We need to move on as one nation

As we celebrate National Day on Aug 31, it is also a time for review and reflection

The country needs leaders who dare to talk about our economic weaknesses, and even excessiveness, which has made other countries more attractive than Malaysia, even if it means rattling the emotions of myopic nationalists who cannot see that the world has changed.

Wong Chun Wai, The Star

IT’S just about 10 days now to National Day. By right, we should be in an upbeat and celebratory mood and yet Malaysians are gripped with emotional political issues that are threatening to tear us apart instead of bringing us together as a nation.

The country turns 53 on Aug 31. As a nation, we are not old but we are not so young either. We can have our differences, especially political allegiances and economic approaches, but we also share the same destiny and many aspirations as Malaysians.

More than ever, we should not let racists and religious bigots hijack our hopes. We must say no to self-serving politicians who beat the racial and religious drums and get their way at the expense of the moderates.

Malaysia needs leaders who speak up for all Malaysians regardless of their race, not those who merely speak for their own communities.

We need leaders who speak of enlarging the economic cake – not those who merely want to cut the slices for their own communities – even when foreign direct investments are falling.

The country needs leaders who dare to talk about our economic weaknesses, and even excessiveness, which has made other countries more attractive than Malaysia, even if it means rattling the emotions of myopic nationalists who cannot see that the world has changed.

Instead of pandering to the demands of these people to be popular and politically safe, these leaders – whether in politics or business – have had the courage to point out the wrongs in our economic system.

They did it with good intentions and love for Malaysia. They have got themselves burnt and may not even get the votes they truly deserve but they have spoken up. Certainly, they can hold their heads up high regardless of the political outcome later.

Malaysia is at a crossroads. Five decades after independence, many issues should have been settled. We should have moved on and compete globally.

Yet, it looks as if we are caught in a time warp with many of our politicians and self-declared community leaders quarrelling over issues of the 1960s.

In fact, the leaders of the Alliance conducted themselves better in the 1950s and did not need to make racial threats to stifle public discourse.

They did not just talk, they listened – and that is the difference between a great leader and a politician who is just out there to get elected, even if it is at the expense of the nation and the future.

They reached consensus, which made a lot of sense during that time, and they forged national unity and brought the country its independence.

They looked at the larger picture and did not succumb to the demands of their communities; they understood the importance of consensus and accommodation.

More important, they understood that for Malaysia to live, the Government must be represented by all races. It was more than just a question of legitimacy but the coalition of Umno, MCA and MIC was a strong political statement that all races would have a place in this country – including in the Government and, certainly by extension, in the civil service.

For sure, these founders would be horrified, if they are alive today, to hear Malaysians – those who were born here and would die here – being labelled as pendatang (immigrants) or penumpang (passengers) by politicians or headmasters.

Neither would they be amused if the people who made such seditious remarks are just given a slap on the wrist.

Malaysians want to see politicians promptly condemning the racists who utter such remarks. It is disturbing that some have chosen to keep silent, which can send the wrong impression – that they tolerate such nonsense.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has aptly reminded political leaders to be sensitive to all races, saying, “I hope everyone realises that those listening to what we are saying are citizens of the whole country”.

Our founders would be shocked to hear of any suggestions, no matter how subtle, that election should be won by just making one community happy and ignoring another simply because they are seemingly not supportive. Election is about winning every vote, that is Political Science 101.

The increase in the number of racially-mixed constituencies should be a reminder to all aspiring candidates in the next general election that race rhetorics will not help their cause if the fight against their opponents is close.

National Day is a time for review and reflection. It’s not merely about flying the flag, watching the parade and shooting fireworks. For ordinary Malaysians, it should not be about waiting for the free mini Jalur Gemilang before we hoist it on our vehicles. Flying the national flag is not a demonstration of patriotism. It is a state of the heart and mind.

This is the time to look back proudly at what we have achieved and also ask where we have gone wrong so we can improve ourselves and move on.

This is also the time to ask where and how we want Malaysia to be in the next decades. As citizens of a country that is turning 53, all of us should be confident, mature and forward-looking, not insecure and seeing the ghosts of communalism and past tragedies.

In this age of competitive globalisation, do we want to shut our eyes, preferring to believe that nothing has changed and should be changed? Or should we start to accept that the world has changed and that if we don’t change, we would be left behind?

If the former happens, there would be no cake to talk about. We cannot and should not refrain from talking about history in the run-up to National Day. We must never forget what our forefathers have done.

But it is equally important that we do not become stuck in the past. We have to move on and we all have to come together as one Malaysia and one nation to chart a common destiny. We don’t have a choice.