This Malaysia Day, we must return to the basics and commit to rebuilding on the foundations of liberty and justice, peace and harmony, says Tan Yew Sing.
On 16 September 1963, we began our journey full of idealism, hope and enthusiasm fired by the words of our founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj that Malaysia shall “forever be an independent and sovereign democratic State founded upon liberty and justice, ever seeking to defend and uphold peace and harmony among its people and to perpetuate peace among nations.”
On this 52nd year of our existence we must be candid enough to admit that all is not well with our beloved nation. The foundations of “liberty and justice” have been undermined by the very institutions that were supposed to safeguard and defend these principles. The independence and integrity of our esteemed institutions are being questioned on a daily basis.
The “peace and harmony” of our multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multicultural society are under constant threat. Ethnocentric and race-based politics continue to derail the process of inclusive nation building. The planned Red Shirts rally on 16 September is symptomatic of this pernicious trend. Our society is seriously polarised and social cohesion is at a nadir.
The noble aspirations of the Rukunegara to build a fair, just and inclusive society have been forgotten. Poverty and inequality is still a grim reality for many of our citizens.
Poor and low-income households comprising 65 per cent of total households in Malaysia are still trapped in the inter-generational cycle of poverty and inequality. A host of social ills associated with dysfunctional families from this stratum of our society is becoming evident. Increasing rates of substance abuse, delinquency and dropouts, child abuse, crime and mental illnesses, are clear indicators that something is amiss in our beloved nation.
Observant participants at the recent Bersih 4 rally were shocked to see many marginalised Malaysians using the side-walks and back-lanes of Kuala Lumpur as their ‘home’. This is an indictment on the conscience of our nation that is endowed with bountiful resources.
We seemed to have lost our way. And a grim sense of helplessness and hopelessness has cast a hazy gloom across the nation.
We can go on analysing ad infinitum why we have not lived up to and achieved the noble aspirations of the founders. Or why our nation is in severe distress. Or even, who is responsible for this state of affairs.
But this will not solve the serious societal issues or the despondent state of affairs.
We need to return to the basics and ask the simple question: what are the needs and aspirations of the ordinary Malaysian?
Surely it must be to have his/her basic needs of food, shelter, health, education and security met; to achieve a higher quality of life for him/her and family; to live a dignified life in peace and harmony with his/her fellow citizens and non-citizens alike; and to have a sense of belonging to this nation.
Our beloved nation is in distress. We all need to take ownership to heal her for our children and the generations to come.
Without a doubt the onus of putting the nation back on the right course is the primary responsibility of any democratically elected government. The government, as our trustee, must return to the basics and must at all times uphold the cardinal principles of good governance. The government must regain the trust of the People by truly upholding the principles of integrity, accountability, transparency and stewardship. The People expect no less.
The way forward is to eschew the old fashioned notions of power – that dominance of one group over the other is the basis of survival for any given group. The survival of Malaysia as a collective is paramount. Leveraging and synergising our unique diversity in truly inclusive ways would only benefit all our people.
We need to focus on the “similarities” that bind us as human beings and as Malaysians first, not on the “differences” that we sometimes imagine divide us. For this to happen, we all need to commit to advancing true acceptance and understanding of the history, the heritage and the tremendous potential of this wonderful and unique land we call our Home.
GBM is committed to facilitate this process of rebuilding this nation based on our 15-point charter.
We must be bold enough to face the challenges to rebuild the nation we were meant to be, for the next 50 years. For this we must return to the basics and commit to rebuilding on the foundations of liberty and justice, peace and harmony.
This National Day, we appeal to all – the government, politicians, civil society and the People – to embark on this journey of hope together, to rebuild our beloved Nation.
Tan Yew Sing is chairperson of Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM)