Figuring out One Malaysia

(The Malaysian Insider) – What is One Malaysia? This has been troubling supporters of Umno since Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak announced it in his maiden speech as prime minister nine days ago.

Opposition parties have claimed it mirrored the Malaysian Malaysia concept championed by the DAP and, before that, the PAP under Lee Kuan Yew when Singapore was part of Malaysia.

This claim has troubled Barisan Nasional politicians aiming to regroup after the coalition’s disastrous Election 2008 outing.

Today, the Umno-owned Mingguan Malaysia refuted that connotation in an opinion piece and put in perspective that One Malaysia means no one in the country will be sidelined but affirmative action policies will continue.

In not too many words, it remains faithful to the two planks of the National Economic Policy (NEP) – the eradication of poverty irrespective of race and economic restructuring that was launched by Najib’s father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein in the aftermath of the May 13 race riots.

The opinion piece headlined ‘Satu Malaysia versi sebenar’ by Awang Selamat, a pseudonym used by the newspaper’s editors, allayed fears that Najib will end the NEP and ensure equality for all.

Among others, Awang wrote, it included elements of development based on unity and integration, the people’s interests and excellence to push the country’s progress, adding he was glad when Najib denied it had anything to do with a ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ although the government would be fair to all races to transform the country.

“Awang hopes the true version of One Malaysia  is understood clearly. The affirmative policies to help the Malays who really poor and left behind (compared to other races) will continue.

“Indeed there is a need to continue the affirmative policies due to historical realities and the social contract while the government intensifies efforts to increase the quality of life for all,” he wrote.

While Mingguan Malaysia, which enjoys wide circulation in Malaysia’s rural areas where Umno still commands majority support and respect, has made its definition, it remains to be seen how Najib will put the slogan into action.

However, it is clear that the concept will not work with a top-down approach as Malaysians become more aware of the power of their vote and are willing to shop around for a political party or coalition more in tune with their desires and needs.

While the economy is at the forefront of their minds, Malaysians – particularly the young and those in the urban areas – have been clamouring for an independent judiciary, respectable police force, equal treatment and politicians who don’t speak from both sides of their mouths.

They have been demanding reforms in various government policies and institutions, handing former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a huge mandate in the 2004 elections but taking it back in 2008 when the reforms faltered.

The country’s sixth prime minister has added “People First, Performance Now” to his One Malaysia concept to recapture the people’s confidence and it will be up to him and his cabinet, which has already been maligned by the opposition, to ensure they live up to his slogan.

And ensure that his “One Malaysia” is the same as their “One Malaysia”.