Every Malaysian prime minister since the launching of the Rukun Negara (national philosophy) against the backdrop of the New Economic Policy in the 1970s has come out with his own vision statement.
What this has done has been to devalue the Rukun Negara.
Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad came up with his own slogan “Bersih, Cekap, Amanah” (clean, strong and trustworthy) for his government, only to fall on his face when confronted by the many scandals that rocked his first tenure as PM.
This was followed by his Vision 2020. Well-crafted by a think tank, the blueprint was just mouthed by Mahathir. His subsequent conduct revealed how little he believed in its key goals and how little he allowed these to shape the national agenda. So, again, these vision goals only remained as good intentions that have barely seen the light of day!
Mahathir’s successor, Abdullah Badawi, came out with the “Islam Hadhari” (Civilisational Islam) slogan, which was much frowned upon by Mahathir himself.
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Then we had 1Malaysia, outlined by Abdullah’s successor, Najib Razak. This was followed by the “Shared Prosperity” vision [under the previous shortlived Pakatan Harapan administration] and then by Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s “Keluarga Malaysia” (Malaysian Family).
All these have been vision statements made by leaders who showed scant commitment to the ideas they espoused. We now have the latest in the series of dreams that have been placed before the people of Malaysia.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s “Malaysia Madani” (Civil Malaysia) with its vision of creating a civilised, skilled and inclusive society, stresses six core values – sustainability, prosperity, innovation, respect, trust and compassion.
The task is challenging, as it not only focuses on the problem-solving process but also the creation of a peaceful and prosperous future aimed at fulfilling the potential of the people.
Having articulated these ideals, Anwar will be judged on how he puts these ideas into practice – or will he, like his predecessors, be just a mouthpiece for great ideals?
Anwar aims to strengthen the economy and finance, legislation, institutions, education, community building and urban and rural culture. These areas are the focus of his thrust.
The significant difference is that Anwar brings his own belief and commitment to this dream.
Over the last 100 days, we have seen several actions and initiatives spanning these areas. Being a pragmatic politician, Anwar probably realises there will be occasions when he will have to adapt – to balance these goals with the survival instincts of his “unity government”.
If the focus of his vision does make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, then many will realise Malaysia Madani is more than just hot air. In this regard, Anwar’s government must stem the soaring cost of living, ensure that the fight against corruption extends to people in high places, and improve the integrity and global standing of the nation.
The tone from the top has to be singularly clear, specific and consistent. Malaysia Madani must shape the agenda, and the people must be able to ‘feel’ its key tenets like respect, trust and compassion enveloping them.
The vision must lift the nation above ethnic identity and cement the creation of a cohesive society.
Could Anwar’s own personal experiences be an aspect that makes him different from his predecessors? He aspires to walk a tightrope, and we can wish him well by supporting his endeavours, while being compassionate about his rationalisations, provided these do not cut at the roots of our democracy and institutions.
As a trading nation, Malaysia needs the world. For the world to embrace us, we need to have a progressive mindset that respects and values diversity. We must become a nation with which the world is ready and willing to invest and work.
To achieve this, we have to review our educational priorities, enhance our civil service and improve the effectiveness of our delivery systems. A stable “unity government” with clear reform priorities will contribute positively to this effort.
Anwar will have to walk the talk and provide the leadership that inspires his government and the people if he is to leave a mark that makes a difference.
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
11 March 2023