Umno presidential speech could have been more balanced

Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech at the opening of the Umno general assembly on December 11 was most interesting, assertive and determined.

However as a loyal and committed non-Bumi Malaysian, I felt left out like many others, including many Bumis, as the president’s Speech could have been much more justly balanced and inclusive of all Malaysians.

After all, the Umno president is also the prime minister of all Malaysians in our beloved country, as One Malaysia.

For instance the chairman of the Wasatiyyah Institute of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dr Abdullah Md Zin, who somewhat harshly criticised the highly respected G25 group as having misunderstood the definition of wasatiyyah, gave his enlightening definition of wasatiyyah.

Abdullah described wasatiyyah as “justly balanced, stressing fairness, balance, excellence and moderation”.

But the speech did not adequately fulfil all these criteria for the following reasons:

1. The prime minister’s dilemma

From the beginning of our prime minister’s speech, he showed his struggle with his own question, “who am I speaking as?” – “Umno president or prime minister of Malaysia – and of a plural society?”

He also raised the critical question of “whether the Umno president should be an ultra or pro-Malay only and must be Islamic or not”.

To many of my moderate Malay friends and especially non-Malays, this dilemma of the prime minister is very disturbing.

Malaysians of all races expect that after 48 years of Merdeka, our prime minister and government should and would think of the well-being of all Malaysians, based on meeting our basic needs and human rights regardless of race and religion.

Hence it is depressing to hear our prime minister say “that we tend to defend the welfare and fate specially of the Malays and Bumiputera”.

Where then is the just balance and fairness to all Malaysians? We should look after the welfare of the bottom 40% of the income groups, regardless of race, and most underprivileged Malays and Bumis would be well covered. This would remove unjust discrimination and unnecessary divisiveness.

Please do not minimise the importance of the 10 million non-Malays and non-Bumis. We also want to be treated fairly in an inclusive and not partisan and exclusive Malaysia.

2. Bad perceptions persist

As the PM has rightly stated, “there is also the war of perception through the social media, which we see as the highest challenge for us now”.

Indeed bad perceptions are not based on rumours alone. There is usually no smoke without some fire. So why not go to the source of the fire and seek to be more transparent about the truth? As our PM has said, no one is perfect. If there are some mistakes, why not own up and let the people judge?

After all, many have got away with bigger blunders in the past. Malaysians in general have short memories and are sometimes too forgiving or even complacent and often indifferent. But Malaysians, like anyone else, also generally want to hear the whole truth first.

The current public concerns regarding 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the RM2.6 billion donation are being slowly explained, but the rakyat, and not necessarily only most Umno members, want more details before these critical issues can be put to permanent rest.

3. The economy has to be more balanced and just or we will decline

Economic issues such as inflation and the weak ringgit and low income and productivity and the future competitiveness and education quality could have been given more balanced attention.

While politicking and state capture to enable the perpetuation of power are usually the preoccupation of politicians from all quarters, the rakyat only ask for a better deal in life. They just want to survive and sustain themselves, hopefully for a higher standard of living and a better quality of life.

But the PM’s speech did not give enough balance here. Instead, it focused a lot on party loyalty and disputes and the appeal for support of leadership at all levels.

But the rakyat are concerned with insidious inflation. The rising prices are due to at least two factors: the decline in ringgit which raises import and related prices and the protected internal market, which slows down competition and stifles domestic productivity and restricts the supply of goods and services.

More demand and less supplies raise prices. So please liberalise more and protect less by removing restrictions and undue preferences in tenders and contracts, permits and licences. Adopt the New Economic Model at a faster pace to benefit the rakyat and not the privileged vested groups.

The prime minister was frank in revealing that that the government had to subsidise as much as RM510 million for intra-city toll roads and a massive and familiar figure of RM2.9 billion compensation to Express Rail Link (ELR ), because the agreement signed before his time, in 1997, was “one-sided”.

Then why can’t Umno or the government re-negotiate all these unfair and unjust agreements as a matter of priority? Where is our national maruah, please? And should we not think of the interests of the rakyat instead of pandering to private business and vested interests?

Challenge for the government

Let’s see if the government will take up this public challenge to re-negotiate just and more balanced terms for the benefit of our rakyat and country.

Although the government can be proud of what has been done for the poor, like providing for the BR1M, Klinic Rakyat, affordable housing, the minimum wage and pay rise for civil servants, it will be realised that these are the gains made and given by the government and not by any one political party alone.

Another major challenge for the government and Umno is to do much more for the rakyat to reduce the widening income inequality and trust deficit so as to earn their respect and especially their support.

4. Trust deficit should be reduced

The current trust deficit is related to the above unresolved issues. High corruption, wide wastage of public funds and many other inefficiencies aggravate the growing problems of inflation and the weak ringgit.

Our weakness in the ringgit is not all due to external factors. We must accept the reality that there are internal causes for the ringgit’s decline, otherwise the trust deficit will deepen.

Some balance and fairness was also lost in the president’s speech as education could have received much more attention. The lingering issue of teaching more English could have been highlighted.

What faith and trust can especially the Umno Youth and all other Malaysian students have in our education system, if already well over 100,000 graduates are looking for jobs because of the lack of demand for their poor quality of education and skills?

Furthermore, their low proficiency in the English language is also pulling their employment prospects down the income ladder.

There could have been a resolution to stamp out corruption and money politics and to promote more English. The shortage of English teachers can surely be overcome if there is a stronger will to do so. The lack of English proficiency will cause the poor to become poorer.

A resolution to use more English in schools, especially all government universities, would have boosted the confidence of youth and parents and indeed the whole country.

Hopefully this aim will be fulfilled before the next Umno AGM, for the sake of enhancing the prospects of the youth and Umno’s popularity itself.

Although we can quote a few examples of outstanding graduates, we have to admit that our schools and universities generally have low international ratings and rankings. Should not our Umno leaders have taken note of this sad situation and resolved to go all out to overcome our weaknesses which can keep us caught in the middle income trap?

It’s actually the majority Malays and Bumis who will lose the most from poor English and low quality education.

5. The TPP and Bumi protectionism can do harm in the long run

While the PM says that “we are not apologetic in defending the Bumiputera agenda during discussions in the TPP discussions”, it is a pity he did not strongly encourage the Bumis to struggle harder to get out of the debilitating effects of continued protectionism and, as we say, “Manja Manja syndrome”.

It must have been difficult for Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad and his MITI officials to justify Bumi status in international trade and investment TPP negotiations, after so many years of protective policies and practices in Malaysia.

So there is going to be a dual economy in Malaysia, even at international level. While non-Bumis will have to fight and compete for trade and investment, Bumis will enjoy an easier time.

But there do not seem to be adequate time limits for this Bumi preferential treatment. The NEP could carry on indefinitely, even internationally. This begs the question – will more “manja manja” help the Bumis in the long term or will it undermine their competitiveness?

Given this scenario, how do we expect our Bumi businessmen and women to become like the revered businessman Abdul Rahman Auf of the past?

How can we aim to be among the top 10 most competitive country by 2030? Let’s not forget that our neighbours are gaining faster progress than us.

6. Islamic State is not what we want

Najib said, “I as Umno president and prime minister pledge to be fully committed in expanding and upholding the sanctity of Islam.”

This aspiration is laudable. But what causes anxiety among most Malaysians is his assertion that “Only then, an Islamic state will be established in Malaysia, God willing.”

This statement in his speech is very serious and disturbing and needs full clarification. As it stands, it can indicate that he wants an Islamic State in Malaysia.

We hope it will not be along the lines of the Islamic State (Isis) in the Middle East. God forbid, I don’t think many in progressive, multicultural Malaysia would like that to happen.

It appears that our PM has consulted the ulamas a great deal as he has said in his speech. It may be fruitful in the future to also have more balanced consultations with other racial and religious groups in multicultural Malaysia.

Umno could have resolved to intensify the fight against extremists and not let them threaten well meaning Malaysians with rape and danger to life and limb.

In fact, the G25 of eminent Malays has been unfairly attacked for speaking out for wasatiyyah and justice. I am sure most Malaysians would agree with me that Umno and the government needs to come out more strongly to defend wasatiyyah, justice, peace and harmony.

The G25 is composed of very senior, highly qualified, retired civil servants who have served our country exceedingly well with their sacrifice, dedication and great sense of service to God, king and country. Please encourage them and take their views more seriously as they are the genuine voice of moderation and wasatiyyah.

Go faster forward together, please

Najib has come out of the Umno assembly, surprisingly, fighting fit. He has effectively taken on his many critics and adversaries.

He said, “There shall be no retreat, no surrender.”

However he also said, “I am a gentleman”, “I decided to have a big heart” and “I am magnanimous”. This then is his challenge. The time to demonstrate these noble qualities more distinctly and significantly is now.

We hope our prime minister will accept that there are indeed still some outstanding hot issues which I have outlined above as well as many other major concerns.

These critical issues and deep concerns need to addressed by with a stronger political will, and more successfully and with a greater sense of urgency.

When his mission is fully accomplished, all Malaysians, regardless of race and political leaning, will then be able to really rejoice, when we move faster forward, together.

In the meantime, as true Malaysians, we all hope and pray that the government will enable us all, as a united nation, to lighten the burden of our heavy anxieties and to have a happier New Year that will be more peaceful and prosperous.

Article publishd in The Malaysian Insider.

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