On Malaysia Day, Pauline Wong speaks to two former youth leaders about their aspirations for the nation. Originally published in theSun here.

PETALING JAYA (Sept 16, 2011): Youth activists are calling for increased participation from their peers in upholding the constitution and being active participants to create a Malaysia to be proud of, especially in light of the Malaysia Day celebration today.

Former Bar Council National Young Lawyers committee member Edmund Bon (pix), in an interview with theSun recently, said every Malaysian, especially the young, can and should be aware of the fundamentals of the Federal Constitution.

“Ignorance is not an option. It is only when we have this knowledge of the supreme law of the land that we are able to scrutinise and question the powers that be, creating a check and balance to ensure that the laws that govern our lives are not abused,” he said.

He said, adherence to the constitution would not only protect the rights of ever citizen, but also create a society with integrity.

“When the constitution is followed, rights are protected by the executive, laws passed in parliament do not seem arbitrary, and the judiciary shelters citizens from abuse.

“When the contrary occurs, there will be no respect for one another, rights of the citizens are diminished, institutions are not respected and society crumbles,” he said.

Bon, who is also a human rights lawyer, said the youth should ask themselves questions – what do they want for the country in terms of infrastructure, education system, economy, governance, human rights and the like, for starters.

“We need to advocate and build a society which abhors injustice and corruption,” he said, adding that it does not mean blind adherence, but a good dose of standing up for the law and the rights of every citizen.

“We need to build a non-partisan, issue-based, youth-driven, community-centred platform to promote greater ownership, participation and seek workable solutions to problems that affect our communities,” said Bon.

The same holds true for Youth For Change former chairperson Lee Khai Loon, who urges the youth to not just to talk, but to walk the talk.

“Youth always has been marginalised in the decision making process. Although the government proposed to have the youth parliament recently but there are laws such as the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), Internal Security Act (ISA) and Police Act that prohibit youth from participating in politics or speaking out their opinions on the current situation in Malaysia,” he pointed out.

The UUCA is a law prohibiting students in tertiary education from participating in political activities or become members of political parties.

“So it is crucial that we begin by organising small discussions on the constitution among our peers, or to use social media tools to participate in discussions about public policy and law,” said Lee.

“Youth participation is the keyword for nation building, so we need to send our protests to those who utter irresponsible statements, and make them accountable for their words and actions,” he said.

In the end, he said, it boils down to three key words to achieve national unity, and a society which has integrity.

“Tolerance, openness, and unity-in-diversity – nothing should be hidden under the carpet, nor should differences in culture or religion separate us. Only with constructive engagement with all levels of society and a sense of civic responsibility will we overcome prejudice and discrimination,” he said.

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