By Wan Saiful Wan Jan, first published in MY on 25 February 2016.

IDEAS was launched on 8 February 2010. The date was carefully chosen. It is the same date as the birthday of our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj. We chose this date because IDEAS was set up to revive the vision and values of the Tunku.

In particular, we share the Tunku’s vision to see Malaysia forever be a sovereign democratic and independent state based on the principles of liberty and justice. The Tunku announced that vision when he read the Proclamation of Independence on 31 August 1957 as well as the Proclamation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.

Last Saturday we held a special dinner to commemorate the Tunku’s 113th birthday as well as IDEAS’ sixth anniversary. I am very pleased with the attendance at the dinner. Almost 400 people turned up to celebrate the occasion with us.

YTM Tunku Khadijah and YTM Tunku Ahmad Nerang are the Tunku’s two oldest children and they have always attended this annual event of ours. I am really proud that they honoured us with their attendance once again this year. And as usual they were joined by three generation of the Tunku’s family members.

It has not been easy to set up a policy research and advocacy organisation with an ambition to revive the vision of our Bapa Malaysia. We needed to be brave to speak the truth to those in power. We had to make sure that our ideas are backed by solid research. And we also had to package our message in ways that would create the most impact.

So when campaigning for equality for all Malaysians regardless of race and religion, we have been careful not to do it in a way that will create more division in society. When advocating for the government to reduce leakages in government contracting, we identified specific steps that must be taken and the agencies responsible for them. When championing the anti-corruption agenda, we built a broad coalition in order to solicit support from a wide range of stakeholders.

I believe that that was how the Tunku worked. He achieved independence for us by creating a broad-based coalition. He created harmony in society by respecting differences and not imposing his values on others. He even managed to bring together four separate entities into one country that today we call Malaysia. And he brought development to the country without having to discriminate against any ethnic or religious group.

The Tunku is known to us as a statesman and national leader. He is not known as someone who mixed politics and business interests. It is not surprising that he did not leave huge inheritance for his children. He prioritised the country rather than personal or family gains.

At our celebratory dinner, former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam delivered the keynote speech. He reminisced about how the country has changed since the Tunku’s time.

In his speech Tun Musa said that within the last few years life in Malaysia has turned upside down. Behaviour in politics today seems to be based on the struggle that prioritise personal survival and the dividing lines between good and bad has become blurred.

Tun Musa did not mince his words. He went on to say that the problems faced by our country today can be attributed to a failure of leadership. He believes that it started during Tun Mahathir’s time.

According to Tun Musa “The way it is, I am now certain that we will not reach our goal of vision 2020 and if I may say it is ironic that Dr Mahathir’s vision is now certain to fail because of Dr Mahathir himself. Brilliant that he was, he forgot that in order to succeed he needed to train leaders at all levels. But his personal leadership record shows that he did away with all potential leaders and retained and trained only followers. And it is mostly these trained followers that had taken over the leadership of the country.”

It must be very painful for today’s politicians to listen to what Tun Musa said about them. But Tun Musa couldn’t be more accurate in his analysis.

If we are honest with ourselves, today’s politicians are really just a bunch of followers. They are happy to dispense with the ability to think in order to follow the leader. The situation is so bad, to the extent that they some times had to call in the top leader from another party to resolve even internal problems within their own parties.

As we remember the Tunku in this month of his birthday, let us also remember the values and vision that he showed for the country. He did not envision a country of slave followers. Instead he gave independence to this nation so that we can have the liberty to think and decide for ourselves. Surely it is time to revive that vision at all levels of society.

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