National unity – an inconvenient truth?


  • So Aunty, So What?
  • Wednesday, 05 Sep 2018

TWO events in recent days reminded me what is truly important to this nation.

The first was the National Day celebration on Friday in Putrajaya.

Although the euphoria over GE14 has waned, there was still enough to make me want to be part of the National Day celebration even if via my telly. So I did something I hadn’t done in years: got up early just to watch the parade.

The cameras at Dataran Putrajaya showed thousands of Malaysians who were more excited than me and had taken the trouble to line the thoroughfare to enjoy the spectacle and catch glimpses of members of the new Cabinet.

Indeed, it was deja vu to see Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali sitting with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V on the VIP grandstand.

It was also a touch surreal to see several faces we once thought impossible to see in such a setting – Cabinet members such as Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Gobind Singh Deo, Lim Guan Eng, Mohamed Sabu, M. Kulasegaran and Teresa Kok.

On the pavement, the opening and closing acts by flag-waving young Malaysians dancing in unison warmed the cockles of my heart.

I appreciated the effort to ensure all races were brought together to perform in a show of unity, emphasising the slogan: Sayangi Malaysiaku.

Yes, I do love my Malaysia, as do millions of others who were born and bred in this gracious, blessed land. That birthright is what unites us all.

And that is the key lesson to the well-being of our nation – unity.

Which leads me to the second event: the GE14-inspired movie, Rise: Ini Kalilah.

I caught it on Monday night and relived somewhat that incredible time when Malaysian history was made.

While not perfectly told and it is a story that only Malaysians can fully understand and appreciate, the movie has enough to keep its audience interested and it ultimately delivers the feel-good factor as it too reinforces the power of unity; that is, what can be achieved when enough citizens unite for a common cause.

Yet that power was never properly developed because it was politically inexpedient.

For its own political survival, especially after the 2008 GE, the Barisan Nasional government preferred to use race and religion to divide and rule the nation. That ultimately wreaked havoc on our interracial ties, as stated in local human rights group Pusat KOMAS’ Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report released in March this year.

National unity, as far can I can remember, was trotted out as important only after something bad had happened.

It took the terrible May 13, 1969, racial riots for the government to set up the National Unity Council.

The council was disbanded in 1971 and replaced by the National Unity Advisory Council, whose secretariats were the Department of National Unity and the National Muhibbah Office.

The two agencies were merged to form the National Unity Ministry in 1972. But it only lasted till 1974, when it was replaced by the National Unity Board.

The next time national unity took the spotlight was after GE13. The results showed the need to do something to reduce racial polarisation and to build a “united Malaysian nation”. That led to the formation of the National Unity Consultative Council in September 2013.

The NUCC held a series of meetings with agencies and NGOs to formulate a National Unity Blueprint. In 2014, it proposed three so-called Harmony Bills to replace the Sedition Act.

But the Act remained and the Bills became mired in controversy since they would make it mandatory for the government and all persons to promote equality and prohibit discrimination based on religion, race, birthplace, gender and disability. That was somehow anathema to the Malay agenda and the Bills went on the backburner.

It would appear the previous government saw the need for better national unity as an inconvenient truth and continued to use it for “display purposes only.”

So whither national unity in New Malaysia?

Political scientist Chandra Muzaffar, in criticising Pakatan for leaving it out in its election manifesto, wants the new government to make its stand known and emphasise the Rukunegara to show “it is serious and sincere about one of Malaysia’s foremost challenges but would have also demonstrated that it is crystal-clear about the direction we should take as a people.”

But others take a different view. Prolific online commentator T.K. Chua says: “What is the point of declaring unity as our goal when our policies, programmes and actions are doing just the opposite?”

He adds: “It is time to stop the endless declarations and slogans typical of a third world country. We can’t talk ourselves to national unity. National unity is the product of years of inclusive policies, programmes and actions.”

And that is what he wants to see in the Pakatan government – action, or in today’s jargon, walk the walk.

I take both views to be important: talk the talk and walk the walk. In our fractured nation, we sorely need to hear Pakatan leaders openly and loudly embrace national unity as a must-do KPI and then see them implement it in all their policies and actions for the long haul. Only then can we hold them to their words and judge them by their actions.

For now, Pakatan still seems dazed by its own victory and further stunned to find government machinery that Dr Mahathir says is broken.

If that is the case, Pakatan has the chance to rebuild the machinery that was abused by its predecessors and set it right. No more “divide and rule” but “one for all and all for one”!


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