MALAYSIA Baharu was adopted as a slogan to mark the victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition at the 14th General Election on May 9 last year.
For many Malaysians, it was a historic moment to see the end of more than five decades of Barisan Nasional rule, although, for some, it was tragic to see the old and tested being replaced by the new and brash.
Understandably, the Pakatan coalition parties and their supporters saw the moment as their chance to hold the reins of power and put the country on the right track. As is normal with any new committee or administration, there would be a scrutiny of past practices as well as proclamations of fresh strategies and approaches.
The Pakatan election campaign and manifesto had targeted corruption and abuse of power by the previous regime so it was only logical that the old Malaysia be replaced by a new one, Malaysia Baru, notwithstanding the incorrect use of the word “baru”, which should be “baharu”.
“Malaysia Ba(ha)ru” has become the hope and dream of a nation that is truly democratic, fair, just and incorruptible.
From the beginning, however, some among the young and old were sceptical. Can a country really become new when it has developed out of a historical past? Is a nation not the sum total of old experiences that have built the culture and traditions of its people and coloured their multiple identities? Can all these be wiped out and replaced by the new?
For instance, how does one change the culture of giving upah (monetary reward) or bearing buah tangan (gift) as tokens of payment or gratitude for work done, or simply as a gesture of goodwill and generosity? It’s all the more baffling when foreign words such as korupsi and integriti are thrown at them when they are caught and charged.
There is a need to educate people to understand that upah is considered as makan suap (bribery) when they accept monetary and other gifts in the line of duty, especially when it is their sworn responsibility to serve the rakyat.
And the Pakatan government must catch the givers too.
Those who are sceptical of Malaysia Baharu also believe that Malaysians should not think it is the country that needs renewal in the same way that the British do not talk of having a new country every time their government changes hands.
Britain remains steeped in the tradition of justice and integrity propounded by its greatest leaders and is obstinately principled in maintaining what foreigners think are its idiosyncratic ways of managing things.
Recently, I had an altercation with a bank manager in England who refused to accept my international passport as evidence of my identity as co-holder of the account I shared with my husband for the last 30 years. The joint account bore my married name (as required under British law) while my international passport registered my maiden name. I was refused a banking transaction until I provided my marriage certificate as proof that I am the legal wife of my husband. And we have been married for close to 50 years.
While expressing my annoyance over the steadfastness of the British banking procedures, I secretly admired the bank manager for his professional integrity and politeness in handling an irate female customer. I wonder what would have happened if I had slipped a hundred pound note into my passport. Would I have been reported for attempted bribery?
The promise of a renewal thus lies in Malaysians themselves. We must become a people reborn with the strong ethical values and behaviour required in fulfilling the nation’s aspirations.
Our ideals have remained constant and consistent since independence, and hope has always been rightly placed in the quest for peace and harmony, national integration and unity, fairness, justice and equality.
What will go down in history as the tragedy of the deposed Barisan government is its betrayal of the nation’s ideals by groups of people who could not see the wood for the trees and were blinded by their obsession with material development at the expense of the spiritual.
What the Pakatan government should endeavour to achieve during its five-year term is to inculcate integrity in each and every Malaysian. Integrity contributes to the nation’s prosperity.
DATUK HALIMAH MOHD SAID
Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE)
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