1Malaysia. There are merits to the philosophy behind it — after all, who doesn’t wish for national unity, and for genuine respect and fair treatment between all groups in Malaysia.
The latest poll by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research showed that while 76% of the public surveyed knew of 1Malaysia, 39% of respondents said they did not know what it meant. Most, however, thought it had to do with national unity, with 23% saying that it “promotes unity between the races”, and 18% saying it was about “fairness and equality among the races”.
But the devil is always in the details. When 1Malaysia was unveiled after Datuk Seri Najib Razak became premier on 3 April 2009, it was questioned by some Malay Malaysians who feared the loss of privileges, dismissed by others as hypocritical, and analysed to bits by political observers.
To help spread the meaning of 1Malaysia, the government has engaged the help of a non-governmental organisation, Tabung Amanah Muhibah (Tamu). In English, Tamu is the Goodwill Trust Fund, says its executive director Datuk Mohamed Dahan Abdul Latiff.
One may scratch one’s head at the idea of using an NGO to assist directly in a government agenda. But Dahan told The Nut Graph in a 3 July 2009 interview ahead of Najib’s 100 days in office, that it’s really not so odd. He also explains how Tamu will spread awareness about 1Malaysia.
TNG: How did Tamu come about?
DahanDahan: Tamu started last year but was dormant. It was set up by a group of concerned individuals interested in the country. The core objective is improving race relations and unity. Now all this is under 1Malaysia, the new rallying cry.
[In] our dialogues with people, they do ask us what 1Malaysia really means. They are confused by the opposition DAP which says it is copying their Malaysian Malaysia concept.
So, what is it?
It is to unite the races. It is more of a unifying slogan to unify the people to think as one nation. Our diversity is embraced as a strength and asset of the country. We’d like everybody to think and act as one nation. This is not a prime minister thing. This is for the people to embrace.
Under [former prime minister Tun Dr] Mahathir [Mohamad] there was this phrase “Bangsa Malaysia” but it was a struggle to communicate because to the Malay [Malaysian], the word “bangsa” means race. But to the people who coined it, they wanted it to mean “nation”.
So there was a mindset problem. So under 1Malaysia, we talk about rakyat or the people, rather than bangsa to get away from semantics and the mindset problem.
1Malaysia is seen as a threat to Malay Malaysian privileges by some, and as hypocritical to others simply because of affirmative action favouring Malay Malaysians.
There is an economic aspect to 1Malaysia and this is being questioned. Does it mean you do away with affirmative action for the bumiputras? But if we look closely at Datuk Seri Najib’s explanations, he has replied to many questions about what is 1Malaysia. He has explained that it is based on the Federal Constitution, so all the important provisions, like Articles 3, 4, and 153, which touch on Malay royalty, Islam as the official religion, and affirmative action — all these are not affected. They remain as fundamentals of the country and as core policies of the government.
1Malaysia is not something new. It is a continuation of all the previous prime ministers’ objectives, except that each PM had his own way of achieving unity.
Click here to listen to a fuller answer (length: 0:49)
[Summary: If the final objective of 1Malaysia is to be a developed country by 2020, then the economic aspect must be taken care of. And for that to take place, the country must liberalise the economic sector.]
NEP is still there except the way it is implemented is different now. The role of the Foreign Investments Committee is almost non-existent now, and it has been replaced with Ekuinas or Ekuiti Nasional Bhd.
We have resorted to Ekuinas rather than use the FIC to ensure that bumiputra holding power [of equity] will remain in their hands rather than [having it sold off for] a quick buck.
We can accept that Malay Malaysian privileges are protected by the constitution, but what are the realities of implementing 1Malaysia when one group is favoured over the rest?
I think the constitution has to remain the bedrock of the country. The moment you tinker with it, it’s very, very dangerous because there will be reactions and we may get something we didn’t bargain for.
[From a bumiputra perspective], we can ask why [the people who just own] 20% of the economy [are being questioned so heavily for wanting more].
While we tend to look from our own perspective, we should also look from the other side. The Malay [Malaysian] in the kampung [feels] very much entitled to receive help. [For him or her], it is the duty of the government to help.
I also recognise, [as] a lot of us recognise, that this business of cronyism really spoilt the country. [Cronyism] should be history. Now, it really should be defined by who needs help the most.
The way to translate 1Malaysia is through eight common values. Firstly, a culture of excellence in whatever you do. Then, resilience and sustainability to face challenges as a person or as a nation, for example, the current global economic turmoil. Thirdly, humility, which is very much in keeping with the Asian way.
Fourthly, acceptance. We must accept that when a certain race is behind, the ones who are ahead must accept that there is a need to help those who are behind. We must bridge the gap and address inequalities. Acceptance should include that certain policies and programmes must be tailored to address inequalities and it should not be regarded as favouring a certain race.
We are now talking about needs, rather than race. So there must be acceptance that certain policies and programmes will favour the people who are behind. If the people who are behind happen to be the majority from a certain race, it is just a coincidence.
Then, loyalty, not to a certain leader or group, but loyalty to the whole country. You must put the country in a good light, you must be proud of the country. Sometimes, opposition politicians in their zeal, they paint a bad picture of the government.
Meritocracy is also a core value. It doesn’t conflict with affirmative action. Meritocracy takes into consideration many other factors like the provisions under the constitution. Even the Malay [Malaysian] wants meritocracy, in the sense that even if you tender out a certain work which is normally only given to Malay companies because it’s classified as such, it must not only go to a certain Malay company but should be tendered out to other Malay companies and the one that is most qualified should get the job.
Then, education, which is instilling the love for knowledge and learning how to think. And integrity. If you combine all these eight values, these define 1Malaysia not just as a political slogan but as an intellectual aspect that builds the values of a nation.
But why can’t government policies just state that help is for all who are poor without mentioning race?
In Najib’s speeches, he always talks about helping everybody. He doesn’t talk about a single race. He has been avoiding that very strongly.
Why does the government need an NGO to explain all this?
It used to be that the government thought they could do everything on their own through the political party system or through the civil service. No longer so. Civil society is a very recognised movement in all countries now.
But with Tamu carrying a government agenda, it doesn’t look like a true NGO.
Click here to listen to a fuller answer (length: 0:32)
[Summary: We believe in working with the government closely, because we will get more results by working closely rather than being antagonistic. The government is powerful, you know. Of course there are NGOs who want to challenge the government. There is a role for that and we must have such NGOs.]
Does Tamu have Key Performace Indicators? How will you measure Tamu’s success, whether people understand and accept 1Malaysia?
I suppose the basic measure would be zero racial conflict, but that is not realistic. Generally, [we can measure] through writings in the media and the blogs, when the pattern of writing indicates that people are not thinking about race anymore. But I think that it is very difficult to measure the success of 1Malaysia.
Click here to listen to a fuller answer (length: 1:20)
[Summary: One way to do it is to look at the writing in the media and blogs. And in the way political parties talk. whether they say they are fighting for one particular race or for everybody. And one big measure is, of course, when there are no more race-based parties, when every party in this country is multiracial. That will be the day when we can say that Malaysia has become one nation. If we can agree on one schooling system, I suppose that would be another measure. Others would be to celebrate each other's festivals and when we see mixed-race housing estates.]
You mentioned the media. What about Utusan Malaysia? There are complaints that it is racist. Doesn’t it conflict with Najib’s 1Malaysia? Is it the government’s place to reign in the newspaper?
Click here to listen to a fuller answer (length: 1:08)
[Summary: Utusan has always been regarded as a Malay paper, the voice of the Malay [Malaysians]. That’s already their brand. ]They are the voice of the Malay [Malaysians), they even challenge the government. By the same token, I've been told that even the Chinese (-language) papers, in the eyes of the Malay [Malaysians], can be chauvinistic. That’s why Datuk Najib came up with 1Malaysia, we move away from that.]
What can Tamu do about politicians who play the race card?
No, very dangerous for us to get involved with that. Because they’ll say, who are you, you are an NGO. Don’t tell us politicians what to do.
As a strategy, we don’t want to be antagonistic with anybody. There are not enough days in a year to spend antagonising people. To me, politicians who are not going the correct way, let other people handle it. There are already so many other politicians attacking them. It’s not for Tamu to … We are supposed to be an NGO that brings people together.
Is there a timeframe for this project?
No, 1Malaysia is a work in progress.
How much funding do you get from the government?
Not enough, very little. I cannot reveal. When we need money, we’ll ask.
You mentioned that you don’t think it’s Tamu’s place to get involved with politicians who play the race card, or to engage racist media, or to talk about the constitution. So what specific measures if not those do you think should be taken?
Our main job is to have lots of dialogues, and dialogues with the races involved.
But out of those dialogues, what specific things should people do?
We are thinking of setting up an academy for unity. Just like there’s an academy for integrity.
Is that the best way? To institutionalise or force something that should be in one’s upbringing.
That’s why we should go for the younger generation, for mindset change and dialogue. That’s why I don’t want to go for politicians. Tamu as a civil society organisation doesn’t want to get into the political sphere where we are not welcomed.
Let us talk about having better citizens, more harmonious relationships, more joint venture projects between the races, have schools where people can integrate.
I don’t want to comment. I think things are being sorted out there. Let’s be positive.