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So this was 2020 … what happened to our Vision?

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Anil Netto looks at the unfulfilled aspirations of Vision 2020 outlined by its visionary though unheralded architect.

Not long before Rustam Sani passed away in 2008, I met him in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Though he was a giant of a public intellectual, Rustam, the son of the famous independent era nationalist Ahmad Boestamam, came across as modest, good-humoured and soft-spoken. He had a warm and gentle, almost impish smile and a twinkle in the eye that made him easy to like.

While chatting about politics and current affairs over drinks, Rustam mentioned in passing he crafted much of then-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Vision 2020 speech in 1991 – something few are aware of.

That took me by surprise, but in hindsight, you can almost see Rustam’s hand in the aspirations of Vision 2020. By 2020, we were supposed to be a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society, a mature democratic society. This society would be fully moral, ethical, liberal and progressive – caring and socially just with a fair distribution of the nation’s wealth. We would have a dynamic, robust and resilient economy too.

It was hardly surprising when Vision 2020, along with its notion of an inclusive Bangsa Malaysia, captured the imagination of many Malaysians in the early 1990s. On the back of that feel-good feeling and the euphoria over a booming economy, Mahathir led his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to a stunning general election triumph in 1995 – just a couple of years before things fell apart for him.

As we bid farewell to 2020, the dream appears to have faded for many of us. Rustam himself, who became a key figure in the Reformasi movement from 1998, would surely be disappointed if he were around today.

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An anniversary passed recently unnoticed: 6 December was the 30th anniversary of the passing of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

On the morning of 31 August 1957, after a heavy downpour had threatened to disrupt proceedings, Tunku’s voice pierced the silence hanging over a packed Merdeka Stadium.

Invoking the blessings of the Almighty, the country’s first prime minister expressed the hope that this nation “shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.

What would Tunku make of where we are now?

The year 2020 is also the 50th anniversary of the Rukun Negara, the national philosophy. The Rukun Negara has five goals that have not received much publicity:

  • Achieving a more perfect unity amongst the whole of society
  • Preserving a democratic way of life
  • Creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner
  • Guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions
  • Building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology

How far have we achieved all these goals and ambitions? Worryingly, we appear to have veered significantly off course, apparently taking a more ethno-religious turn. We have squandered our rich reserves of oil on futile mega-projects and massive corruption, rent-seeking and the illicit outflows of funds, culminating in the biggest global financial scandal the world has ever seen.

Today, the national debt exposure stands at RM1.3 trillion – 87.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).

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Malaysian politics, like Malaysian society itself, is fragmented, with many political parties and politicians jostling for power.

It seems we could have a new Murphy’s Law in our increasingly fragmented land: the more political parties, coalitions and defectors we have, the fewer principles in politics we can see.

Or is it the other way around? That is, the fewer principles in politics, the more parties, coalitions, defectors and selfish politicians we see crawling out of the woodwork?

If this was the year we saw a whole spate of political defectors betraying the voters’ mandate, next year could be a year of political party realignments.

But what do these parties really stand for? Whoever seizes control of Parliament and the state assemblies, what does it mean for the people? Will politicians protect vested political, corporate and special interests?

Or will they really look into the needs of the low-income group, whose situation is now worse because of the pandemic? Many have lost their jobs and are in dire financial straits. A hint of this can be seen in the government now allowing people to withdraw more of their Employees’ Provident Fund retirement savings to tide them over these tough times.

But it is not all doom and gloom. People are now more well informed than ever before. The youth are stirring and asserting their own voices.

At the ground level, friendships have been forged and mutual goodwill has prevailed, at least in the private arena. Though there will always be the shrill voices of the racist bigots and religious ultras, the real Malaysia we know is built on millions of ordinary people’s interactions at the ground level – at work, in our neighbourhoods and at social events.

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We each have a role to play in nation-building; we cannot leave it to the politicians alone. The pandemic offers us a breathing space to ponder over what kind of nation we want and how we are going to get there. We trust that the Almighty’s blessings on the nation, which Tunku invoked at independence, will inspire us to move along the path of justice, freedom and solidarity.

And so, in the wake of World Human Rights Day on 10 December, let us rededicate ourselves to building a mature democratic society that is fully moral, ethical, liberal and progressive – caring and socially just with a fair distribution of the nation’s wealth. Minus all the corruption.

Rustam would have liked that.

This is an adapted version of an article first published in The Herald, Malaysia

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