The National Unity Consultative Council: Is It Any Good?

Daniel Teoh lists some practical recommendations for the National Unity Consultative Council.

The man who once proclaimed the existence of a ‘Chinese tsunami’ when asked to comment on polling results, has just announced the setting up of a National Unity Consultative Council, as ‘part and parcel’ of his ‘national reconciliation plan’.

It should be noted that this initiative is not the first of its kind in this neck of the woods. In October, the Second National Professors’ Congress, organised by the National Professors’ Council, was reported to have gathered a thousand professors, associate professors and lecturers to “look at factors that can contribute to unity and monitor factors that can be pose a challenge or threat to national reconciliation”. And then there’s the non-Muslim interfaith council.

The saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Are Malaysians really that disunited? The aims of the above measures seem to suggest a dire disunity between citizens of different races.

Going by the news, it seems that the government sees the political contest between political entities, namely Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat, as the correct thermometer for the temperature of ethnic relations.

The fiercer the battles for political mileage between the two coalitions, the worse the relationship between races become.

It is submitted that such a premise cannot be further than the truth, and constitutes an affront to intelligent voters who cast ballots not on political preferences or ethnic lines, but on the performances of candidates and parties.

 

Adding to the NUCC’s bow

With only six months to ”brainstorm new measures for national unity”, there is little time for the NUCC to waste.

This article suggests several strings for it to consider adding to its bow:

a)    Literature. Many of the ‘contemporary’ issues, such as the New Economic Policy and the role of mosques have actually been discussed before in the works of national writers like Muhammad Haji Salleh and Keris Mas. They have written towering polemics on these issues with an eye for a win-win situation for all. Their works are replete with themes of interracial unity and friendship. Since writers are also represented in the Council, the writings by distinguished locals should provide insight to measures to foster national unity.

b)    Legislation against racial discrimination. With the appointment of a former President of the Bar Council and several lawyers, this should only be natural and possible to accomplish. Racism is rampant in Malaysia because it is somewhat institutionalised. The Council should not become just another public relation exercise, and instead come up with a statute with enough ‘bite’ to subjugate racial statements and remarks by public figures, especially in the government itself. A few names of persons and organisations already spring to mind.

c)    Religion. To many, religion and race are Siamese twins. To address one is to also address another. The name of Mujahid Yusof Rawa comes to mind, as the Parit Buntar MP has much experience in conducting interfaith dialogues with churches in response to the ‘Allah’ issue. Mujahid would do well to bring his method to the Council for comments, and then to recommend it to the government in his new capacity as an NUCC member.

d)    Consider the viability of race-based parties. While reminded of the controversial remarks of Karpal Singh, race-based parties have no doubt overstayed their welcome. It seems futile to talk about ‘national unity and reconciliation’ when these parties still wield much influence, let alone govern the nation for more than 50 years. Should the parties fail the litmus test of whether they foster or obstruct national unity and reconciliation, it is high time that they be opened for all Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity. The diminuendo of racial undertones should also mark a new chapter in national history, continuing the efforts of statesmen like Onn Jaafar to include all races in policy consideration and decision-making.

e)    Youth. Malaysia is a young nation. Young, first-time voters have showed their strength by numbers. As the Malay saying goes, Melentur buluh biarlah dari rebungnya. It is a universal belief that no one is born a racist. Perhaps the Council should recommend that the notorious Biro Tatanegara (BTN) spread messages of unity instead. Programs and forums should be held more frequently and in a free setting for youths to discuss with, and hear from, each other, instead of Utusan and TV3 and their ilk.

 

The NUCC means business?

With heightened civil and political awareness, the Council’s proposals to the government, and the government’s reaction to them, would be under the scrutiny of concerned citizens. The Council’s announcement came with a bang, with one of its members, Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies chairperson,n Ramon Navaratnam describing it as “an action-oriented panel which means business”. Looking at the list of Council members, the six-month period should be well spent and the outcome seems set to be promising. Many expected it to have zero ‘monkey business’. It is the hope of this article that the NUCC’s recommendations would not, however, suffer the fate of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) proposal: left forlorn and dusty on a deck in Parliament’s library, useful to none.

 

Featured image by AsiaSociety.org


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Daniel Teoh Tzu Yong is a Malaysian.

Posted on 20 December 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to The National Unity Consultative Council: Is It Any Good?

  1. ckh

    Good article, tinted with a sense of optimism.

    Though my only concern in coming up with a statute with enough 'bite', as you put it, is that any hasty enactment of such regulatory measures to curb religious/racial dissent invariably risks being a muzzle on legitimate forms of discussion, expression, debate/ comment. Would such an Act mirror/duplicate the broadly-framed s298A of the Penal Code? I acknowledge that one can also mask racial vilification on the pretext of free speech, but without entrenched safeguards, any form of criticism could effectively be construed as hate speech. Albeit an imperfect model, s11 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (Vic) comes to mind as an illustration of such a safeguard. 
    http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Note