In fact, from time to time I have hosted his articles, which are also carried in his column in The Star. These are well written, lucid, constructive, positive and responsible. He is critical but never seditious since he knows his limits.

Azmi is critical but never seditious since he knows his limits.

Azmi is critical but never seditious since he knows his limits.

Why is Prime Minister Najib resorting to the use of The Sedition Act to silence critics of his government? A confident government is always prepared to engage its citizenry. Could he be responding to Tun Dr. Mahathir’s criticisms of his leadership and policies? And that in order to show that he is actually not a weak leader, he has resorted to strong arm tactics to prevent Malaysians from speaking up about  politics, social policy and other matters. Given his wide experience in government and politics, he should know that efforts to silence mounting critical voices will be counterproductive. The best option is to communicate more effectively with civil society, address its concerns and take action. Silence is not golden when it comes public dissent.

Taking on a popular academic like Professor Sharom is, therefore,  Najib’s miscalculated move. It will not silence his critics. Repression is not the answer. I read Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian, a book of essays on Indian history, culture and identity, some years ago (in 2002 to be exact). It contains useful pointers about the value of dissent and critical discourse. In the context of what is happening in our country where dissent is being suppressed, I wish to quote this brilliant Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, who said in the Preface to his book :

Sen“Discussions and arguments are critically important for democracy and public reasoning. They are central to the  practice of secularism and for even-handed treatment of adherents of different religious faith (including those who have no religious beliefs). Going beyond these basic structural priorities, the argumentative tradition, if used with deliberation and commitment, can also be extremely important in resisting social inequalities and in removing poverty and deprivation. Voice is a crucial component of the pursuit of social justice.

…the critical voice is the traditional ally of the aggrieved,and participation in arguments is a general opportunity, not a particularly specialized skill…”

Professor Sharom is that critical voice in our civil society. He is indeed among a rare breed of individuals with a courage of conviction. He is not afraid to speak his mind. Maybe because of this priceless quality, he is now being singled out for prosecution. But I am confident that our courts will see it fit to dismiss the charge of sedition against him. Let him be free to get on with his duty, which is to educate our young generation on the importance of the Rule of Law, critical discourse, and human justice.

Secession is not an Option


September 1, 2014

After 51 years of federalism in which the centre (Putrajaya) is dominant, the time has come for us Din MericanY to review the bases of our relationship with Sabah and Sarawak. Both states have grown and a few generations have gone, and now there is growing restlessness among Sabahans and Sarawakians. To some extent, Malaysia is already a success. We have created political awareness among the people there. But we have more work to do to achieve national integration.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, has said that stern action will be taken against those in the two states who are advocating secession. They have threatened to take the issue of self-determination to the United Nations. The UN route to deal with our internal affairs is a retrogressive step since the issue was settled nearly three scores ago by both the Cobbold Commission and the United Nations team in 1963. Furthermore, I do not have much faith in the United Nations. I believe in our own ability to deal with our problems. We have the means and experience to manage our own affairs.

The idea of secession is not an option. Sabah and Sarawak are part of Malaysia. That means we cannot entertain the idea of political separation. People advocating this separation should be warned to stop playing with fire. But a better  and more equitable deal for Sabahans and Sarawakians? Yes. According to Dr. Puyok, “[T]he federal-state conflict in Malaysia is caused by an “ideological clash” between federal and state leaders, imbalance in centre-periphery relations, and lack of meaningful engagement between federal and state administrative officers.” I agree with his point of view.

Let us, therefore, not ignore the concerns of Sabah and Sarawak. In stead, we should begin a new era of constructive engagement with our brothers and sisters in East Malaysia. Take integration beyond the level of political rhetoric, and deal with the fundamental issues concerning federal-state relations that have been swept under the carpet for far too long. In this regard, the Najib administration must act in earnest based on a clear vision of national unity and integration.

najib and his deputyProject Malaysia must be taken to a new and perhaps a more enlightened level. The feeling that we at the centre are a bunch of neo-colonialists (and thereby lending credence to President Sukarno’s claim that Malaysia is a “neo-colonialist plot” hatched by the British) must be eliminated.

Let us recognise for starters that what politicians and public officials say and do at the centre affect Sabah and Sabah. One case in point is the Allah issue. Another matter of pressing concern is revenue sharing. Prime Minister Najib should begin the dialogue with leaders of Sabah and Sarawak and civil society as soon as possible.  –Din Merican

Secession is not an Option

by Dr. Arnold Puyok*

Merdeka--57

After 51 years since the formation of Malaysia, the issue of secession has come to haunt the country once again. While the calls for secession by some quarters in Sabah and Sarawak are not as serious as it looks in the social media, anti-federal feelings are real and growing.It is not too late to “save” Malaysia. The federal structure was designed in such a way to preserve the uniqueness of each state in the federation.

The main problem faced by the country lies in the weaknesses in the implementation of the Federal Constitution. It is time that Malaysians – the young especially – to take a hard look at the country’s origin by studying the Federal Constitution.

Now, the Federation of Malaysia is said to be on the brink of collapse. The federal-state conflict in Malaysia is caused by an “ideological clash” between federal and state leaders, imbalance in centre-periphery relations, and lack of meaningful engagement between federal and state administrative officers.

Ideological clash

The ideological approach in federalism discusses the “ideological and philosophical foundation of federalism”. Ideologies clash because of differences in language, culture and religion. Malaysia’s federal foundation is essentially driven by Malay-Muslim ideology – a “copycat” of the previous federal structure under the Federation of Malaya – even though the later federal structure (the Federation of Malaysia) was significantly altered to accommodate non-Islamic and non-Malay territories of Sabah and Sarawak.

From 1957 to 1963, efforts to “build” the country through language and education were done with a strong Malay-Muslim flavour. With a strong federal support, Sabah’s Third Chief Minister Tun Mustapha Harun promoted a policy of “one language (Malay), one religion (Islam) and one culture (Malay)” as a basis for creating national solidarity in Sabah. This was opposed by many non-Muslim Sabahans.

Imbalance in centre-periphery relations

This imbalance is marked by centralisation of power by the federal government.Under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for instance, the federal government would use its constitutional and political power to force the state to prioritise federal than state needs.

The federal government would “punish” stubborn state leaders who refuse to subscribe to its agenda by declaring them “persona non grata” in the country’s decision-making process and also by reducing the compulsory federal allocation to the state.

In education, school syllabi do not reflect Malaysia’s multicultural outlook. Sabah’s and Sarawak’s unique historical and cultural background were not given due consideration. On the economic front, the government’s revenue and total expenditure were dominated by the federal – 96% and 80% respectively in 1990.

Lack of engagement

Owning a satellite dish by private individuals in Sabah is one of the many thorny issues in federal-state relations.

The federal government disallowed the use of a private satellite dish without licence. Sabah counter-argued saying that the federal government was protecting Astro and was victimising Sabahans, especially those in the rural areas who did not have the means to access to information.

Licensing requirements caused unhappiness and led to perception of federal officers’ lack of sensitivity to local needs.

There is also this issue of Sabah wanting to proclaim its natural sites as World Heritage Site. But the federal government refused to support the initiative unless those sites are federalised. Another “hot-button” issue is the state’s lack of autonomy in educational affairs.

The state has charged that it cannot manage school projects below RM500,000. Many schools, especially in rural areas, are in dire need of repairs and maintenance. However, these are slow as state officers need to wait for approval from their federal counterparts. Work progress is also affected by delay in payment to local contractors by Putrajaya.

Clear vision of national unity and integration

The first point of the Vision 2020 is “to establish a united Malaysian nation with a sense of common and shared destiny – a nation at peace with itself, territorially and ethnically integrated, living in harmony and full and fair partnership, made up of one Bangsa Malaysia with political loyalty and dedication to the nation”.

But the questions are: how are we going to become a united Malaysian nation if we are still arguing over the year of our country’s founding? How are we to achieve the Bangsa Malaysia race if we continue to exclusively defend our rights – race, religious, and regional?

Our leaders must be extremely clear about where they want to bring Malaysia to. The concept of 1Malaysia looks ideal on paper but it has to be made workable in practice: is it a concept for the purpose of nation-building? Is it a concept for rebranding of government commercial products? Is it a concept to promote the country’s tourism industry?

Equilibrium in centre-periphery relations

It is time the federal government decentralised power as a way to lessen its dominance and to allow the state to develop independently according to its needs.

Apart from checking and balancing the power of the federal government, decentralisation, if applied effectively and judiciously, can also ensure effectiveness in public-delivery system.

Crucially, the state should be allowed to deal independently with its socio-cultural policy. Sabah and Sarawak should determine how they wish to preserve their people’s diverse culture, just like India’s “territorial linguism” and Ethiopia’s “cultural and linguistic autonomy”.

Our leaders could also enact a Territorial Integration Act to renew the commitment of federal and state leaders to abide by the Federal Constitution.It is a kind of “oath fellowship” that can be found in Switzerland to conserve differences and diversity.

The government should also establish a constitutional court to arbiter conflict between the federal and state governments – i.e. a special court in Germany – the Federal Constitutional Court — to check against the centralising tendency of the federal government.

Before decentralisation of power can be fully implemented, a National Council of Decentralisation orbm_puyok2 National Decentralisation Commission should be established to review aspects that are over-centralised and need to be decentralised, areas that are under-centralised and need to be centralised, and to review the concept of power sharing between the federal and state governments in light of Malaysia’s multicultural make-up.

Constructive engagement

The role of the State Federal Office needs to be strengthened so that federal priorities do not clash with that of a state’s.The government can also organise a yearly conference between federal and state administrative officers to discuss issues in implementation of federal and state programmes.

Secession threats are culminated in dissatisfactions of some sections of society. People who promote secession should be engaged in a civil and rational manner.The government must double the efforts to increase the sense of belonging of people from various races and religions. Malaysia is worth preserving but it also needs changing.

* Dr Arnold Puyok is a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/secession-not-the-solution-to-malaysias-problem-arnold-puyok

National Debate on Najib’s Leadership?


August 31, 2014

National Debate on Najib’s Leadership?

by Khoo Kay Peng

NajibTun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s criticism and his right to do so should be respected even if some of us may not agree entirely with his grouses against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. As a citizen and an ex-Premier of the country, Dr. Mahathir is entitled to his views on the leadership.

Mahathir has said that many policies, approaches and actions taken by the government under Najib have destroyed inter-racial ties, the economy and the country’s finances. As a result, he has withdrawn his support for the Prime Minister.

Mahathir claimed that the abolition of the Internal Security Act and the Restricted Residence Act has spiked crime activities because many gang leaders were released.  It is ironic that Mahathir has targeted Najib but did not mention anything about our law enforcement officers.

The abolition of the two draconian and archaic laws is not the reason for the spike in criminal activities. The government’s reluctance to fully restructure and rejuvenate the Police Force has played a large part in the failure to curb growing criminal activities.

Suggestions made by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the Police Force were largely restricted toKhalid Abu Bakar reporting purposes. Key recommendations contained in the report were largely left unimplemented. The RCI had comprehensively concluded that the Police Force needed to be reformed in order to recapture its past glory, to reclaim its credibility and to enhance its efficiency in keeping law and order.

Apart from the Police Force, other law enforcement agencies such as local councils and immigration department should be subjected to a thorough review too. In the Klang Valley and several key cities, illicit and illegal businesses such as clubs, massage parlours, gambling dens and others are mushrooming. This is the main financial lifeline to the gang leaders and a select few are raking in billions of ringgit a year.

Can the authorities safely say that they have been working very hard to cut the financial lifeline of these gangs by curbing these illegal and illicit businesses? Can they confirm that none of their enforcement officers are actively or passively “involved” in condoning these activities?

Why aren’t there any comprehensive actions taken against these organisations, for example the Police Force, the Immigration Department and the local councils? It is because it is difficult for the government to take action against any organisations or agencies that are dominated mainly by the race and the party “that had all this while supported and saved the government”.

PerkasaMahathir has criticised Najib for the failing inter-racial relations. Yet, it is not by accident that he is the patron of the right wing Malay Muslim pressure group PERKASA. The group has no qualms making some of the most absurd statements and demands to promote its right-wing agenda. To the leaders and supporters of this group, a particular racial denomination and religion shall be the basis that represents the right and wrong. There’s no moral compass or principle that the group’s viewpoint is subjected to for a fair justification.

But Najib should not be commended for his “achievements” (or a lack of it) in fostering better inter-racial relations through his 1Malaysia initiative. In fact, Najib was too afraid to go against organisations such as UMNO and PEKASA even if their actions may have contravened his administration’s own vision in inter-racial relations. In short, Najib is not willing to risk his position to do what is right for the country.

His inability to curb the racial sentiments from the organisations and to moderate the behaviour of their leaders has been his biggest failure in fostering better inter-racial relations. With a political figure such as Mahathir backing it, PERKASA is able to make all sorts of threats against the Najib administration to accept its wishes, demands and views.

If Najib has erred, he made a mistake for giving too much space and respect to leaders of the right-wingNajib2 organisations. If Mahathir is so concerned about the people, and the society’s multi-cultural and multi-racial fabric, he should not appear to speak for just a particular race or party. Although Mahathir’s criticism of Najib may have its merits, he missed the point by a mile. He should help to answer the question, “what has contributed to the deterioration of inter-racial relations in the country?”

Mahathir is right about the 1Malaysia cash handouts. Cash handout is being used as a means to show that the government cares for the people, especially the low-income group. Both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat governments have used it. Sadly, supporters from both sides of the divide are eager to defend the programme, not based on its merits and effectiveness but blinded by their own political loyalty.

For this purpose, there is very little debate and serious scrutiny being conducted to study the impact of the policy. There’s very little interest from both coalitions to take up serious socio-economic policy research to seek the best solution and action plans to reverse the fortune of the faltering Malaysian economy.

Excessive politicking has been chronic and disastrous to the economy and nation. It is unfair to load the entire responsibility on just a man, the prime minister.  However, Mahathir’s criticism should be measured carefully and its only contribution would be to trigger a national debate on various key issues such as inter-racial relations, deteriorating economic competitiveness, rising crime, worsening education quality and others.  If this happens, it could yet be a huge contribution from Mahathir.

Khoo Kay Peng is a political analyst and a management consultant. He believes that this nation can only progress with the collective will of its people.

http://www.theantdaily.com/Outspoken/Mahathir-s-criticism-should-trigger-national-debate-on-key-issues/#sthash.msi1jJwK.dpuf

‘AMANAT MERDEKA’ by The Hon’ble Prime Minister of Malaysia


August 31, 2014

‘AMANAT MERDEKA by The Hon’ble Prime Minister of Malaysia

Najib2[Following is the English translation of the full text of speech delivered by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the 57th National Day address at Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysian Tourism Centre (Matic) in Kuala Lumpur on the evening of August 30, 2014.]

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh, Salam Sejahtera and Salam 1Malaysia, Beloved Malaysians,

1.Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks be to Allah, with His permission once again, wherever we may be in this country, we continue to be protected in peace, to celebrate the anniversary of our independence.

2.Unlike in previous years, when the message was recorded and broadcast over the television, tonight I have chosen to speak live to hundreds of people present on the eve of independence, to express the spirit of patriotism and the burning desire of the nation’s struggle, from eye to eye, from heart to heart, especially for all of you who are here representing the people of Malaysia.

3.The reality is that every independence begins with a noble struggle and unparalleled sacrifice, especially by the Malay Rulers and palace, political leaders and the people.

4.In this respect, if we look at the history of our nation, we were colonialised for four and a half centuries, beginning with the fall of the Malacca Malay Sultanate at the hands of the Portuguese in 1511 until the British administration. The colonialists came in succession to reap the benefits and to suppress the natives, up until independence on August 31, 1957.

5.Looking back at history, everyone must remember that this country originated as the Federation of Malay States, and subsequently united with Sabah and Sarawak.

6.With reference to this episode, we hear rumblings and unsavoury voices which question why the date of the formation of Malaysia is not the same as the date of independence; why September 16, when in the Peninsula, it’s August 31.

7.In this matter, we have to study what was really worked out by the special commission which was assigned to conduct a referendum among the people of Sabah and Sarawak in the process of the formation of Malaysia at that time.

8.For the information of the public, the later date came about due to technical reasons, because the Cobbold Commission had to wait for verification from the United Nations on the majority agreement through a referendum before finalising its report. As such, September 16 was fixed as the day for the formation of Malaysia.

Beloved Malaysians,

9.Going from there, this year, we celebrate the 57th anniversary of independence and the 51st year of Sabah and Sarawak having been with us as one Malaysia. Long live Malaysia, long live Malaysia!

Beloved Malaysians,

10.As such, we are thankful for the common history between the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak, which are separated by the South China Sea, as well as the bond of brotherhood of all Malaysians from Arau in Perlis to Semporna in Sabah and Ulu Lachau in Sarawak, that cannot be broken; in fact, God willing, it will be strengthened further.

11. Hence, as soon as the 13th general election was over, to symbolise the new mandate received by the government, I did not hesitate to appoint a number of ministers and deputy ministers from Sabah and Sarawak in respect of the support given by our brethren there to the Barisan Nasional (BN).

12. Now more than one year has passed. The number of representatives from Sabah and Sarawak in the government is an important yardstick in determining the next course for our beloved Malaysia.

13. I had stressed in my major addresses over the past more than one year that the present government has a huge responsibility in prioritising the interests of the people, particularly the Malay and Bumiputera communities, Muslims and non-Muslims, who represent more than 70 per cent of the Malaysian people, by 2020.

14. So, whatever the opposition tries to do though incitement and accusations, we are steadfast in our agenda to empower the people.

Beloved Malaysians,

15. Recalling our pre-independence history, the complexities surrounding our quest for Merdeka had caused some apprehension among certain quarters on our choice to do it our way. But it can be seen that we have turned our plural society into an asset for prosperity and an ingredient of success at the highest level.

Beloved Malaysians,

16. We plan and leave the rest to God; this country had faced and weathered numerous challenges. Yet our Merdeka heart, Merdeka soul and Merdeka spirit shine through, such that we are able to rise above all and acquire success, our own way. Well done, Malaysians! Well done, Malaysians!

17.For instance, when the nation gained independence, the poverty rate was over 60 per cent. It dropped to 1.7 per cent in 2012, where hardcore poverty was almost eradicated.

18.When I took over the leadership and administration of the country in 2009, the 1Malaysia concept of ‘People First, Performance Now’ was introduced, based on the National Transformation Policy or NTP. The framework encompasses the bigger national transformation agenda, which began with the Government Transformation Programme or GTP, Economic Transformation Programme or ETP, Political Transformation Programme or PTP, Community Transformation Programme or CTP, Social Transformation Programme or STP and Fiscal Transformation Programme or FTP.

19. The results, in five years, were numerous achievements, which have been acknowledged internationally and which I have outlined in my speeches and reports.

20.The national economy showed a very encouraging trend in the second quarter of 2014 with a gross domestic product growth of 6.4 per cent, compared to 4.5 per cent in the corresponding period in 2013, the highest ever recorded since the fourth quarter of 2012. This makes our achievement the highest among the Asean countries for the first half of 2014.

Source: http://www.nst.com.my/node/28407

Remembering Merdeka


August 30, 2014

Remembering Merdeka

by Tunku Abdul Aziz@www.nst.my.com

tunku-azizMANY of the 300 young Malayans, men and women, who heard the news first-hand ahead of the official announcement in Malacca, that their country would be an independent nation on August 31, 1957 are, sadly, no longer with us to celebrate the 57th Merdeka anniversary tomorrow. The years have taken their toll: the survivors have not been spared the ravages of time.

Those of us who took our places in the Kirkby College Hall on that grey, overcast and bitterly cold February afternoon to welcome Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, our honoured visitor and future Prime Minister of independent Malaya, had expected nothing more momentous than the standard homily about “working hard and playing hard” that distinguished visitors always seemed to be armed with. The Tunku quickly got into his stride and spoke without notes, in a tone of voice that gave not the slightest hint of what he had in store for his listeners.

He began by telling us that he and his colleagues had been in London holding constitutional talks at Lancaster House with Her Majesty’s Government on Malayan independence. He went on to say that they were extremely pleased with the outcome of the meeting which had paved the way for the country’s independence. He attributed the success of his Merdeka Mission to the “trust and goodwill on all sides”.

He paid special tribute to the people of Malaya for their unstinting support in the quest for freedom. This had proved to be an important point in convincing the British that the various Malayan races were at one in their demand for independence.

Then, without warning, he broke the welcome news that stunned us. Merdeka would be granted on August Tunku31, 1957, God willing. The date until then had been a closely-guarded secret, and how privileged we felt to be the first Malayans to hear the glad tidings.

It took a second or two for the full import of the momentous announcement to sink in before the assembly, as if on cue, broke into a restrained round of applause.Understated would aptly describe our reaction: British reserve had triumphed over our traditional Malayan exuberance. I suppose the freezing English winter weather was partly to blame for the less than wildly boisterous reaction to the historic occasion.

What tangled thoughts ran through our minds as we began the process of bringing them into some semblance of order, I could only guess? It would be fair to say that most of us harboured, albeit secretly, grave doubts about the country’s future.

We wondered whether the two major communities, the Chinese and the Malays, would be able to find accommodation and live in peace and harmony. Continuing, the Tunku reminded us that the fight for freedom without democracy would be quite meaningless. He talked about our duties and responsibilities as citizens of a free country, and how important it was for all Malayans to live in harmony so as to ensure lasting peace and prosperity for all. It was a message that continues to be relevant and, perhaps, even more so in today’s political climate.

We were not too sanguine about the country’s long-term prospects for racial harmony having read enough about what the coming of independence had done, a decade earlier, to India. The spectre of widespread ethnic and religious violence that so marred and blighted India’s independence was very much in the forefront of our collective consciousness.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly on Aug 15, 1947, Tryst with Destiny, containing that memorable line, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom” made a deep impression on most of us young people.

Nehru more than Mahatma Gandhi was my inspiration. Tunku came later as a leader I admired greatly. Even as the great Indian statesman was speaking, India was engulfed in flames: the streets of that ancient land were awash with Hindu, Sikh and Muslim blood. Religious violence still breaks out in parts of India with regular monotony. We had every reason to fear for the future of our country, and that was only natural. Were we ready for independence with all that this implied in social, political and economic terms? It was a question that loomed large for us then.

For all the apprehension about what the future might bring, none of us would ever forget the event that unfolded in that little corner of rural Lancashire on February 7, 1956. It was in a very real sense the beginning of a dramatic spiritual journey into the unknown for all Malayans, and unlike most journeys, there was no turning back when the Union flag finally came down past the midnight hour on the Selangor Club Padang. It might have signalled the imminent end of empire for the British, but for us it was the dawn of a new life, the life that we were at long last free to live as we chose.

merdekaWhen we reacquired our country in 1957 through negotiations, we set to with a will to confound our detractors and prove how wrong they were all along. Few thought we would survive the first few years on our own, and yet, 57 years later, despite the teething problems and birth pangs of a new nation, we remain a people deeply committed to multiracialism as a way of life.

When we think of the complexity of our society, what we have achieved for our country borders on the miraculous. As we stride out proudly to celebrate our many achievements tomorrow, let us remember that the key to our future is racial harmony and unity of purpose. We have much to be grateful for: the future is in our hands.

Many Happy Returns of the Day, Malaysia.

57 Years of Trials, Tribulations and Successes


August 30, 2014

57 Years of Trials, Tribulations and Successes

by Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar@www.nst.com.my

Merdeka--57

THE number “57” has a significant meaning. Malaysia, born in 1957, will be 57 this year. So far, this year has not been easy. Too many things have happened in the last eight months. There was never a dull day in the world in 2014 so far.

Perhaps it is true, the Year of the Wooden Horse under the Chinese zodiac is not going to be an easy one. Some believe calamities, turmoil and uncertainties will be the order of the year. There is simply too much “energy” out there.

So far not so good. Malaysia, too, has its share of problems. The national airline, already crippled by financial burden, endured two incidences that will definitely redefine the aviation industry — the spectacular disappearance of MH370 and the shooting down of MH17. Malaysians were united in those tragedies.

We have come this far. It wasn’t an easy journey though. We had our fair share of trials and tribulations. Six Prime Ministers and 57 years later, we have our proud moments and some bad ones. Our leaders are not perfect. But they have tried their best. We will not be where we are today had it not been for their vision, tenacity and commitment. There are countries that became independent about the same time but are still struggling economically.

6 PMs of MalaysiaLeft to Right: Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein, Tun Dr. Mahathir, Tun Abdullah,  Dato Seri Najib  Tun Razak

This is not an easy country to govern. Diversity has its perils. Multiculturalism sounds good as a discourse but is not easy to manage. Religion can divide and the division can be severe. Voices of reason can easily be silenced by the noisy few.

People of different races can simply drift apart. We can see some cracks on unity. We are acutely aware of some segments of our society promoting bigotry and hate in the name of religion and race. Left unchecked, it will destroy us.

Where were we when the clock struck 12 midnight, August 31, 1957? We were not even sure of our destiny yet we were proud and the pride was contagious. Sceptics were saying, we can’t even manufacture a jarum (needle) what good was merdeka? The people were largely poor, especially the Malays.

1957 was the year of Semerah Padi, the second film helmed by P. Ramlee for the Malay Film Productions company and Pontianak starring the stunningly beautiful Maria Menado at Cathay Keris Films.

The newspaper Berita Harian was published that year, 10 years ahead of Utusan Malaysia, the Romanised edition of Utusan Melayu, the flag bearer of the company of the same name. That was the year of The Bridge on the River Kwai, directed by supremo David Lean. That was the year when James Agee wrote A Death in the Family, and The West Side Story became a hit Broadway Show.

The first truly soap opera, Peyton Place was featured on TV. A Frenchman, hailed as one of the pioneers of “absurd literature”, Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tough action hero and notorious romantic Humphrey Bogart of Casablanca fame died. The population of the world was 2.8 billion.

Things were less complicated back then in this country. The kentung called the villages for prayers and emergencies in the villages. The price of kuih was 2 sen. And a ringgit could buy a lot of things. A kati (before the measurement was in kilogram) of rice was the price of a day’s work. I was in my fourth year in a primary school when Tunku Abdul Rahman saw the lowering of the Union Jack in Kuala Lumpur.

What is merdeka to us? What does it mean to Malaysians? Besides the parade, the rituals, the celebration, Hari Kemerdekaan (Independence Day) should be a reflection of all things past and the need to move forward. We have achieved great things, our economic success is the envy of many and our infrastructures are world-class. We need to identify areas of weakness. Let’s ask some serious questions on unity and equality. Let’s talk about the quality of life. Let’s relook at our education system that is supposed to bind us, and the national language that is the denominator of unity.

“Di sini bermulanya sebuah cinta” (where love grows) adopted as the tagline for this year’s Hari Kemerdekaan was a line from a hugely popular Sudirman song. Independence Day is also about national consciousness, patriotism and the sense of belonging — the values that many believe are eroding in the making of a nation.

Let’s just remind ourselves of the challenges ahead as a people and a nation — together we shall prevail as one. Dirgahayu Malaysiaku!