by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 21 August 2015

Some people adore conspiracy. They thrive on its invention, exaggeration, dissemination and amplification. Often they are fabricated to provide ammunition to attack others; at others they are conjured to test the waters (if enough people approve of a purported conspiracy, then perhaps it should be carried out); and occasionally they might even be true.

In the current climate there is no shortage of alleged conspiracies, feeding paranoia and hope in equal measure. We see accusations that plots by unnamed individuals are evil, and we hear convoluted theories about alphabetic plans being progressively attempted. It is not that simple, of course: acquaintances in a room discussing the matter might also engage in one-upmanship, claiming conjecture as authoritative facts. Or even worse, the whole process of referring to these so-called plans might be an exercise in double-bluffing, designed to tease out who one’s friends, enemies and sympathisers are.

This is particularly true for our Members of Parliament (whose opinions are the most important element for those who seek an immediate change). Some of our elected representatives have very clear leanings in one direction – because they have already invested so much in (and reaped so much reward from) singular loyalty and perhaps because they are being blackmailed by evidence of past transgressions. Some might have equally clear leanings in another direction – again whether motivated by principle or by personal gain, it is difficult to tell. But many others (and this even includes members of the reshuffled cabinet) exhibit signs of hedging, saying as little as possible, claiming ignorance or pretending to focus on another specific portfolio until the wind blows in a certain direction.

In my continuing roster of events with students and young professionals I have detected an exponential increase in nostalgia as Merdeka nears. The Jalur Gemilang is already out in full force, the image of Tunku Abdul Rahman shouting Merdeka is playing on repeat in many minds, and Malaysians of all ages tell me that they “want to do something” for the country. For civil society activists that might include joining Bersih 4 (I am glad they have done away with the decimal point), an event which the organisers seem set on proceeding with at the location of their choosing rather than that of the police.

Unfortunately there is some authoritarianism creeping in to some of their supporters: at a recent dinner I was told that “if you don’t join then you are a traitor.” I am afraid such an attitude is just as flawed as government supporters who say “if you don’t support us then you are a traitor.” We must appreciate that patriotic citizens can choose to express their loyalty to the nation in many others ways that have value and impact.

One such example is a project by a government secondary school with the Malaysian Association of Creativity & Innovation (MACRI) to encourage young Malaysians to learn lessons of the nation from their elders. They asked if I would be willing to be interviewed about my sentiments on camera. I suggested that we meet at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTiC) on Jalan Ampang, because apart from being picturesque, that is the location of a hall where many significant national events took place, and yet too few people know about it, and although the venue has been renovated there is scant acknowledgement of what was once referred to as “this noble hall… a place of destiny in the story of our nation.”

That was uttered by Tuanku Abdul Rahman at the opening of the first Parliament on 12 September 1959, but in that hall he was also installed as the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Federation of Malaya, and the first federal investiture ceremony was also held there. I observed that the students as well as the teachers were glad to learn of the significance of this place, and a girl in Form Two asked what more can be done to preserve our historic buildings as they so powerfully evoke the past and the promise of our once new nation.

I replied that while historic buildings are indeed evocative, what is even more important is that our institutions function as they were intended to. I quoted another part of Tuanku Abdul Rahman’s royal address to the MPs: “We urge you to approach your deliberations as law-makers in the highest spirit of dedicated service to our nation… to remember that you are the representatives of all the people without exception… to conduct your affairs in such a way that the Parliament will be a shining beacon of democracy.”

If today’s MPs conspired to uphold the words of my wise elder, then all other talk of conspiracy would surely cease.

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Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS

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