Re-Imagining Malaysia After Mahathir – OpEd


These are the happenings in Malaysia today, one year after a new regime took over: Jailing of a preacher under the promised-to-be-abolished Sedition Act. An education system still without a clear direction on a transcultural-relations policy and the construction of bastions against authoritarianism and technopoly.

The almost-daily nagging on the discourse of who the next-Prime Minister shall be. Implosions in all the component parties. The continuing criminalization of the powerful over the powerless, especially in regard to the plight and rights of the indigenous people.

The wish to bring home IS fighters who will be a clear and present danger to national security. The love affair between the government and a manipulative radical Islamic preacher.

The refusal to fulfill election promises, relegating voters to mere fools to be used by the cunning to be in power. The intimidation of schoolchildren who are learning how to speak up against the destruction of the environment. The chickening out of schools that are supposed to be examples of what kind of thinkers ought to be created in a nation sorely in need of critical thinkers, doers, pragmatists, rationalists, and futurists.

The failure to locate missing pastors and religious preachers whose fate no one except, perhaps, the government knows.

You add to the list of what is ailing this country when promises were made, but shattered a year after. By design. By decree, By the act of political deception.

The new Malaysia, beyond the broken-promise-laden coalition called Pakatan Harapan, needs to get real with not going back on promises. No breaking them. In cyberspace many are asking: will a Third Force emerge, gradually replacing Mahathirism? What will this process of change look like?

The outlook

On August 31, 2019, our nation will be celebrating sixty-two years of Merdeka, an experiment in being a sovereign state. As another ritual approaches, and as we think of the hopes, dreams, and legacy of the best prime minister we had, Tunku Abdul Rahman, I think of the requirement for a new spirit and structure of citizenship.

The nation must be made to be Malaysian once and for all. Malaysia is one country and cannot be considered in parts. There can be no such thing as first- and second-class citizens anymore. This Malaysian brand of apartheid is morally reprehensible and must be abolished once and for all.

The future of education still looks bleak – the race-based Malay party controls the process of making decisions. The economic commentators still talk about a pie in which the major race controls how much to eat and how to continue to bake the same pie, using the same recipe and the same oven.

The idea of “national unity” is vague. Because our educational policy of engaging the young multiculturally is non-existent, the training of teachers for cross-cultural sensitivities is still unheard of, and worse, educational leadership is still struggling with the most relevant philosophy to be used as GPS, in this time that requires a different way of knowing and looking at things.

We Malaysians have a dream. That of Tunku Abdul Rahman who was ousted. Because he spoke for multiculturalism. Like Onn Jaafar. Like the early nationalists and socialists. These folks had a better vision of what Malaysian needed, but the greedy and those who use race and religion to divide and plunder won the game of power.

Ploughing through the narratives of the Kirby-Brinsford teachers back in those day, I conclude that we had that vision and that teachers were there to make it come true. But pride and prejudice took over and the seeds of destruction were planted.

Then May 13 1969 came. It changed the landscape of our political-economy and social-justice. Whether it was orchestrated or it was an event that went out of control or whether it was a “natural occurrence,” the impact changed race dynamics. Till today.

We must move forward. Leave the abyss. Plant new seeds of social reconstruction. Engineer a “third wave of change.” A third force.


Essentially, below are considerations for a grand plan or the big picture of change that needs to be created in order for Malaysia to realize the “Malaysian Dream.”

We cannot escape from the idea that there ought to be winners and losers, whether it is in the way we give grades to students, design economic policies, organise the political system or, ironically, even in the way we understand religion and God, and how these relate to what Mohandas Gandhi would call the harijan (children of God).

The continuing issues of succession plaguing the leadership of the major components of all the ruling parties, for example, reflects a virtueless leadership. It even reflects the system of dictatorship and authoritarianism that we have allowed to take root in all parties.

We are seeing the development of another dangerous excess of authoritarianism – the development of political dynasties. We continue to see this culture in the Malay and Chinese political parties.

If all that energy is used to design a better system of participatory democracy and philanthropy, and to reach out to other ethnic groups to collaborate in solving the issue of poverty, we, as Malaysians, will become a miracle nation. Poverty is not the problem of various races – it is the problem of humanity.

How can the rich be saved if the poor are multiplying in large numbers? We will have a society that will need more sophisticated surveillance systems in order to reduce robbery, kidnapping, etc.

The poor look at the rich and ask themselves: “Am I poor because I am lazy? Or is he rich because he works a hundred times better? Or is it the system we build that will continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?”

What resources do the rich have vis-à-vis the poor to compete in a world that is increasingly technological, technicist, and informational? We have created a system of ethnically-based structural violence.

A republic of virtue

We need to bring back “virtue” to the forefront of our political philosophies and into our economic paradigm, and use it to design a virtuous foundation for our economic system. From a virtuous foundation, we will then see a healthier re-organisation of our lives as economic beings.

Education, and education alone, though slow and tedious as a process of transformation, will be the most powerful tool of cognitive restructuring and the teaching of virtue. Education for peace, social justice, co-operation, tolerance and spiritual advancement will be the best foundation. But where is our education heading.

How do we begin creating a republic of virtue if we do not yet have the tools of analysing what a corrupt society is and how corrupt leaders are a product of the economic system created to produce more sophisticated forms of corruption?

We, the concerned Malaysians who wish to see genuine change and not be lied to after every election, must engineer a revolution of our consciousness.

From the revolution in our minds, we move on to the revolution of our collective consciousness. Gradually, as we realise that a better collective consciousness can be created, we will be aware of the oppositional forces that are disabling real human progress.

What then after Mahathirism ends?

We must now become makers of our own history and help others do the same. We must first learn to deconstruct ourselves and draw out the virtue within us, even if the process can be terrifying.

Is there hope today? After 60 years of Umno dominance? After the end of the second Mahathirist Revolution? Will a third force – a trishakti – be possible to gradually replace the old and totalitarianising political thinking? One that will address our high hopes that have turned into broken promises.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *