MALAYSIA celebrates its 50th anniversary as a nation this year.
It is an important and historic event we all should be looking forward to and celebrate with pride and honour.
But looking back at recent developments, can we say Malaysians had progressed over the years as a cohesive people, with a common direction, common sense of purpose and common national pride?
The most significant national event is just three months down the road but a part of the nation is just too preoccupied about their missed chances in the May general election to care two hoots about a victory celebration for all Malaysians in August and September.
Would Malaysia Day this year be, as we hope it will be, the ‘mother of all national events’ to be celebrated with a dignified sense of belonging to the nation?
Or will it be etched in our mind as a dreadful day of remembrance for the divisive politics wrecking all we had built over the past five decades?
Will we just let it pass through as just another government-bashing and people-hammering event for the world to cheer us on to the ranks of another deflated and defeated nation?
The Lahad Datu and Sempurna intrusions, the insensitiveness towards fellow-Malaysians by some politically-inclined groups, the interference of foreign elements in the country’s affairs – these all seem to show a country on the verge of despair.
But this need not be so, as the new Cabinet, the just-elected parliamentary and state representatives with many young faces, can try harder to use their combined talents and skills to forge greater unity and solidarity among fellow Malaysians.
They would have to also see that all national transformation targets and objectives are met.
The veterans will, of course, be backing and pushing them all the way to the top because the senior leaders know what the young can accomplish and also the added value they will bring to the system. The young are just going to need some help.
Old time politicians, indeed, realize ‘youth power’ should not be under-estimated or taken for granted, and more and more are seeking socially-active young men and women aged 40 and below to be coached as party cadres and prospective leaders.
Among them are campus students, green activists, young professionals, entrepreneurs, consumers and young religious scholars who are being given a “chance” to study the state of politics in the country. Some IT-savvy ones are recruited as cyber troopers; which one political party refers to as “the red bean army.”
Will these youngsters produce a toxic political environment or one that provides fresh hope and transformation? That would surely be the uppermost question in the minds of the political masters who decide on the purpose to have them in the party.
We’ve all heard the criticism; young politicians lack the maturity and life experiences to fully grapple with the weighty decisions of elected office, they can’t understand the historical context of events because ‘they were only kids when it happened’ and they’re just raw politicians still learning the ropes.
Critics may bemoan the lack of life’s experiences among the young, but they would have to be reminded that many of the “old fogeys” in the current political system had also started their career at a young age.
They include Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, former finance minster and Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Johor Baru MP Shahrir Abdul Samad, PAS spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, Marang MP and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP stalwarts Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh and Dr Tan Seng Giaw.
When he was prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad encouraged Malaysians to achieve great things for themselves and the country, and he persuaded them to start young in their respective fields of endeavour.
Through this ‘Malaysia Boleh’ spirit of instilling a sense of being champions, we saw Malaysians conquering Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, venturing to the North and South Poles and making record-breaking navigation through the seven seas.
After Dr Mahathir passed the baton to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the spirit to excel continued and the nation saw the first Malaysian in space.
Opponents, however, scorned at the concept and sarcastically branded their own home country as “Boleh Land” where, they said, anything is possible and within reach if someone would give someone else the money to do it.
With the Internet helping t o spread their cause, the Opposition tore Malaysia’s adventurous spirit to shreds and denounced every attempt to break a record or to achieve something not tried before as just a Barisan Nasional political ploy.
Too bad for the ‘Malaysia Boleh’ critics, they emerged as sore losers while the Barisan became the gracious winners in the 13th general election last month.
With an increasing number of Malaysians taking a defeatist stand, the reminder about how great we are as a country are just the string of patriotic songs being played over national radio and television.
Turn to the print media or the news portals, all we see are doomsday stories about aborted principles, hogwash talk and meaningless manifestos.
The critics paint the government as the villain and PKR advisor Anwar Ibrahim as the ‘god-sent’ savior who is going to right the alleged wrongdoings of the party now in power.
Believing they are being encouraged to turn against the establishment, a couple of Facebook users last week posted insults against Prophet Muhammad to denounce the position of Islam as the official religion of the country.
Abroad, some Malaysians studying and working there held the Jalur Gemilang upside down and showed lewd gestures. Was that a show of goodwill and loyalty to their homeland?
NEW MALAYSIA ?
Last year, then Kota Alam Shah assemblyman M. Manoharan from the DAP caused a stir when he called for a ‘new’ national flag to replace the Jalur Gemilang.
At around the same time, some youngsters marked the National Day celebrations by carrying the purported alternative flag, which had some resemblance to the national flag of Singapore and Indonesia.
Going further, they also stepped on the photographs of some national leaders.
And, in one infamous, incident, a university student training to be a teacher, hoisted down a banner bearing the image of the Prime Minister.
The same student was recently in court to face charges of allegedly instigating the people to topple the government by force.
And what about the recent case of the woman who insulted the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on her Facebook and the incident of Perak DAP chief Ngeh Koo Kam ridiculing the Sultan of Johor in the appointment of an assemblyman from the MCA in the state executive council?
There was also the issue of Namewee (real name, Wee Meng Chee), who gained notoriety a couple of years back with a hip-hop parody of the national anthem, which he titled Negaraku.
Aside putting the national anthem in a state of disrepute, he made fun of, among others, the police force, the civil service and the azan for the Muslims to perform their dawn (or subuh) prayers.
What were these people out to prove? Was it in their mind that the position of Islam, the King, the national flag and the national anthem do not fit into their scheme of ‘changing’ the country into a ‘new’ Malaysia?
What they did does not seem to be in sync with being proud of the country or being proud and happy of being a citizen of the country.
National pride is also about defending and standing by the country in times of need and in difficult times, such as during the February intrusion into Sabah by Sulu terrorists.
The sense of belonging to the country often also takes the form of national supremacy, such as excelling and accomplishing extraordinary results in various fields, including in sports, research and development, education, the economy, information technology and commerce and industry.
This national feeling, after so many years of self-rule, seems to be missing now and we appear to have become a factious nation divided between one group leading the country into an era of transformation and another group stepping backwards to strip the winning party of its bona fide victory in the polls.
It is not that the dissenters had not gained anything from the most fiercely-fought polls ever.
But their leader told his supporters they had been robbed of their right to rule the land and the crowds came in thousands to demand the sacking of the entire Election Commission and to denounce the results of the polls that were allegedly marred by irregularities.
The gatherings ignored the fact that the voters had made their choice and the government of the day was duly installed based on the party that had won the most number of seats in the elections.
This had been the way since the first polls in the country in 1955 to elect members of the then Federal Legislative Council.
At least six people have been charged since the end of May with not meeting the requirements of the police and local authorities, as provided by the Peaceful Assembly Act before holding their rallies – something foreign electoral watchdog groups that are not familiar with Malaysia’s parliamentary laws say runs contrary to human rights standards.
Recently, we heard the Kuala Lumpur City Hall had rejected an application from organisers of a so-called ‘black’ rally to hold their event at Padang Merbok on June 22.
One reason given by mayor Ahmad Phesal Talib is that the field had already been rented out to the Olympic Council of Malaysia for an Olympic Run event there on June 23 and City Hall would need the field a day before the meet to make logistical preparations for the event. Furthermore, he said, they had applied for the venue at the end of last year.
He proposed the Titiwangsa and Merdeka Stadium as options for the organizers of the planned ‘black’ rally.
The organizers, sensing the soft approach of City Hall, hardened their stand and remained adamant to hold their rally – with or without the mayor’s approval.
They are game for trouble but they also know that if any one of them is caught and taken to court, it will only encourage their supporters to hold more rallies in defiance of the law.
It is ironic that when the Singapore authorities ordered a group of protesting Malaysians to return home – and not to come back to the republic to work or for a holiday – none of the dissidents dared to take the authorities of the island-state to task over the matter.
There were some feeble attempts by some opposition officials to plead with the Singapore government to be lax on the Malaysian rebels but the republic stood firm and said they would not tolerate any nonsense by any foreigner acting against their laws.
It is the kind of tough stance that most peace-loving Malaysians hope the Home Ministry and other enforcement authorities will implement, rather than give stale warnings that nobody believes in.
To the opposition alliance, the rallies are actually just side shows to the election petitions they plan to take, to challenge the polls results in 24 parliamentary and 10 state seats.
The PKR will carry the bulk of the petitions to the High Court, with challenges in 18 parliamentary and nine state seats; PAS will take on four parliamentary and one state seat, and the DAP two parliamentary seats.
Five decades on, some Malaysians still chose to put the country as a laboratory experiment in democracy and nation-building; perhaps to maintain the tempo of political turmoil that had been set by Anwar, the Hindraf movement and elections watchdog leader S. Ambiga.
They are making it out to be that the country is facing a civil crisis and that, instead of the ruling party setting the national agenda for the people, it is parties outside the government serving as the compass for the Malaysian masses.
Arguably, in the last five years, it is the non-politicians and civil activists that have been making most noise of what is deemed wrong or right about the country, while the politicians only carry out the people’s voices to the Dewan Rakyat or state assembly to be debated.
In 1963, a new nation was born and the founding fathers of the freshly-minted Federation of Malaysia started to map out the course the country would take in the next 50 years.
That time is now here and it is the moment to reflect back on the past and formative years and to look forward to the next five decades of greater achievements than the nation had ever accomplished before.
And, hopefully, the batch of young MPs and state assemblymen would be a big part of that future growth and shoulder that job with pride and responsibility … for 50 years more and beyond.