JANUARY 16 — In commemoration of our country’s second prime minister Allahyarham Tun Razak’s 39th death anniversary, Roketkini.com organised a forum featuring DAP Parliamentary Leader Lim Kit Siang, editor of The Malaysian Insider Jahabar Sadiq, MP for Lembah Pantai Nurul Izzah Anwar and the late Tun’s former political secretary, Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad.
It was certainly an eclectic mix of speakers, and this notion wasn’t lost on Dollah Kok Lanas, as Tan Sri is better known, when he trumpeted that he was “the only Umno man in the room.”
He proved to be a memorable speaker as he recounted his close working relationship with the Tun. With trademark sarcasm, he also pointed that “ironically, Umno does not remember Tun Razak while it is DAP that remembers him.”
I tweeted that gem of a quote and immediately received backlash from supporters of the ruling party, some of whom tried to defend Umno by saying that a tahlil had been organised, and that it was more appropriate to hold prayers than to discuss Tun Razak’s ideas in a forum.
Certainly, it is commendable to have a tahlil to mark his death anniversary, but I believe that we can only do justice to the Tun’s legacy by discussing and sharing thoughts on his policies, ideas and contributions, many of which are more relevant than ever in our present time.
In his speech, Kit Siang mentioned that Tun Razak was the youngest prime minister in the history of Malaysia, having been appointed at the age of 48. In fact, he had become deputy prime minister at the age of 35, which one may notice is younger than the current Umno Youth Chief.
When he was my age, Tun Razak had been his party’s Youth Chief, though some people thought I was too young to be elected back in May last year.
Like Indonesia's Sukarno, our country’s founding fathers believed in the power of young people. They actively invested in and engaged the youth. It wasn’t just Tun Razak who had been elevated to high office in his 30s. Our country’s Inspector-General of Police and the Chief of Navy then were also both in their 30s.
The fact that so much opportunity and responsibility had been placed in the young meant that the leaders then believed in renewal. Unfortunately, most of those in government today only believe in renewing their own terms of office.
Tun Razak, who is credited as being the architect of the New Economic Policy (NEP), had been a member of the British Labour Party when he was a student in London. As Labour was rather heavily left-leaning in those days, it is no wonder that his policies reflected Socialist values, despite being of aristocratic background.
For example, the Tun had been responsible for pioneering PKNS, Felda and Mara, besides pushing for more state intervention to support social equality at a time when the country lacked basic necessities and essential services. In fact, the NEP’s main objective was to eradicate poverty and the identification of economic function with race.
On a cultural point, Jahabar noted that in Tun Razak’s days, Malay men wore suits and danced the joget. Though meant to be light-hearted, it is certainly true that Malaysians were more broadminded and liberal where societal and cultural issues were concerned.
There was certainly less moral policing, yet our civil service was world class and our schools and universities produced top quality graduates. Somehow, individual freedom had not constrained the development of young Malaysians.
Unfortunately, nowadays people are more interested in what the young are wearing and how they are supposed to behave. The state is now an arbiter of what is morally acceptable, resulting in a focus on superficial facades rather than what really matters.
Somehow, we as a society have lost sight of our priorities. Fifteen-year-old girls are being targeted by the religious authorities, while those selling dodgy consumer products in the name of religion are not paid any heed.
In another case, a school in Cheras had allegedly sent a non-Malay girl home for wearing a baju kurung to school. There is no excuse for a school to act in such a manner.
If modesty was the reason, then the school should simply require female students to wear plain-coloured camisoles underneath. When I was in school, girls who chose not to do so were issued demerit points instead of being deprived a day of school. Once again, we do not know how to prioritise.
I wonder what Tun Razak would say were he alive to see all this happening in the country he sacrificed so much for. Perhaps his youngest son, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, is right when he said that his father would be shocked that it is already 2015 yet race and religion appears to divide Malaysians even more than during his time.
Oh, where have we gone wrong?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.