Most of us are aware of Malaysia’s five-year plans. For instance, the 12th Malaysia Plan was unveiled by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob in September 2021.
Under this plan Ismail hopes, among other things, to boost economic growth, strengthen public safety and order, eradicate hardcore poverty, improve the efficiency of public service delivery and strengthen the Bumiputera agenda.
Such plans provide a blueprint or framework for devising medium-term socio-economic development policies and programmes.
But they are neither visions nor visionary.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when he was prime minister the first time, came up with a long-term goal for the nation called Vision 2020 in 1991. Although the promise of becoming a fully developed, modern and united Malaysian nation by 2020 galvanised Malaysians, Vision 2020 was not realised.
After becoming prime minister a second time, Mahathir, knowing that Vision 2020 could not be realised, announced a new plan called the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 in 2019.
Muhyiddin Yassin, who succeeded Mahathir in 2020, said he’d continue implementing the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 while Ismail, who took over from Muhyiddin in 2021, mentioned it in the foreword of the 12th Malaysia Plan document.
But Ismail prefers to push what he calls “Keluarga Malaysia”, which has yet to catch on with the public.
Some Malaysians feel, given the current uncertainties and disturbing trends in the country, Malaysia needs a new all-encompassing vision.
But I don’t think we need a new vision. What we need is to retrieve and work on the vision articulated by our founding fathers at the time of Merdeka in 1957.
On the morning of Aug 31, 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman read the proclamation of independence that officially severed the chains of colonialism.
In his speech just before the proclamation, the Tunku said: “I am indeed proud that on this, the greatest day in Malaya’s history, it falls to my lot to proclaim the formal independence of this country. Today, as a new page is turned, and Malaya steps forward to take her rightful place as a free and independent partner in the great community of nations, a new nation is born, and though we fully realise that difficulties and problems lie ahead, we are confident that, with the blessing of God, these difficulties will be overcome and that today’s events, down the avenues of history, will be our inspiration and our guide.”
He went on to say: “But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility. Let no one think we have reached the end of the road. Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour — the creation of a new and sovereign state.
“At this solemn moment, therefore, I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya: To work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty — a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.”
And then the Tunku read the short proclamation which ended with these vision-laden words: “Now in the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful, I, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halimshah, prime minister of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu, with the concurrence and approval of their highnesses the Rulers of the Malay States do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu that as from the 31st day of August, 1957 the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu comprising the states of Johor, Pahang, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu, Perak, Malacca and Penang is and with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.”
This, I feel, is the vision that we should strive for as we celebrate 65 years of Merdeka. This is what our founding fathers, representing all races in Malaya, envisaged for the nation.
We need to note the words used by the Father of Independence. Malaysia is to be a “sovereign, democratic and independent state”.
So, the vision should be to ensure we continue to remain independent and practice democracy. Citizens should therefore be allowed all the freedoms that a democracy entails and neither the government nor some group must curtail those freedoms that are not a direct and immediate threat to our sovereignty.
Democracy, as the United Nations says, “provides an environment that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in which the freely expressed will of people is exercised. People have a say in decisions and can hold decision-makers to account. Women and men have equal rights and all people are free from discrimination”.
The UN cites these as some of the essential elements of democracy: respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, freedom of association, freedom of expression and opinion, access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot, and a pluralistic system of political parties and organisations.
Other elements, it adds, are the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, transparency and accountability in public administration and a free, independent and pluralistic media.
So, the pursuit of democracy should be the first pillar of any vision for Malaysia.
The proclamation says that such a state is “founded upon the principles of liberty and justice”.
Liberty is described as a state of freedom, especially as opposed to political subjection, imprisonment or slavery.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Civil liberty is the absence of arbitrary restraint and the assurance of a body of rights, such as those found in bills of rights, in statutes, and in judicial decisions. Such liberty, however, is not inconsistent with regulations and restrictions imposed by law for the common good. Political liberty consists of the right of individuals to participate in government by voting and by holding public office.”
It adds that liberty has been increasingly defined in terms of economic opportunity and security.
Liberty, then, is another pillar of the vision for Malaysia created by our founding fathers.
Next comes justice. Justice includes a sense of fairness, rights, equality, and getting what one deserves.
According to New World Encyclopaedia: “Justice often means fairness, as in fair treatment of people, fair pay for work, fair compensation for injuries, fair treatment in law and in the courts and in governmental affairs, and so on. Just what fairness is may be difficult to specify, but it includes treatment of similar cases in a similar way, and treatment of different cases in ways that are proportional to the differences.”
So, justice becomes another pillar of the vision for Malaysia.
The proclamation of independence also states that the new nation must be one that is “ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people”. What this means is that the elected government must design policies and implement them in such a way that all citizens benefit. It means there should be no discrimination and that those in power should always put the people first and foremost in designing and implementing policies.
I’d like to think that implicit in the phrase is a call to members of the public to also play a role in ensuring the welfare and happiness of everyone, not just that of their families.
So, the well-being of the people, the welfare and happiness of citizens, is the fourth pillar in the vision for Malaysia that our founding fathers had.
What this means, then, is that any government which negates or restricts democracy, perpetuates or tolerates injustice, restricts or denies group and individual liberty, and disregards, discriminates or doesn’t work for the welfare and happiness of citizens is going against the vision of our founding fathers, and therefore, of the nation.
This founding vision has been buried under layers of mediocre or self-aggrandising leaderships and discriminatory or distorted policies over the years. Let’s retrieve and polish this vision, and allow it to shine as a “beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted” Malaysia.
I hope and pray that we’ll get leaders who will subscribe to these ideals, to this vision of those from different racial and religious backgrounds led by the Tunku who – working together in amity – sacrificed their time, energy and money to win independence for the nation.
Ultimately, we citizens have the responsibility of choosing leaders who subscribe to the founding vision of the nation or suffer the consequences.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.