A new Brand Malaysia needed

New school politics: Aspiring leaders like Wan Ahmad Fayhsal (right) and his deputy Ceasar Mandela Malakun need to find new ways to strengthen our unity, says the writer.

Serious, honest rebranding is crucial to reshape the nation and stem the rise in racism and religious bigotry as politicians stick to a stale old style of politicking.

HISTORY has shown that most youth leaders of political parties in Malaysia embark on their political career with a firebrand statement normally before and after being elected. I have personally seen this in Malaysian politics for decades, and it’s across all political divides.

This old brand of politics reared its ugly head a few weeks ago when Bersatu Youth chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal chose to make an insensitive and hard-line statement that vernacular schools should be phased out.

Soon after being elected unopposed, he played to the gallery and said these schools have purportedly failed to produce students who are nationalistic.

Rubbish, I would say. His Transport Minister and MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong was from SJK(C) Yu Hsien primary school in Tampin, Negri Sembilan, so were most of the party leaders in the past. So many others are key players in the private sector which drives the nation’s economic growth. I don’t think anyone can question Dr Wee’s nationalism or his command of the national language. In fact, he speaks better than many native speakers!

About 80,000 Malay parents chose to send their children to these schools, proving a point that quality is never an issue. Yes, I agree with some that their spoken Bahasa Malaysia leaves much to be desired although many score distinctions in the SPM examination but surely this can be worked on and improved instead of asking for their closure.

To Wan Ahmad Fayhsal and other aspiring youth leaders, I would like to remind them this is an old brand of politics. Let’s move on to find new ways to strengthen our unity with the existing systems which are in our absolute control.

Maybe they should remember that once automatic voter registration kicks in next year, more than one million youths aged between 18 and 20 will become voters. In addition, four million over-21 voters who are not registered yet will join the list automatically. And thereafter, about 500,000 will be included annually to the voters list. What these leaders say and do will shape these minds. Do not drive them to become bigots with populist statements.

When we got Independence in 1957, our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman branded Malaysia as a secular state with multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural co-existence at its best, earning global respect as among the most tolerant nations in the world. That was our Brand Malaysia.

Fast forward six decades and what we have now is a nation with some social fissures. Is anyone in power trying to treat these cracks? I am not sure, to be honest. Everything under the sun is turned into race and religious bigotry.

What we sorely need is some serious and honest rebranding to give our nation a new “Brand Malaysia”. The youth today need fresh and honest politics, no more racial chauvinism and religious bigotry. The old style of ramping up these cards have not only become stale but they cause a stink really.

Many of the politicians seem to be oblivious to the fact that the people are seriously yearning for a nation that they want to call home and be comfortable in, not feel unwanted in the land that they were born in.

Branding can be used in powerful and unique ways to bring people together for a common belief, cause, or idea. I am talking of socio-economic branding, not political. What’s happening right now is each political party branding itself in its own style although they belong to the coalition that is in power.

I know and have heard of the government and political parties spending millions on branding just to win elections. But none of them bothered to come up with a brand to unify the masses. The power of branding should be used by the powers that be to send a strong, clear and action-oriented message to influence Malaysians to think as one, act as one and treat each other with respect irrespective of their colour or creed.

I have a simple idea of what the new Brand Malaysia should look like while not taking anything out of the Federal Constitution that has been guaranteed for all Malaysians. I’d certainly go for political honesty and honour as the first target of this rebranding exercise. Why, you may ask?

Simple, I’d say. Because our elected representatives are the ones who can make or break the nation as we have not only seen in Malaysia but also in many other countries. They actually debate and pass legislations that tell us how to be law-abiding and useful citizens while they themselves keep breaking so many laws. And being a public figure, the people watch their actions all the time.

However, looking at the current performance of some in and outside the august house, what we see does not inspire us, instead it makes us wonder how they got into Parliament or state assemblies in the first place. I am not sure if they get forwards on their social media which has politicians as the butt of some really degrading jokes.

Of course a key trait here will include sticking to the party that the people voted you in. No reason or explanation can excuse them for party-hopping. If you do not agree with your party direction, just quit your seat. Here I must single out parties like MCA, MIC, PAS and DAP to an extent where their elected members do not jump parties unlike their counterparts in Sabah, Sarawak, Umno, Bersatu or PKR.

Next, I would go for personal honesty. I am afraid this requires a complete overall of our minds as Malaysians have been taught or made to believe that power, position, qualifications, honourifics and money define success. This became our culture in the last three or four decades. Everyone appeared to be in a rush to acquire these at breakneck speed, forgetting basic values.

Soon, they found that corruption was the easiest way as it was no secret that money could buy titles, degrees, power, political allegiance and social status. Paying for fake degrees, outsourcing thesis writing to ghost writers and obtaining fake online degrees from abroad became a trade for some. Some shamelessly opted for this, deciding that hard work did not pay.

Even as I write this now, a deputy minister who has been accused of having a fake degree has not responded to this allegation. Then again some ministers in the Pakatan Harapan government too were guilty of this and never had the honour to apologise and come clean.

This new Brand Malaysia must also include a deep sense of gratitude in each and every one of us for enjoying the good life in Malaysia, which is not only a blessing from the Almighty (whatever you may call Him) but a result of the blood, sweat and tears spilled by our forefathers while toiling to build this great nation. No one had a free ride I must say. All worked hard and contributed in more ways than one.

With gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives and it helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, deal with adversity and build strong relationships. Remember, we have all had teachers from all races who taught us to be good human beings while in school or college. I am till today extremely grateful to my school teachers Cikgu Azman, Mr Leong Kit Hoong and Mr S.A Lingam.

And of course, national policies that are colour blind are an integral part to make the new Brand Malaysia effective and respected globally. Notwithstanding constitutional safeguards for a certain race and religion, there may be a need for whoever is in power to think outside the box to keep Malaysian brains home. With this quality and commitment, we can surely go back to where we were decades ago.

Am I dreaming of a Utopia here? Well, maybe. But I am sure I am not the only one who wants to see this dream come true. Because I see Malaysians of all races expressing disgust at the way race and religion are currently being used shamelessly for political power.

Many are openly saying that they have given up. But I choose to be an eternal optimist.

K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own.

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