“As far as I am concerned, I am not very interested
in politics. I am more interested in administering the
government and looking after the welfare and
the well being of the people and the nation.”
Excerpt from ‘Not your, not my, but our Malaysia’ by Ambiga Sreenevasan
The results of the 9 May 2018 General Election were nothing short of a miracle. Many never imagined seeing the Barisan Nasional government lose power in their lifetime. We must never forget this precious moment in history, achieved after decades of struggle and sacrifice by so many. We now have a functioning democracy and we must cherish this and work hard to ensure we never lose it again.
Much is expected of this new government. We want them to succeed. It is understandable that our leaders are preoccupied with economic issues, tackling corruption and checking abuse of power in the various ministries. Nevertheless, it is also important that this government spends some time focusing on the well-being of all. It was our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who neatly encapsulated his own “people-first” philosophy in these words:
“As far as I am concerned, I am not very interested in politics. I am more interested in administering the government and looking after the welfare and the wellbeing of the people and the nation.”
After all, the previous government took racism, discrimination, divisiveness and the oppression of marginalised communities to new heights (or depths)! The people expect this government to govern differently. To unite rather than to divide, and to empower rather than to destroy.
How has this government performed in terms of being a government for all? It has been stated that: “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members”. Indeed, that must be true, for it is not the strong who need protection, but the weak, vulnerable and the marginalised.
In Malaysia, these include our children, abused women, the Orang Asli community, refugees, religious minorities, the poor, the LGBT community and the stateless, to name a few. How the government treats and provides for these groups will demonstrate whether or not they are and can be a government for all.
Again, we can turn for inspiration not just to Tunku’s words, but to his actual deeds. He wanted all citizens to receive fair treatment. It was largely due to his efforts that Malaysian women in the workforce gradually gained an equal footing with men in the post-Merdeka era.
It was during his premiership that we witnessed the first female civil servants and cabinet ministers, as well as the passage of important laws that established women’s pension rights and right to equal pay for equal work.
On a less official, but no less inspiring level, Tunku demonstrated a life-long affinity for those in society
who were marginalised and vulnerable. Well before he became Prime Minister, he helped to rehabilitate over 100 refugees who had fled the infamous Death Railway in Burma during World War Two.
Even when he was out of power in the mid-1970s, it was Tunku’s compassion for the less fortunate which was the prime mover behind Malaysia’s acceptance of close to 10,000 Cham refugees fleeing the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.
Each era of Malaysia’s history has presented new challenges concerning marginalised or vulnerable groups. In new Malaysia’s first 100 days, we have been confronted with several such issues.
Read more in Dialog: Thoughts on Tunku’s Timeless Thinking