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Remembering Tunku: 'A strong civil society is an essential part of any democracy' - IDEAS President

Remembering Tunku: 'A strong civil society is an essential part of any democracy' - IDEAS President
The programme held today will culminate in a national conference on national unity which will be organised by the fellows. - Photo by Astro AWANI/Haider Yutim
KUALA LUMPUR:
Keynote address by Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Muhriz to commemorate the 112th Anniversary of Bapa Kemerdekaan, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj at Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial in Kuala Lumpur on February 7, 2015
 
Alhamdulillah, kami semua berada di sini sekali lagi untuk mengingati seorang pemimpin hebat.

Seorang anak raja yang telah menyumbang terlalu banyak untuk negaranya. Seorang Perdana Menteri yang terus memberi inspirasi kepada kita. Seorang putera yang amat dirindui hari ini.
Saya mengucapkan terima kasih kepada anda semua kerana hadir bersama untuk mengingatinya hari ini, walaupun hari ulangtahun yang sebenar beliau ialah esok. Marilah sama-sama kita memperingati beliau dengan sedekahkan bacaan Al-Fatihah.


Amin. Thank you. Today, as in previous years, we will not just be explicitly remembering the Tunku by hearing recollections by someone who knew him personally, but also by discussing issues of national concern.
Five years ago at our launch we had a great-granddaughter of the Tunku, Sharyn Shufiyan, and his political protege Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, share their memories of him, and since then we have had Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam do the same.

Today we are going back to the family, as Sharifah Menyelara Hussein will not only give a speech but also screen a special video, complete with the impeccable production values that we expect of M&C Saatchi.

I'm also glad to welcome our Chair of Political Economy and Governance Dr Razeen Sally, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Dr Sufian Jusoh and Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin to our event.

For the sake of my friends from Sabah and Sarawak and also Singapore, I’d just like to say that what we saw earlier was of course the Proclamation of Independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957, not the Proclamation of Malaysia, but the same values of liberty and justice were repeated by the Father of Malaysia in 1963 – and of course we are still using the same anthem, albeit in a different orchestration.

[I can see Datin Saidah Rastam in the audience and I hope everyone in this room can benefit from another performance of the special concert that traced the history of our national anthem.]

I'd like to apologise for the somewhat cramped conditions / to those who have to stand or sit outside. We did actually have a confirmed larger venue – Bank Negara’s Lanai Kijang nearby – but they cancelled on us when they discovered that there might be opposition politicians in the audience.

Thankfully the team here at the memorial, especially Encik Zaheri, have been marvellous at stepping in on short notice. Of course this building is fully government-controlled through the National Archives under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and we have had opposition politicians speak here in previous years.

So I find Bank Negara's decision perplexing and uncharacteristic, given its independence and the respect it usually commands.

But since we are here, I’d encourage you to have a good look at this building and the Residency next door which has some real gems, and also the 1959 Cabinet table.

Parliament

Another institution that is supposed to be independent and command respect is parliament, which features heavily on our literature this year.

The building as it is today is on the cover of our folders, while the building as it was under construction in 1963 is on the cover of our annual report – which I'm afraid has some typos; apologies to the grammar Nazis in advance.

If you relied on Papineau’s guide to KL in 1964 you would have seen the new home of our parliamentary democracy featured on the front cover. Inside the book you’ll see some institutions that are familiar to my generation: Hotel Majestic, The Malay Mail, a recommendation for the Coliseum Café & Hotel or Hock Lee & Company, provision merchants.

Bapa Kemerdekaan
Allahyarham Tunku Abdul Rahman is more inspirational that he stood by his beliefs even if it cost him politically. - File Photo
 
There are many other things which are unfamiliar to us, like this Dance of Seven Angels or this advert for King Size Life cigarettes. On page 38 we see a visual example of “two attractive Malay girls”, who would be unlikely to receive the same universal commendation today.

But putting parliament on the cover of a tourist guide book provides a beautiful metaphor: that this country, is protected by this institution. Of course parliament existed before the physical building.

In his royal address at the convening of the Federation of Malaya’s first parliament the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Rahman said: “We wish all Our subjects on this historic day to know and understand that the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya, our charter of rights and liberties, is now, finally and completely, in operation and with the establishment of this Parliament under the Constitution, a new era begins for our nation…

We are pulling a switch which starts two dynamos of democracy – our Constitution and our Parliament – to serve the political needs of this new nation now and of generations of Malayans not yet born.”

And at the launch of the present building nearby, the third Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail said: “There can be no grander witness than this great structure itself of the ideals and hopes that people of Malaysia share – no finer gesture to the future of the faith and confidence they have in the continuing peace and happiness of Malaysia.”

Well, ladies and gentlemen. Do we think that the current members of parliament are living up to these words? No doubt there are a few, like the ones we have co-opted into our Council, but when we ask the question “Where is the leadership?” in our event today, a diplomatic answer perhaps is “not always where it ought to be.”

That’s why a strong civil society is an essential part of any democracy, and we at IDEAS have been doing our best to make a useful contribution. Over the past five years we have navigated around the ribut petir, scaled Kinabaluan heights, evaded the taik lembu and found allies and goodwill in diverse and unexpected places. 

Work

We have been working with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to strengthen anti-corruption efforts, and yet we have also been working with BERSIH to improve the electoral conditions of our country.

We are able to work with the Prime Minister’s Department on a new National Unity Youth Fellowship Programme, and yet we have discussions with Pakatan Rakyat Members of Parliament on decentralisation and local government.

We are able to organise roundtables on greater transparency in oil and gas revenues through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and yet we can speak to PETRONAS on the need for better governance in the oil and gas sector both nationally and in individual states.

We have worked with the Ministry of Education on promoting their Trust Schools Programme, and yet we have established two learning centres for the benefit of those who are not adequately covered by our national education system.

At the higher education level we have participated in countless roundtables and seminars in both public and private universities, although on one occasion our CEO was hounded out of campus.

Our report after officially observing the 2013 general election was quoted not only by both sides to strengthen their cases – or perhaps their allegations – but also by the international media.

At our anniversary events we have hosted speakers from both sides of the political divide, and despite being savaged by each other and the bloggers, somehow we remain their friends.

And of course we value the partnerships and collaborations that we have across Malaysian civil society. We are all here to stay, even, or rather especially, if we don’t always agree.

Thanks

So I want to thank Wan Saiful, Tricia, Puan Sharifah and all the staff at headquarters, the IDEAS Autism Centre and IDEAS Academy for working so hard to make all of this possible.

Whenever I barge into the IDEAS office unannounced, I only ever witness one cohesive team who believe in things, who want to always learn new things and who want to challenge themselves and each other. Put another way, it is the opposite of visiting the worst stereotype of a government office.

There are no soggy curry puffs crying out for rescue under cling film, no overly sweet tepid teh tarik waiting to be spilled.

5None of this could be possible without the support of our donors, many of whom are represented here today. It is heartening to know that there are those who subscribe to what we believe in and are willing to prove it financially.

We are also very grateful to our council members, chaired by Tun Dzaiddin. Collectively, they represent a wide variety of professions and life experiences, and their input and gravitas greatly enhances how we do things.

Illiberalism

Of course there have been many challenges. Particularly of late, there have been many voices of illiberalism coming to the fore: people pretending to be patriots while knowing nothing of the struggles, nothing of the vision, nothing of the principles, that were held by our founding fathers.

The tragic thing is that often these people don’t really believe in anything at all: they are merely exploiting pockets of dissatisfaction to promote sectarian interests only because their own personal interests align as well.

Unfortunately it seems there is insufficient leadership to take these voices on, and therefore the role that civil society has to play becomes even more important, lest the corruption and degradation of our institutions becomes irreparable.

When other powerful allies – such as the G25 – speak up, it further propels and inspires us to do all we can to restore our country to the democratic path towards liberty and justice.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen: usually I will conclude by quoting something from the sayings or writings of the Tunku. This year I won’t, not because I’ve run out of quotes, but rather because apart from our 2014 Annual Report we’re also distributing a copy of a book generously donated by ThinkCity, entitled Enduring Truths from Statements and Words of Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

It’s full of great quotes, but including his full speeches when becoming President of UMNO in 1951 and upon relinquishing the position 20 years later.

There are some amusing recollections such as that by Lord Ogmore of when the Tunku and Lee Kuan Yew were cooking curry in his house in London, but there weren’t enough spices so Tunku Ja’afar (the future Yang di-Pertuan Agong who was the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at the time) had to supply some more!

The book also contains reminders of the strong leadership that we enjoyed across our institutions when there was no Official Secrets Act, no Sedition Act and no Printing Presses and Publications Act, like the staunch independence of the Election Commission when it was headed by Dato’ Mustapha Albakri, and the respect that political opponents could still have for each other.

As a new generation of Malaysians clamours for ever better leadership, there are obvious lessons from our own relatively recent history. We all yearn for the day that the answer to the question “Where is the leadership?” is “exactly where it should be, like it once was.”

Perhaps one day, our Houses of Parliament will once again grace the covers of a guide book to our beloved country.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the morning. Thank you.

This National Unity Youth Fellowship Programme is a collaboration between IDEAS, the National Unity and Integration Department at the Prime Minister’s Department, the Malaysian Institute of Integrity and Negara-Ku.

The programme aims to develop and support the fellows by providing them with the skills and knowledge to champion moderation and national unity as envisioned in the Rukun Negara, which was to “mendukung cita-cita hendak menjamin satu cara liberal terhadap tradisi-tradisi kebudayaannya yang kaya dan berbagai corak”.

Over the course of this year, these 20 Fellows from different ethnic and religious backgrounds will attend training workshops on topics like ethnic and religious relations, integrity, nation building and be trained on skills like strategic planning, research methodology and messaging.

There will also be community engagement sessions during which Fellows will meet directly with community or religious leaders in different parts of Malaysia to get first hand exposure of real issues on the ground.

The programme will culminate in a National Conference on National Unity, which will be organised by the Fellows themselves, to be held on Malaysia Day. Members of the public will be invited for the conference in due time. Let’s meet the Fellows.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you, just like me, have very high hopes for these young leaders. I sincerely hope the youth fellows will play their part to champion national unity in the country. Let us give them round of applause.

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Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Tunku Mukhriz is the founder and president of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)