PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s newest think tank may be founded by two Umno leaders but that’s where its connection with the party ends, claims one of the two, Umno Youth vice-chief Shahril Hamdan.
He told FMT he and his co-founder, former federal minister Khairy Jamaluddin, had the goal of developing The Centre as a rigorous research organisation that would present objective views on public policy.
“We both have our party loyalties, but as far as the research work goes, we won’t be guided by any partisan aims,” he said.
Khairy announced the establishment of The Centre in an Instagram post on Wednesday.
Shahril said the former Umno Youth leader would sit on The Centre’s board of directors and would not have active roles in its day-to-day operations.
They are finalising the hiring of professional researchers from various backgrounds.
“The Centre will really be driven by a professional and non-partisan team,” Shahril said. “It will be led by a Malaysian academic currently based in the University of Birmingham. She’ll return to run it.”
He said the think tank’s work would largely cover policy prescriptions for national concerns such as housing, wages and other economic and social issues.
He acknowledged the existence of a number of research houses looking at similar issues, but he said there was room for one that would provide centrist solutions to the country’s problems.
“By centrist, we don’t mean simply watering down two extremes. We’ll push the idea that solutions lie in creative suggestions to improve existing systems rather than in a complete overhaul.”
However, these centrists assumptions or hypotheses would not supersede facts found through research, he added.
“We may have a hypothesis on solving the housing crisis, but if the facts suggest our theory is incorrect, we’ll be objective in revising our conclusions.”
He said it would be this deference to facts that would make a non-issue of his and Khairy’s political affiliation.
“Party politics in Malaysia isn’t always based on facts,” he said. “Sometimes people are proud to say that facts don’t matter if you know how to play up sentiments and sensationalise. Through The Centre, maybe we, as individuals, would like to do things a little differently.
“We also want to contribute to political education by demystifying topics and without always pushing any particular position. We find a lot of discussions in the country are not based on information, but sentiment and emotion.”
Towards such education, he said, The Centre would present both sides of the argument in addressing controversies over such issues as the death penalty and the goods and services tax.
“Whatever your position may be, you will still benefit from knowing all the facts,” he said. “Having a common baseline set of facts we can all agree on is a good starting point for better discourse.”
Shahril also said The Centre would publish most of its works in Bahasa Malaysia.