There have been calls for the formation of a second National Consultative Council (NCC2) to push for harmony and to resolve a whole laundry list of problems from the fractured education system to religious issues, corruption, broken institutions, and ugly politics.
The original NCC, led by the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, was set up in the aftermath of the May 13, 1969 race riots. It came up with the Rukunegara, while the National Operations Council (NOC) formulated the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, ostensibly to eradicate poverty “irrespective of race” and to “eventually eliminate the identification of race with economic functions”, according to the Second Malaysia Plan.
Despite the apparently noble objectives of the NEP to reduce economic inequality, it has been abused to enrich the Malay elite while the poor across all ethnic groups remain poor. The Bumiputera in Sarawak for example, such as the Bidayuh, still lack tarred roads, schools and basic healthcare in their villages in Padawan in this day and age.
The Rukunegara may have helped with laying down a set of principles for all Malaysians, but it’s regrettable that current government leaders violate the Rukunegara’s exhortation of “a liberal approach“ to the country’s diverse cultural traditions by demonising liberalism.
So why do we want NCC2, when the achievements of the NCC are questionable and the NEP has contributed to most of our problems today i.e. racial discrimination and ethnic tensions?
I understand the frustrations of those calling for NCC2.
There is a sense of hopelessness and even despair. We still struggle with racism and religious conflicts. Our rights are eroded every day as people get arrested for the slightest expression of dissent, while thugs get free rein to spark chaos.
The government is blind to corruption while the Opposition doesn’t seem keen to change the system, only the players. Civil society, which we used to pin our hopes on to represent our voices for reform, turned partisan along the way and alienated many of us.
But NCC2 is not the answer. We don’t need yet another committee or taskforce making recommendations that will only end up in the bin.
Look at what happened to the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC). They suggested brilliant legislation to criminalise hate speech and discrimination, but their proposals were dumped as the government decided to retain the Sedition Act. They supposedly have some ”national unity blueprint“, but we don’t know what it’s really about.
We rely too much on politicians, prominent figures and movements to “save Malaysia”, failing to realise our immense powers as ordinary citizens to change the system.
In my story on how a block of low-cost flats in Petaling Jaya became liveable, the Desa Mentari Block 3 residents (mostly Malay and Indian) showed me how they overcame their differences and built a tight-knit community, akin to a kampung.
They enjoy a crime-free environment and the feeling of safety, which is something even I don’t have in my upper middle-class neighbourhood of Taman Tun. They did it on their own, without any big-shot politician or NGO leader. Their MP Wong Chen told me that he just let them run things the way they saw fit.
Malaysia may be falling to pieces, but we can’t push our individual and collective responsibility to fix the country to someone else.
We have to stop standing behind those who do all the speaking up and summon up the courage to stand with them.
It’s not that Malaysia needs saving. If the country is messed up, it’s because we are, too. We’re content with letting someone else do the fighting.
Even with all the corruption going on, the most that we do is make snarky jokes on social media, the kinds that are outwardly funny, but with underlying tones of depression and helplessness.
We aren’t angry enough, which means we don’t care enough, to go out to the streets ourselves in droves and demand change regardless of the consequences.
A friend told me that one of the root problems is that Malaysia as a whole lacks an identity, compared to Sabah for example.
I think that we Malaysians do have one; we just haven’t found a way to articulate it. We want Malaysia to be a kind of “Promised Land” of racial diversity with a “Muhibbah” spirit, where we can point to others across race and be proud to say that ”they” are one of us. We want a reason to stay instead of emigrating to developed countries or even just down south.
But we sometimes let our insecurities get the better of us and when the going gets tough, we give up and ask other people to do the fighting for us.
We need to stop doing that.