Malaysia’s Need for a New National Narrative

September 2, 2013

Malaysia’s Need for a New National Narrative

by Murray Hunter
Friday, 30 August 2013


“The underlying message of GE-13 in terms of both the popular vote and seat results could be interpreted as a general wish for all to work together regardless of race, color or creed. This is where the new Malaysia could be born, where justice and equity could be achieved. Malaysians must move onto new truths and reconciliations in the belief of one nation Malaysia. Otherwise Malaysia will continue to be divided with increasing frictions”—Murray Hunter.

The ritualistic month-long celebrations of Merdeka (independence) activities in Malaysia have largely lost their meaning. Discussion about the roles that different groups played in the road to independence has largely been rewritten to support the current rulers of today.

The celebration of August 31, the day Malaya gained independence from the British as the major national day, to take place tomorrow, seems to exclude the aspirations of Sabahans and Sarawakians, where on 16th September 1963 they joined Malaya and Singapore in the union called Malaysia. Groups like the Communist Party of Malaya, which fought and lost many lives against both the British and Japanese, are almost totally excluded from the narrative.

This is all occurring in an environment desperately in need of a narrative of inclusiveness. The current Merdeka celebration suppresses the generation of new ideas and a national creativity that could spring up from an environment of inclusiveness. The celebrations have severed any empathetic connections between Malaysia’s various elements within the rich and diverse history of the country, replacing it with a single narrative one would find on a cellulose film like “Tanda Putera,” which purportedly describes the events of 1969 which led to the country’s worst race riots and which even before its release has kicked off a major controversy over Chinese-Malay relations.

A whole generation now exists who behave according to the beliefs and values incorporated within this narrow narrative. This denies the cascade of alternative realities and their accompanying narratives which stifles national creativity and evolution that Malaysia needs to face the challenges before it. The celebrations fail to incorporate any evolving aspirations that would promote and enhance the semblance of national unity.

Ironically under the Mahathir years, a strong national narrative existed which at the time appeared to be shared by middle-class society. Malaysia in the 1980s and early 1990s had a deep sense of national pride where any senses of inferiority were thrown out of the window with the catch cry of Malaysia Boleh (Malaysia can). Many people at the time believed it was the best country to live in. Almost 25 years on these feelings have been replaced with a sense of despair over law and order, corruption, religious intolerance and self-indulgence.

The fact that Malaysia has many domestic issues to solve and that its place in the world is slipping away, according to many international rankings, is largely out of the national discussion and public agenda. Rather it appears division is in everybody’s best interests, from school administrations right up to the highest echelons of government.

Malaysia has lost that true spiritual unity between people that was the catalyst that brought independence in the first place, first with the British during the 1950s and then between the parties that made up the Malaysian union in 1963.

What is missing today are aspirations about the purpose and dreams the country was founded upon during the struggle for independence, and subsequent search for its identity as a nation. Malaysia as a nation is yet to realize that diversity has a spiritual unity about it. Suppress it and the national narrative becomes one without optimism for a just and equitable society.

The current national narrative is one captive under the old traditional caste system with little relevance to the needs of contemporary society. Consequently the Malaysian mind is a prisoner of this paradigm, unlikely to break free to enable an enlightened society.

The rulers have felt insecure with their own values, preferring to adopt a neocolonial development paradigm of unquestioned growth and development and profiteering. Development has been a game for the elite, without any questioning of this occidental paradigm. Greed and intolerance have developed into two of the most important post-Merdeka qualities.

This has been at a great cost to the development of any sense of shared spiritualism about the country. Malaysia is in need of the qualities of compassion, tolerance, mercy and forgiveness as the assumptions behind any national development agenda. This is where the universal values of Islam are important and where the true sense of an Islamic state really exists. Islam must be viewed as a way to enhance the quality of society rather than a tool to control society.

The banning of books, the demolition of buildings and the suppression of many practices is causing the cream of society to flee. Repression through brute force has cost the country dearly. Crony capitalism and corruption are keeping Malaysia in the relative dark ages. A static view of the economic pie lowers any national sense of vision. This parochial thinking is preventing any vision of a progressive and prosperous country in the coming decades, which may actually force Malaysia to become a slave to the new emerging world order.

Malaysia must find its own dream rather than adopting those of other nations. The aspirations of multimedia super corridors, Cyberjaya and biotechnology clusters are the stuff of other peoples’ dreams, preventing the creation of something that could be uniquely Malaysian.

Many groups are dispossessed and have no part in the national narrative. Rather capitalistic greed entrenched within so-called development projects continue to bypass the poor and needy. Malaysia is not only divided by race but by socioeconomic class, taking the country further away from any notion of a single Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian nation).

History has been written by those who have dominated society. Malaysians have been blinded by the political paradigm created by those who rule, preventing people from seeing new possibilities. This history doesn’t match contemporary aspirations.

The evils of this progress will be felt by future generations who will have to pay dearly when picking up the pieces of a destitute and stripped environment that others before them have ravaged.

As UMNO, the ruling party, goes back into the shell of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay superiority), the language of intolerance and inequality will continue and maintain a divided country. This ignores the needs of a rapidly changing society, which will almost certainly bring further friction where the illusion of harmony may come to an abrupt end.

The current divisions within UMNO are serving the interests of a select few who can dictate the agenda. This will prevent UMNO learning how to reengage its traditional constituency and reform itself in the spirit of Merdeka.

At the same time, the popular vote in the last election strongly indicates that the majority of people are looking for some form of genuine change within society. But the election was really just a hope or even fantasy that any outcome would actually bring change of any significant nature. Real change could not occur as all the parties involved within the political process are institutionalized.

Any real change requires a complete rebirth of ideas and new processes to accompany them. This requires a totally frank national dialogue in the spirit of accepting diversity in the spirit of those people who worked together to achieve Merdeka more than 50 years ago.

One may have to question the results of the political system as being an occidental outcome where a Malaysian solution is required. The Westminster system supports an adversarial system of government and opposition. Maybe the Malaysian political process should be much more consultative, like it once was. National unity coalitions may serve better than the current adversarial system of government and opposition. It’s time to explore these possibilities for the sake of Malaysia’s future.

Policy must be looked at through apolitical eyes, consensus and bi-partisanship. This is more the Malaysian way, where this new sense of national unity would also help develop this elusive or even mythical ‘Malay unity’ that many are seeking. Malaysia is not yet a large enough country where it can afford to divide its administrative talent between government and opposition. All hands are needed on the deck of government for Malaysia to prosper.

The underlying message of GE-13 in terms of both the popular vote and seat results could be interpreted as a general wish for all to work together regardless of race, color or creed. This is where the new Malaysia could be born, where justice and equity could be achieved. Malaysians must move onto new truths and reconciliations in the belief of one nation Malaysia. Otherwise Malaysia will continue to be divided with increasing frictions.

This new rebirth requires a scrapping of the current race-based political system, something often talked about. Race-based idealism must be replaced with policy-based idealism, where governments work upon a platform based on consensus. Ritual must be replaced with principled pragmatism with ample social discussion on how Malaysia should be shaped for the future. That is a fragile goal indeed.

(Murray hunter is an Australian academic and development specialist working in a Malaysian university)

16 thoughts on “Malaysia’s Need for a New National Narrative

  1. Murray Hunter is not a Malaysian and despite his specialist qualifications in development & being exposed to a Malaysian university environment, his prescriptions are not necessarily appropriate to the majority of Malaysians. Since when had we implemented a caste system in Malaysia or the government having to consult the Opposition in its governance & administration as he seemed to suggest? But he has the rights to have his opinions.
    There is a kind of a caste system in Malay society, like it or not. It takes the form of cronyism and nepotism ala UMNO. Why cant the government consult the Opposition on national issues. You can’t simply does ignore 57 per cent of voters it represents.

    Look at Murray’s suggestions carefully. The fact is that he is a non-Malaysian is irrelevant. Ideas and suggestions are color, race, or nationality blind. Your thinking is outmoded.–Din Merican

  2. Malaysia will be left behind….and to be change look impossible if Ketuanan Melayu is the umnoes main motto…and the rurals are easily bought thro’ BR1M..and too much dependent from Government Aids Handouts….too naive of this writer..

  3. Putting truth in perspective, indeed it was true that our batteries were charged by the ole goat. For that we have to give credit when due. We became the boleh land going to the poles, scaling the peaks and sailing round the world. The rgt was strong and was at one time about 2.5:$ and 1.75:$A etc etc. We had surplus. There was money politics no doubt but not at the scale of today’s corruption and spending spree. The old goat brought back English into maths and science (today the khairy idiot petitioned to revert them back to BM). He wouldn’t dare to have a FLOM.

    Then the Asian contagion effect came and we started to erode till today.

    With UmnoB GA next month, many matinees will be offered and taken. Watch for l froggies in UmnoB hopping about in search of safe haven before they become baits for haruan.

    If the ole goat wants to redo Bersih, Cepat Amanah II as a new national narrative, would we try him again? I would think its 50:50 and that is very good meaning 50% of Pakatan people would vote for that and the ole goat popularity might instantly hit 74% of all Malaysians.

    We better watch out and better not cry when that happen.

    • @matthew-goldman September 3, 2013 at 12:47 am,

      I would give Najib a 90:10 chance of retaining the UMNO Presidency and hence the national Premiership. There is no other clear challenger & Tun Mahathir is just too old with too much cumbersome baggage to slug around.

  4. How do you have a narrative on inclusiveness with those whose idea of inclusiveness is subjugation and assimilation? Face it, that is what the hold-outs from breaking from UMNO/BN think. They are unwilling to subject themselves to the vagaries of fairness.

  5. Strange, it’s as though Mat Salleh living in our midst can see things clearer than most of us. And certainly they dare to speak out too.
    The caste system in India has officially been abolished. But in reality it is thriving. Here in Malaysia there is a caste system of our own. Like its Indian cousin, it is thriving and perhaps killing andntorturing our compatriots too.

  6. Sometimes it takes a non Malaysian to see our shortcomings as we Malaysians are often blinded by our ketuanan that we don’t realize our weaknesses or more often we are in denial.

  7. Aliefalfa:

    There wont be status quo. We can imagine negotiations going on. I ranted before it might end with

    1. just be a puppet PM with 2 Minister Mentors and 2 DPM (Mukriz and incumbent)

    2. TDM returns to show how unity is to be done with his bag of old tricks (though he is seriously pass his use-by-date)

  8. National narrative includes sovereignty and that includes defending our rights in SCSea. We have been silent.

    TDM time, case close for Tg Pagar and Batu Putih. However his time no issue on SCS. If there were, I think he also takut. Now we see he suggested PRC join the TPPA negotiation.

    So on the table now we have TPPA and SCS; major issues which we don’t know how to move. Moreover ASEAN is disintegrated on these two issues.

  9. Aliefalfa:

    Surprisingly, my melayu friends (all claim to be Pakatan) prefer the old goat if the choice is just between najib and him. Hey, a coming to 90 vs a 60 yo. The old goat wins effortlessly. Looks like his chips are heavy. Why would ppl want a 88 yo anymore? ONE reason only. Sick of the incumbent and there is no other perceivable leaders, a sad state of choice.Betw the devil we know and the deep blue sea that we don’t, the unfortunate choice is sadly very narrow.

    • @matthew-goldman September 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm,

      OK, matthew, you sound well-informed through your social mixing, so I wouldn’t like to gamble against you for fear of losing though I prefer to stand my ground on the choice of Najib. You should look deeper into the possible motives of your Melayu Pakatan friends in prefering the old gentleman whose advancing age & delicate health could be a big liability to UMNO later and which could then de-stabilise the party that will fall as an easy prey to the Opposition. It is not because as stated by you thus: “Sick of the incumbent and there is no other perceivable leaders, a sad state of choice.”

  10. “(To aliefalfa) Your thinking is outmoded” — Din Merican

    You’re too kind. This guy’s reasoning is convoluted. His attitude xenophobic like that of his master, the Old Goat.

    • @Mr Bean September 4, 2013 at 1:32 am,

      If Din Merican has not been “too kind” as Mr.Bean said, my comments would all have been deleted from this blog. And some people, unlike Din Merican, might overlook that I ended up my posting appearing right at the top of this thread with the last sentence saying, “But he (Murray Hunter) has the rights to have his opinions.” And Din Merican allows me to share that right to an opinion no matter how “outmoded”.

      Anyway, Bean, sorry to disturb you in your late summer leave this early September.

  11. someone said, ”the division into classes is the outcome of a civilised society”.

    even among the gorillas or in a rabbit colony (as described in the book ‘Watership Down) one can observe the class or caste system. the use or the abuse of this class/caste system determines whether it benefits or undermines the society.
    the abuse naturally starts with the higher class getting greedier and greedier and using their positions and power to rob and plunder those below them. Malaysia is no exception.

    it is easy for an outsider to see what we are doing wrong. its like sitting in a stinking room but you don’t realise the stench until someone from outside comes in and tells you.

    for these umno-wallas if you are foreigner you shouldn’t comment on Malaysia; even if you are a malaysian living overseas you aren’t allowed. if you are a chinese or indian and you criticise Malaysia then you should go back to China or India. where got meaning lah?

  12. I agree with the views expressed by the Mat Salleh because as an outsider looking in he is able to see the right and wrong directions we had been taking since the early 1980s. But I have reservations about his contention that “Malaysia in the 1980s and early 1990s had a deep sense of national pride where any senses of inferiority were thrown out of the window with the catch cry of Malaysia Boleh (Malaysia can)”.

    Well, as he says that view has now changed. Why? Simply because during TDM’s 22-year reign we Malaysians were exposed to and just swallowed and digested everything put out by the government media as well as other mainstream media. It was all talk of Twin Towers, KL Tower, Putrajaya, Multimedia Super Corridor, etc. There was very little exposure to the alternate media and also the freedom to expose wrong doings – corruption, cronyism, etc. Look at what happened to Zahid Hamidi when he brought up cronyism at an UMNO gathering. Malaysia definitely owes a huge debt to TDM but at the same time who is answerable for the prevalent endemic corruption?

    Then came the era of a little openness when Tun Abdullah Badawi took over as Prime Minister. He gave us the space and all hell broke loose. If not for the loosening of the grip Pakatan Rakyat would not have garnered more than 51% of popular votes in GE13.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s