There are lessons to be emulated from how the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein sought to reunite the people after the original system broke down in 1969.
MALAYSIA’S second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein left an indelible legacy for Malaysia with his many far-sighted policies. His youngest son CIMB Group Chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak reflects on his father’s values and visions, which have remained till today.
It’s been nearly 40 years since your father’s passing. What would be some of the things which Tun Razak would perhaps be proud of if he could see how Malaysia has turned out so far?
If he could see the Malaysia of today, I think Tun Razak would be proudest about how much poverty has been eradicated and the emergence of a large Malay middle class, both of which he saw as crucial foundations of a stable and successful nation.
He would also be proud of Malaysia’s international relations - a small, non-aligned nation that has been able to progress peacefully and punch way above its weight on the global stage. He would be thrilled to see how important and powerful China is today, and how the special relationship he initiated is the envy of other nations. He was a key figure in the founding of Asean, which has been instrumental in maintaining peace and stability in the region. We must remember that in the 1960s, we had the trauma of Konfrontasi with Indonesia, we were battling communist terrorists at home and the Cold War was playing out violently not far away.
What would he likely disapprove of in modern day Malaysia?
I think he would disappointed by the fact that Malaysians are even more divided by race and religion today than in the 1970s, and that our version of parliamentary democracy has evolved into one where power is too concentrated, and the system of checks and balances do not function effectively.
What are some of your father’s personal traits which he inculcated in his sons, and which you in turn also impress upon your children?
My father had a strong sense of what is right and wrong, and he believed in hard work, dedication and leadership by example. I have tried to imitate these traits myself, and I have also tried to influence my kids to do the same by what I do and by sharing with them stories about their grandfather. You can’t impose values on kids; you can only try to encourage them.
Malaysian politics today appears to have become increasingly polarising. What can ordinary Malaysians learn from your father’s values and principles as a politician?
First and foremost, Tun Razak was selfless in his dedication to nation-building, and he never lost sight of his own moral compass and the main agenda of improving the livelihood of the people. After he found out he was dying, he worked even harder.
Tun Razak was a democrat, a firm believer in parliamentary democracy and the importance of checks and balances. In 1971, he returned power to Parliament, even though many of his advisers recommended that he continue to rule with effective dictatorial powers as head of the National Operations Council. He feared the corruption of absolute power and volunteered to be checked and balanced. As I have said elsewhere, over the years, power has become too centralised and concentrated.
As a leader, Tun Razak believed in developing talent. He identified potential leaders and worked on bringing them into the government and the party. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Tun Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz are some of those who emerged under his guidance.
If we look at Singapore and the People’s Action Party, a similar system still exists whereas we have a worrying dearth of high-calibre talents coming through in the government and Barisan Nasional.
Race and religion are emotive issues, more so nowadays unfortunately. What can we learn from TunRazak’s approach in trying to foster national unity in our multi-racial and multi-religious country?
Tun Razak realised that Malaysia was a fledgling new nation of federated states with a unique mix of races, religions and cultures. When the original system broke down in 1969, he knew we needed to recalibrate the system to cater for our own unique circumstances.
Sri Lanka also descended into violent ethnic clashes in the 1960s, yet they took years to recover, arguably because they did not recalibrate. He formed the National Consultative Council (NCC) comprising “the good and the greats” of Malaysia across the spectrum of society - politicians, NGOs, religious leaders - to debate and discuss a new system that ultimately brought Malaysia from the brink of failure to enjoy many years of stability, development and progress.
I would contend that it is time we take a similar hard look at our system as a whole. We can all see many worrying trends, not least a discernible rise in race and religion in political discourse.
In many respects, the system laid down by Tun Razak in the early 1970s is still in place, yet the New Economic Policy (NEP) was meant to only be a 20-year programme. The NEP achieved many great things, but it wasn’t perfect and was meant to be temporary. The government has talked about a new “market-friendly” affirmative action, which I think are along the right lines, but it has not progressed; perhaps because the NEP cannot be tackled in isolation.
We need a new system that caters for today’s world and today’s Malaysians. I have argued elsewhere that we need to set up the NCC2, much along the lines of Tun Razak’s NCC, to deliberate a new way forward for our nation. The NCC2 should tackle all the hard topics around race (social contract and affirmative action), religion, government checks and balances (institutional integrity), corruption, education and so on, in the context of the new world order.
It is frightening that the 21st century knowledge economy is about entrepreneurship, disruption and talent, and yet the Malaysian economy is designed to be heavily “top down” with strong government presence, and high calibre “brain drain” is our major challenge.
The preamble to the Rukunegara, which was the result of efforts by the National Consultative Council headed by Tun Razak, among others states: “guaranteeing a liberal approach towards Malaysia’s rich and varied cultural traditions.” However, nowadays we are seeing a rise of right wing religious sentiments and views in our country, with liberals being targeted. How do you view this current trend?
Extreme views and extremists always exist; the question is why are they gaining popularity? It is indeed a worrying trend and amplifies the need for a holistic review of our system. For instance, education is a big factor, but you can’t look at education in isolation from politics and economics. There are so many tough issues to debate and discuss; we cannot solve them all at once, but leaving them to fester is dangerous.
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