WHEN change came on May 9, it brought along the hope of a New Malaysia in the minds of many citizens.
My New Malaysia is actually a renewed version of Old Malaysia, the country I knew in the 1970s and early 1980s. As I remembered it, that was when Malaysians had more touchpoints and inclusiveness and less sensitivity and suspicion.
It was a time when we had a more multiracial civil service, police, armed forces and teaching fraternity.
As I wrote in my May 16 column, I was exhilarated because we seemed to have vanquished our culture of fear and showed that a change of government could be achieved without the nation breaking apart into racial violence and chaos.
For many Malaysians, New Malaysia means a post-Barisan Nasional government that will no longer use race and religion as an excuse to implement what they see as unfair laws and policies that favour bumiputras and keep out the rest.
Their hope is for a New Malaysia that is ruled by meritocracy and needs-based policies. And we were off to a good start with Lim Guan Eng being appointed Finance Minister, a highly coveted and important post that had been held by Malays since 1974.
In appointing Lim, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he wanted “quality people” and Lim had the qualifications and experience to do the job.
Dr Mahathir went further to appoint a non-Malay, Tommy Thomas, an ethnic Indian, as Attorney General, another immensely powerful post. Of course, the appointments didn’t go down well with Malay supremacy groups and nationalists. Their stock argument and protest were, as usual, based on fears that non-Malays in such key positions will be detrimental to Malay interests. And they continue to pick any issue to maintain their stance.
For these people, and there is a significant number of them, New Malaysia is merely minus the corruption and the GST; everything else is status quo.
It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want to keep the privileges, top jobs, quotas, scholarships and discounts they have enjoyed for more than 40 years and which have been granted to them simply on the basis of their race?
The deeply ironic thing is the New Malaysia many of us want isn’t even new. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak wanted it too. When he took over as Prime Minister in 2009, he sought to help all Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity, in the bottom 40% of the population in terms of household income, the so-called B40 group.
I remember how refreshing that was. With that came the New Economic model (NEM), the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) with the sweet slogan, “People first, performance now”.
The Performance Management and Delivery Unit, a.k.a. Pemandu, was set up to drive the change.
Najib even put a non-Malay in charge of Pemandu. Under Datuk Seri Idris Jala, it became the government agency everyone wanted to join. (Interestingly, Idris’ appointment didn’t attract protest even though he is a Christian Kelabit from Sarawak, possibly because of his Muslim-sounding name!)
There is also hope in New Malaysia that the Malaysian Chinese diaspora would return, bringing back talent and skills. But we had that too with something called Talent Corp, remember?
Unfortunately, despite claims of success, the transformation programmes were not felt by the people. In fact, the GTP clearly failed in fighting corruption and managing the cost of living.
After GE13, when it was Malay votes that brought victory to BN, Najib, egged on by Umno and Malay NGOs like Perkasa that never liked the new meritocracy and need-based policies, made a U-turn and went back to the “Malay first, others maybe” agenda.
We have that rare chance to reset Malaysia on a truly new path. I have no issue with a leadership that is Malay-led but I want one that is courageous and visionary enough to eliminate what has been ailing this nation for almost half a century: race-based politics and government.
If we need a model, look no further than Sarawak. If Malay nationalists insist only a Malay-Muslim can lead in Putrajaya because this is a Malay-Muslim majority nation, then going by the same argument, the Chief Minister of that state should be Dayak and Christian.
After all, the Dayak make up 44% of the population and 43% of the people are Christian. Malays and Chinese tie at 24% each and Melanau at 6.7%. Islam is practised by only 33% of the population.
Instead, the two previous chief ministers were Melanau-Muslim (Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, who ruled for 33 years) and Malay-Muslim (the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem). The present CM is also a Malay-Muslim – Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.
Why haven’t the Dayak and Christians made a huge fuss about it? Sarawak leaders have shown themselves to be truly multiracial leaders, ensuring religion is never used to divide and frighten the people. They openly take part in celebrations of the numerous communities, even if it means entering their places of worship.
That’s because in Sarawak, no one would accuse them of cahooting with the infidels, pandering to them and betraying their religion.
Now is the time for Muslim leaders in Peninsular Malaysia to also show the same mettle and not be intimidated by those who claim to be defenders of the race and faith but are really insecure, ignorant and close-minded.
When Parliament meets on Monday, July 16, we will see a Dewan Rakyat of firsts that includes a woman deputy prime minister, a Chinese Finance Minister, a Punjabi Communications and Multimedia Minister, a Kadazandusun International Trade and Industry Minister and a Lun Bawang Works Minister.
It is my hope that in New Malaysia, we will have a colour-blind government and a society that will serve all in need and choose leaders based on their ability. And in the not-so-distant future, every child regardless of ethnicity, gender and religion can dream of becoming the Chief Justice, Inspector-General of Police, Chief of the Armed Forces and yes, even Prime Minister, and no one would say it’s impossible or ridiculous.
Aunty wishes this was true: If only closed minds came with closed mouths. Feedback to email@example.com.