Can the Third Generation save Malaysia?

September 2, 2013

Can the Third Generation save Malaysia?

By Rehman Rashid@

malaysia-at-50-Malaysia-Day_129_100_100It is called the “Third-Generation Curse”, and it is known to every emigrant family in a world now built on them as much as by them. The first generation begins with nothing and makes something of it; the second generation builds on that to create an institution; the third blows it all away.

Survive the Third-Generation Curse, the patriarchs tell their scions, and you are set, not just for your life but those of our descendants, and our ancestors shall smile upon you. If not, scavengers will pick through the rubble of our ruined house and having our name expunged from history would be a mercy.

“British Malaya” patently failed to survive its own 3G Curse, and out of the rubble of colonialism Malaysia’s first generation assembled a working model of self-governance for a hopelessly divided polity: to each of us our own house, with each of our heads of household mandated to deal with the others in a Council of Elders.

It was a realistic model for the time, working with rooted socio-economic realities and disdaining the revolutionary, year-zero, blank-slate, non-aligned thinking rampant in the post-colonial world of the 1950s. It was a grand enough achievement for Malaysia’s Gen1 to have attained Independence by common consensus, courtly handshakes and a parade of feathered hats, with the bloodshed confined to beating down Communism. It was left to Gen2 to deal with the ensuing chaos.

For the unifying momentum of Independence itself hardly lasted beyond the reverberations of founding prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s triumphant proclamation in Stadium Merdeka on August 31, 1957.

Within three years he was overseeing the peninsula’s incorporation with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak in “Malaysia”.

By the 1964 general election, Singapore’s then chief minister Lee Kuan Yew had coined the phrase “Malaysian Malaysia”, and the battle lines were drawn on whether this was to be governed as an “aracial” or a “Malay” nation.

Singapore’s swift and summary expulsion from the federation thereafter did nothing to forestall the racial clashes of the 1969 general election – indeed, it did much to precipitate them.

Although the proportion of Chinese Malaysians dropped from nearly half to less than a third without Singapore and with the indigenes of Sabah and Sarawak designated “Bumiputera”, that schism has not only persisted but deepened into something eerily like a national culture.

Malaysia’s second generation will forever be branded the “NEP generation”, after the New Economic Policy under which they had to grow. Gen2 was incubated by Gen1 as an economic solution to their nation’s political problems.

The NEP specifically targeted them and only them – it was instituted in 1970 and meant to hold the fort for 20 years, or just long enough to boost into play a single generation of educated and worldly new Malay or Bumiputera technocrats, administrators and entrepreneurs.

After having had to hold that fort for twice as long as they had expected, however, many inmates had come to consider it indistinguishable from a prison.

For by the time the NEP was due to expire, it had been taken over and turned into a roaring tiger of national development by the singular administration of former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Even by 1990, that tiger had become all but impossible to dismount. Under Mahathir’s command, it became a beast of national burden.Today it is old and frail, though even more intransigent and cantankerous in infirmity.

As race-based parties in senescence grow ever more beholden to their lunatic fringes, the hoary old communalism institutionalised by Gen1 looks ludicrously unlike the nation any of its present constituents would wish it to be.

Communalism has become confining, limiting and stultifying, and Malaysia’s third generation is fleeing the fortress, leaving the fulminants within to the comfort zones of their preferred world-views.

Gen3’s world is simultaneously wired up and wireless; real and ethereal. They are mobile and worldwide. Born of Gen2, they do not remember Gen1, knowing only the Malaysia that began with the New Economic Policy and the Mahathir Administration.

A Malaysian citizen born on the day Dr Mahathir assumed top office would have been of voting age when he stepped down. This amounted to a revolution deeper and more transformative than the otherwise pivotal race riots following the 1969 general election, the nation’s third.

Now, after 10 more such exercises – and with the 12th and 13th having again delivered the fateful verdict of the 3rd by removing both the ruling party’s simple majority of the popular vote as well as its two-thirds majority of parliament – Malaysian politics is in the throes of a makeover.

Token efforts are being made at maintaining the facades of yore, but they ring ever more hollow. While the creaky old political buses try to pimp up for new passengers, the skies are thick with multitudes of low-cost carriers flying in all directions on the antigravity devices of modern media.

The dazzle and noise of it all may drown out the very particular message Gen3 is sending out – now in rap, song, text, status update and viral tweet, but it is the self-same message Gen1 knew, heard, and anticipated at the outset: this may be one nation but it comprises many peoples, each with an equal right to be here and a growing determination to exercise it.

But Malaysia’s Children of the Third Generation now reveal what divided polities grow into. They are now separated so widely as to make “equal” a meaningless concept.

Half a century of communal politics, vernacular education and deliberately discrete socio-economic management did not bring home that message as literally and decisively as youths barely out of their teens singing out their truths on YouTube and Facebook.

Rehman RashidAfter 50 years, at this crucial advent of its third generation, Malaysia is three times more populous than when Gen1 worked out their concord, with a gross domestic product 100 times greater.

Certainly, Gen2 did what it was supposed to do, building on their predecessor’s successes and failures alike to make of Malaysia what it is today.

Now it is down to Gen3, either to break the Third-Generation Curse and keep this going in its present form, or call a curse a blessing, “embrace change”, tear it all down and start over as the next Gen1.

Either way, Malaysia has always been and will always have to be a mansion of many rooms. We will be needing many more in the next 50 years. – September 2, 2013.

* Rehman Rashid is a veteran journalist and author of “A Malaysian Journey”.

21 thoughts on “Can the Third Generation save Malaysia?

  1. What crap is this fella talking about using bombastic language. The Third Generation are the inheritors of the NEP. They are too feeble to be the agents for change. Malaysia is doomed. It won’t take 50 years to be a failed state. The signs are already there.

  2. A narrow education syllabus politicised on nationalism, easy crutches, doctrinarian of Malay hollow supremacy, devoid of technical skills of modern times, will ensure a nation that remains capsulated within a dysfunctional national growth.

  3. I told my son of 30 years that when he was 8 that I followed advice to deposit RM20,000 into a Fixed deposit in Singapore but 2 years later closed the account when rate was SD$1=RM1.80. Today, SD$1=RM2.55. So I said.. Go to earn SD$, as many thousands of Malaysian do, esp the Johorians. Daily on the causeway, can see the happy faces of Malaysian motorists/ bikers heading from Singapore to JB.

    • @SiangMalam September 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm AND @SiangMalam September 3, 2013 at 3:37 pm,

      SiangMalam, probably I could classify myself as a member of the G2 just touching my early teens at Merdeka. As you suggested, just by taking “…a serious look, at the faces of current generation leaders like Hishammuddin Hussein, Mukhriz Mahathir, Shafie Apdal, Zahid Hamidi, Nazri Aziz, Ahmad Maslan,..” I personally do not have any exceedingly doubtful reasons to not hope for better future for Malaysia with their political participation. As a G2 member, I may be unfair to place that hope on them for the G3 members to accept. My 2 grown-up sons, as G3s, agree with my views but I suspect they might be trying to be too polite to me and the fact that both of them are not politically active might introduce more inaccuracy in this judgement. Having said that, if they are really not good enough, you can be sure that they will be removed from their perches in the future – again more and more the views of the G3 members should be given more weight.

      Now in lighter veins, many people have been bitching about Najib resorting to costly foreign “con–sultants” for Public Relations but what harm will it do to outsource the Public Relations effort of UMNO to the cheaper local volunteers “…the likes of Zulkifli Noordin, Ibrahim Ali, Ummi Hafilda Ali, Ezam Mohd Noor, Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Nallakaruppan…”??? Please note SiangMalam that these characters, for their own personal reasons, perform their routines in favour of UMNO and not for the Government.

  4. Why being so pessimistic forecasting doom and a failed state status? And why indeed even believe in this superstition of the 3rd Generation Curse? If the so-called Gen1 was good enough to build this nation and give rise to this Gen3, with the currently higher sophistication available to them, the Gen3, given the chance & trust, will do much better. If the going gets tough, the tougher Gen3 will get going.
    Gen3 is imbued with a quick and easy money culture. That is why we have problems.–Din Merican

  5. what separates family businesses which are prone to the 3d Gen curse vs enduring corporations (to borrow Rehman’s very strained analogy) is institutional culture: discipline, hard work, and yes, professionalism – accountability, etc. Public companies can raise money from the public markets which (largely) impose those values while punishing those which don’t comply. At least, so the modern theory of capital markets goes.

    Is Malaysia more like a family business run by hereditary management, or is it more like a dynamic, robust public corporation which is accountable to its public stakeholders?

    See, Malaysia is both and neither. Malaysians will to seize the moment and shape the nation in our own image. The real question is, will we like what we see in the mirror?

  6. Malaysia is doom already…unless the people votes out this BN craps….but is just a hope…might be true for another 50 years….

  7. Marvellous poetry!!! I enjoy the lovely crystalline narrative from the retinal expression of a licensed journalist who is an unpurturbed apolitical citizen. It would be nice to listen to his poetic illustration of the pre-Merdeka colonial purposeful spatial juxtapositioning of the early inhabitants (indigenes and exotic communities) of Malaya that had culminated in the current chaos.
    I am a strong believer in Rehman’s final statement (a good principle of social justice to follow) that there is enough space for everyone. Each individual has to perform his/her roles as responsible citizen. Needless to say a just and transparent government with passionate adjucators who listen to and help provide the needs of all, irrespective of colour, creed, religion or even nationalities. Malaysia is a beautiful country in every sense of the word and making it a more beautiful and peaceful place to live should be an imperative for all Malaysians.

  8. What this article really means is that the Malays still know that they can’t continue as is. The issue really is how fundamental to change – that is far far harder than being critical of old. Lies are too easily told with dysfunctionality. Leadership less probable without a crises especially in a sea of mediocrity..

    No, change not possible without a crash in Malaysia. Its far too late..Thanks to Mahathir – ultimately a curse on the Malays

  9. How about the lost generation who can’t string a proper sentence in English? They are in the top echelon of government service and supposedly representing the people and government of Malaysia. Many are in the Foreign Ministry, and Education Malaysia posted all over the world.

  10. You are on target.

    As what the Chinese said “Wealth cannot last for 3 Generation (Gs)”

    1) 1st G work hard to get wealth.

    2) 2nd G with rotten NEP will benefit all the 1st class cronies and finish all the wealth (corruption and abuse of power)

    3) 3rd G with bankrupt the nation (with 600 billion of debt). At the same time, most so called 2nd class bumiputera is fighting for survival in getting university placement and government job.(fight each other for free lunch/dinner)

    4) 4th G will start all over again. Expected to be 2020 and 2nd class will become beggar to 1st class cronies.

    If you cannot change the Government then let it bankrupt and correction will take place.

    Change only took place when the nation bankrupt.
    Hidup Cronies

  11. Aliefalfa… take a look, a serious look, at the faces of current generation leaders like Hishammuddin Hussein, Mukhriz Mahathir, Shafie Apdal, Zahid Hamidi, Nazri Aziz, Ahmad Maslan, and tell me honestly, you think we have hope from these fellas?

  12. Aliefalfa… when a government has to outsource its Public Relations works from the likes of Zulkifli Noordin, Ibrahim Ali, Ummi Hafilda Ali, Ezam Mohd Noor, Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Nallakaruppan…. tell me lah, got hope kah?

  13. Malaysia has fallen very far behind its neighbouring countries. In the 1980s, the country’s status is at par with Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and look at what has happen today, All these countries have gone way ahead, and Malaysia has indeed moved backwards, still depending on foreign labour (mostly unskilled) to produce low value added products. The 3rd generation Malaysian, with sub-standard education, many are stuck with low pay and reluctant/unable to upgrade (low pay high living cost), while those capable ones have moved elsewhere for a better future (braindrain). All we can see now is worsening social problems, inability to make ends need, escalating living cost, and the spiral effects. Therefore, does this country has any hope?????????

  14. Change will come when hand outs get less. Already BRIM benefit those with income less than 3k so most orang muda di bandar dapat kosong?

    Change will come when G cannot employ more; as we are the top if not the top highest civil service ratio.

    Change will come when our oil deplete to service our debts.

    Change will come from Malays wanting change. Non-Malays have already learned to be resilience long before. They depended on hard work and connection abroad. They have learn to be at home while abroad. They have been moving abroad since the 70s. Their next generation is abroad. Many are just ordinary people because during their times, it would be better to remain here if you are rich, then you need not be ordinary.

  15. What Gen 3 are we talking about? Even Proton stop at Gen 2.
    Gen 3 don’t know history and have never experienced hardship like those in Gen 1. The trying times undergone by Gen 1 ensured that their off springs will have a better life and they made the sacrifice. Gen 2 like aliealfa were spoonfed and BTNed so much so they can’t think for themselves. Thus giving rise to a spoiled Gen 3, a Gen that have lost values, a Gen that is brought up in easy living, a Gen that is so kiasu and non caring for the underprivileged, underserved, and the poor. Gen 3 don’t know about Muhibbah and Gotong Royong, and the spirit of tolerance and acceptance of differences. To the Gen 3 the future is “who cares”
    Ang Hae, never realised that you are durian crazy. –Din Merican

    • “Gen 2 like aliealfa were spoonfed and BTNed so much so they can’t think for themselves”, and that’s part of a comment @Ang Hae Durian September 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm. To correct him, I have never been to the BTN which I heard about only through the various blogs lately. Whether Ang Hae Durian believes me is not my problem and the fact that my opinions differ from his do not indicate that I can’t think for myself. He also seems to be dismissive of the G3 members’ merits & capabilities – surely they can’t all be the “who cares” type. I wonder whether Ang Durian is in the G2 in the contexr of this topic.

  16. DDM yes I’m a crazy durian and durian crazy whichever way you look at it. Lets have a durian feast next time i’m in town.

    Aliealfa claims he’s a Gen 2 and never been BTNed. Perhaps he forgot about Pak Lah, Shagul Hamid, and others. All are BTN people.

    It doesn’t matter whether I believe you but try to convince us here. What you are expressing leads me to believe you know more that what you are prepare to say. Gen 2 about 64/65 years young?. Experienced person but guess living a comfortable life and see no wrong. Good for you.

    For the rest of us Gen 2 here, we were fortunate to live through the Premiership of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, Mahathir Mohamad, Pak Lah and now Najib. The first three saw great progress for Malays and Malaysia, the last 3 were more embroiled in controversies.
    Yes, my friend. we shall enjoy the Mountain King variety. It is the best. After that we puasa for 3 days. Salams and see you soon.–Din Merican

    • @Ang Hae Durian September 4, 2013 at 8:58 am,

      OK, Durian, if you place the G2 as ” Gen 2 about 64/65 years young?”, then Din Merican and I are shifted up to the G1 grouping. That perhaps was the reason why I missed selection to attend the BTN, just like Din Merican too, being considered as too old then & over-saturated with incorrigible bad habits as to have any hope to be saved through any indoctrination. Do I convince you now as you challenged me thus: “It doesn’t matter whether I believe you but try to convince us here. ” Now however, my claim will become questionable again if Din Merican is to come out later claiming yes indeed he took the BTN course!

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