By Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz

The launch of IDEAS proceeded as planned on Monday, and I believe it was a decent success. We received so many expressions of interest to attend the launch over the weekend that we had to turn some people away. On the day itself the theatre in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Memorial was as full as it could have been to accommodate lunch as well: the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, or the delicious vegetarian moussaka alternative.

The speeches delivered by Wan Saiful, Sharyn Shufiyan, myself and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah received a mixed bag of comments. Some suggested that we should form a new political party – despite the emphatic declaration that we are not a political party but rather an institute seeking to embed all political parties with the Tunku’s commitment to freedom. Others expressed hope that we might succeed, or outright scepticism that we will ever achieve anything.

Disturbingly, we were accused of being “anti-government” on the basis of the speeches. I have read and re-read them, and nowhere were we “anti-government”. Our speeches were pro-democracy, pro-constitutionalism and pro-freedom. If that is considered “anti-government” then frankly that says more about the state of the government than it does about our political affiliations, of which I, at least, have none – in this country anyway (although I did suggest that if we were around in the fifties that I might be a supporter of Datuk Sir Onn Jaffar’s multiracial Independence of Malaya Party or its successor, Parti Negara).

There was even a report claiming that I had hit out at the prime minister’s “1Malaysia” concept. What I in fact said was that “1Malaysia”, like many slogans used in the past, are mere reaffirmations of the Tunku’s vision. It was a tribute to the Tunku’s words, not a criticism of Datuk Seri Najib’s; I am intrigued, not upset, by “1Malaysia” (what’s wrong with “liberty and justice” as the Tunku proclaimed, or “Unity is Strength” as on the federal crest? Those are slogans that have a historical basis).

But there being no culture of independent think-tanks in this country, critical neutrality is a concept which is clearly alien to some commentators: to them, every organisation must lean one way or the other, and criticism of one must mean support for the other. Accordingly, statements will be taken out of context or exaggerated in order to present us as being on one side. This mode of thinking is infantile and wrong. The reality is that IDEAS is likely to irritate the federal opposition as much as the government, and in fact we already have and we will continue to do so. Nonetheless the media coverage has mostly been good, and there will be more in the coming days and weeks, although this newspaper is not the place to say where.

More seriously, we received feedback that we had too few women on our team. It’s true, the founders are all male, and some might comment that we are all Malay. However, more than half of our present staff is female, and there is definitely a Minangkabau minority. These statistics are coincidental. We do not consider the gender or ethnic background of an individual when they want to join IDEAS: what is important is what they think and how hard they will work. We reject condescending tokenism, as it is anathema to the principle of personal responsibility and judging individuals according to their merits. We have faith that once IDEAS grows in size the membership of the team will accurately reflect that of Malaysia at large: because the ideals of democracy and freedom benefit everyone.

I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank the three generations of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s descendants who took the time to attend our launch: Tunku Datuk Datin Paduka Khadijah, Tunku Muinuddin Putra, Datin Sharifah Menjalara and Sharyn Shufiyan; and other family members including Tunku Sofiah Jewa. It meant a great deal to me personally to know that the blood heirs of the Father of Independence gave their support to the launch of our small institute born of his ideological commitment to freedom.

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Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is President of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).

This article first appeared in The Sun on Friday 12 February 2010.

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