16th September 2015, Kuala Lumpur – National unity has always been the cornerstone of Malaysia’s foundation and in light of recent events it is increasingly becoming a key concern.
Titled, “Nation building, unity and the Malaysian Dream: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, a conference organised by 21 of IDEAS’ National Unity Youth Fellows, lead the discourse on national unity in terms of historical, current and future perspectives.
The event kicked off with welcoming remarks by Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff, IDEAS Council Member and President & CEO the Malaysian Institute of Integrity who highlighted the challenge of ‘unity in diversity’ in Malaysia. He argued that though complex, diversity had to be accepted amongst Malaysians as a way of life. Following this Tricia Yeoh, IDEAS Chief Operating Officer spoke of the beautiful fabric of Malaysian society. She also relayed the national unity youth fellow’s experiences travelling all over Malaysia to visit local communities and their journey as young people trying to live their lives freely in the country. (read full text here)
The opening remarks was followed by YBM Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah, Member of Parliament Gua Musang keynote address. Tengku Razaleigh gave a lucid account of national unity and reminded audience mebers of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman’s aspirations for a multiracial, democratic and sovereign Malaya. Tengku Razaleigh asserted however, that the current leadership did not pursue the same vision and how as a consequence Malaysians now face the tragic loss of morale and national pride. (The keynote speech by Tengku Razaleigh can be found here.)
Following Tengku Razaleigh’s address, fellows Shu Ann and Calvin Woo showcased a video of their experiences and relayed personal accounts of their journey. Calvin Woo then proceeded with the National Unity Youth Fellows Declaration which represented the fellows’ commitment to bolster national unity. (read here for the full declaration).
Session 1: Nation Building and National Unity – Historical Perspectives
Session 1 featured Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), who provided a constitutional perspective on national unity. Citing how the Merdeka Constitution reflected the dreams of our forefathers, he remarked upon its genius in realising national unity by providing safeguards to other ethnic communities in spite of the special privileges given to bumiputera. He cautioned on the dangers of racial and religious polarization but ended on a hopeful note recognising how diversity was an asset (refer to presentation slides here).
Dr Ooi Kee Beng of Deputy Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute then gave an elucidating account of nationhood versus statehood. Malaysia’s problems with unity has to do with diverse populations in terms of economics, history and identities being placed under one political entity. (read full text here).
Jerald Joseph, Steering Committee members and Negara-KU People’s Movement followed with personal anecdotes making a case for a Malaysia for all Malaysians which requires respect for all races and religions.
Session 2: Macro and Micro Realities – The Challenges Malaysia Faces Today. Moderated by, Muhammad Nur Syazwan, National Unity Youth Fellow
In this session Ibrahim Suffian, Co-founder of the Merdeka Center for Opinions Research reviewed data and trends on national unity at the micro (community relations) and macro (national stability) level. National stability is influenced by a sense of economic security, confidence in government and political representation whereas at the micro level, community relations were affected by the level of trust and acceptance between different communities, interactions between different races and rates of racial and religiously motivated incidents (refer to slides here).
Syahredzan Johan, member of the Bar Council then remarked on the growing divide on an intra-ethnic level. He argued that a new policy had to be reformulated to address this. Dr Faisal lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), spoke on how ethnic-socio-economic conflicts grew with authoritarianism and conveyed how the current political leadership must create a narrative that is acceptable to all citizens. Ganeshwaran Ganeshwaran Kana, National Unity Youth Fellow concluded the session by providing his views on the impact of poor economic management to national unity. He cautioned that a failing economy could cause disunity amongst ethnic groups.
Session 3: Workshop Discussion on the Various Challenges towards Unity
In session 3 participants were broken up into various workshops to discuss either race and religion, socio-economic issues and laws and politics.
Session 4: The Malaysian Dream – Prospects for the Future. Moderated by Patricia Tan, National Unity You Fellow
Dato’ Sri Idris Jala , CEO of PEMANDU spoke about how unity must start at the individual level, as we need to accept and celebrate each other’s differences to move forward as a nation. He stressed that Malaysians needed to have more national pride and to think in a more global context. Dato’ Farida member of G25, raised the issue of Malay political leadership trying to instigate racial discontent. She stressed the need for greater religious freedom and better quality education. Finally, YB Khir highlighted how policies needed to be thought out before being implemented as this had a serious consequence on unity.
The conference concluded with Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah’s, IDEAS Council Member and CEO of Global Movement of Moderates closing address. In it Dato’ Saifuddin stressed that the Malaysian dream of national unity cannot be realized without first addressing the politics of race in Malaysia. It was therefore imperative for the people to push political leaders to adopt a multicultural worldview.