By Tan Kian Leong
This article has previously been published on the UNAM Youth blog and The Malaysian Outsider site and has been reproduced here with the author’s permission.
If TN50 really intends to shape the future of Malaysia by turning our aspirations into public policy, it can start by acknowledging that we want a fair and equal Malaysia for all.
In his recent book ‘Thank You For Being Late’, author Thomas Friedman alludes to two eternal truths in the U.S. political arena, which are relevant the world over. “The Democratic Party,” writes Friedman, “understands that culture shapes politics…[A]nd the Republican Party understands that politics shapes culture.”
With the Transformasi Nasional 2050 initiative, the Malaysian government appears set on drawing up a roadmap for the 30-year gap in between Wawasan 2020 and 2050, and they have made a commendable effort in reaching out to the public to gather grassroots sentiments. In the years to come, we can likely expect the public policies drafted to reflect the various concerns and hopes we have voiced out – but are the aspirations being heard truly representative of everybody?
One year on from the release of the 2016 COMANGO Universal Period Review Mid-Term Review, civil rights progress has waxed and waned in timid steps. Together, we applauded as investigative journalism, first by The Malay Mail and then by the Star’s R.AGE team, successfully led to the tabling and passing of the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017, drawing together lawmakers from across the political divide in a rare show of bipartisan unity.
We criminalised sexual offences, but we didn’t criminalise child marriage.
In a formidable break with the ASEAN principle of non-interference, Prime Minister Najib Razak (rightfully) criticised the government of Myanmar for their persecution of Rohingya Muslims under the pretext of civil unrest, as they were hounded from their villages and the international community watched on.
A little over 4 months on, an expose by the Guardian highlighted the dismal conditions of refugee camps in Malaysia – camps where Rohingya Muslims were housed.
There are, of course, many other stories of mistreatment – whether of the LGBT community, or of stateless persons, and others. For people such as these, it is unlikely that their aspirations will ever be recorded in a townhall session with a minister; they may never have the chances that we do to voice out our hopes and dreams in public forums. It stands to reason, then, that we who have the opportunities to do so must speak out on behalf of them.
Can We Get a Roadmap, Please?
I recently had the privilege of attending a TN50xSDG conference at a local private university, along with some 300 other young Malaysian adults who wished to offer input on the nation’s future. Some of the questions voiced reflected the cosmopolitanism that has been bred into those of us who are fortunate – hard questions about affirmative action policies and the NEP, and on the stigma surrounding mental health, to name just a few. Through it all, there was an attempt to tie in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part and parcel of our TN50 roadmap, and how they were in some ways one and the same.
While it is certainly heartening that the new generation appears to have no qualms addressing the elephant(s) in the room, there is also the need for metrics to measure our successes by. Young adults genuinely concerned about our nation’s future can take heed, then: there are some ways in which we can influence the direction we are heading towards – even before 2050.
If we are serious about a more equal Malaysia 33 years from now, we can begin by pushing for our government to ratify and accede to the various conventions for civil rights as adopted by the many member states of the United Nations. In doing so, we will adopt the international standards of human rights that countries around the world follow – in theory, if not so much in practice.
Adopting these conventions (such as the 1951 Refugee Convention to safeguard the rights of refugees) will naturally ensure that our national laws be brought into accordance with these obligations and rules; alternatively, even if we do not choose to ratify them, we as concerned citizens can still pressure our lawmakers and representatives to in the very least attempt to align our laws with these international standards – and enforce them accordingly.
The Business of Nation-Building
Ultimately, however, the changes enshrined here will only be the product of a concerted and prolonged push by Malaysians who truly wish to see a different country come 2050. Through TN50, we have been given a chance to voice our hopes, dreams, and aspirations – and to hold the government accountable when the policies offered do not fully deliver on those things. Our sustained pressure on lawmakers as a generation of young leaders holds much promise: but only if we choose to get into – as a friend once put it – the business of nation-building.
We stand at a crossroads: our culture is to shape our politics for the next 33 years, and the politics of our nation will shape our culture for the foreseeable future. Are we prepared to demand a future that we know we can all be proud of, or are we satisfied with the mumbled, generic answer we will give about a “brighter, happier” future when we step up to speak into the microphone?
I don’t know about you, but I know where I’m heading from the crossroads. The only question is: are you coming too?