In 2019, the next step is to craft a new national narrative

DECEMBER 30 ― The end of 2018 is fast closing on the maiden administration of Pakatan Harapan (PH), but for some this new government has yet to bring about a new country despite the “New Malaysia” rhetoric.

Whether the pact is culpable for this is still up for question. After all, while the government may have changed, we are by and large the same country with the same prejudices, outlook, and beliefs before we cast our ballots on May 9.

But with a new year comes a new resolution, and a new hope for a better day. And one way PH can work towards a more progressive nation ― although hardly a low-hanging fruit ― is to have a new national narrative that everyone can participate in and belong to.

This call has of course been made by more than one people, and by those much wiser than I could ever be.

Academic Amrita Malhi was quoted in one of my stories urging a “new story about the nation and its citizens” that is inclusive, rather than a zero-sum game about “rights” of certain parties.

Politician Liew Chin Tong, now himself a deputy minister, proposed an extended and “improvised” version of Vision 2020 ― pointing out that a vacuum has resulted in discourse that is centred around the ethnic lens, leading to a lack of trust between Malaysians, exacerbated by national institutions that have been weakened by the previous regime.

Even minister Saifuddin Abdullah recently talked about the need for a new political configuration, highlighting his current pet concept of centripetalism to end the politics of race.

And I am sure many more have made the same observations.

And it says a lot about how these remarks came at the back of several worrying events: a rally opposing an anti-racial discrimination treaty, riots at a Hindu temple which resulted in the death of a firefighter, and an attempt at declaring Malaysia an Islamic state.

Here I propose two core issues that we can focus on this year: moving beyond race-based policies, and minimising moral policing.

Firstly, this has to be the year where we move beyond “Ketuanan Melayu” and Malay supremacy, and that preferential treatment is mandatory for a certain community just because they are the majority.

Instead, economic policies must be scrutinised on the basis of income and the inequality between social classes, regardless of ethnicities.

We have already seen this being stressed by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad while tabling the mid-term review of the 11th Malaysia Plan: Putrajaya will no longer measure development through economic growth, but it will now move towards “shared prosperity” between all citizens from an increase in purchasing power, and the elimination of a wide income gap.

Following on that, we see Budget 2019 that is more geared towards the bottom 40 per cent of the population, or the B40 rather than focusing too much on any ethnic community.

Secondly, we must further resist any attempt of Islamisation in this new administration, particularly when it comes to moral policing.

The supposed moral restrictions of one religious group should not in any way influence the government when it comes to national issues such as health, education, local authorities, and even entertainment, nightlife, or any manifestation of our diversity and pluralism.

Dr Mahathir's recent vision of a reformed education system that further minimises the out-of-control Islamisation of the curriculum appeared to have the backing of many stakeholders, except those who wish to abuse national resources for their own indoctrination purposes.

Minimising religious moral policing and rituals on a national level should not in any way deprive others from their own spiritual obligations and desires, but suffice to ensure that the civil service does not grind to a halt due to something that should instead be personal.

In addition, we have to lay bare attempts to manipulate the Malay rulers into a difficult position that they have no jurisdiction over.

A recent campaign by the Islamist lobby to get Malaysia recognised as an Islamic country is dangerous for exactly this ― an attempt to twist the Agong's arm into acceding to their bigotry and history revisionism, in turn forcing the constitutional monarch to turn against the whole country.

Of course to achieve all this, our leaders would not only need moral courage and political will, but a personal commitment for reform and a desire to see a diverse and plural Malaysia shine as a regional beacon of progress and progressiveness.

We must reject those who pander to racial and religious lines just to keep playing the political game. We must become more aware of dog-whistling, of any political shapeshifting that would only pit communities against each other.

And we need our leaders to be more resilient and robust in facing continual resistance to change from a vocal minority that only seeks to further its own selfish interest and privileges.

We can help steer discourse towards a more inclusive perspective. We can endorse those who work towards this. We can help pool our resources for this purpose. We can deplatform those who seek to divide us.

We can help show Malaysia that there is a better way, and a better country awaiting us.

Just imagine, when we can be reborn as a Malaysia where every citizen can truly belong, be secure about themselves, and be proud ... surely that is a Malaysia worth fighting for?

Let us start working towards that this 2019. Happy new year, folks. I will see you on the other side.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.