MALAYSIA Baru was adopted as a slogan to mark the triumph of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) takeover and the coalition’s emergence as government of the day when they won the fourteenth general election on 9 May 2019. For many Malaysians it was a historic moment indeed to witness the end of more than five decades of Barisan Nasional (BN) rule. For some it was tragic to see the old and tested being replaced by the new and brash.

Understandably, there was jubilance among the PH coalition parties and their supporters who saw it as their turn to hold the reins of power and put the country back on the right track. As is normal with any new committee or administration, there would be suspicious scrutiny of past practices and resounding announcements of fresh strategies and approaches.  

After all, the PH election campaign and manifesto had touted the corruption and power abuse of the previous regime. To them it was only logical that Malaysia Dulu was to be replaced by Malaysia Baru.

Notwithstanding the incorrect application of Dewan Bahasa grammatical rules, Malaysia Baru has been rampantly used by politicians and ordinary people in separating husk from chaff, in identifying the good, the bad and the ugly in  Malaysia’s development. Rotten and rotting Malaysia lama needed to be replaced by the baharu or new promised land.  

Immediately cracks and flaws were identified and “old” people, policies and plans had to go – to be replaced by the new and promisingly unflawed. Malaysia Ba(ha)ru has become the hope and the dream of a nation that is truly democratic, fair, just and incorruptible.

However, from the beginning some among the young and old were skeptical. Can a country really become new or baharu when it has developed out of a historical past? Is not a nation the sum total of its old experiences that have built the culture and traditions of its many peoples that have, in turn, coloured their multiple identities? Can all these be wiped out and replaced by the new?

For instance, how does one change the culture of giving upah (monetary reward) or bearing buah tangan (gift) ingrained in the people of eastern cultures who understand them as tokens of payment or gratitude for work done? Or simply as a gesture of goodwill and generosity? Or indeed charity? All the more baffling to them when foreign loan words such as korupsi and integriti are thrown in their faces when they are caught and charged?

It is the people that need to be imbibed with new knowledge and education to be made fully aware that upah is considered as makan suap (bribery) when you accept monetary and other gifts in the line of duty, especially when it is your sworn responsibility to serve the rakyat. And please catch the givers too Pakatan Harapan government.

Skeptics of Malaysia Baru are also of the view that Malaysians should not think it is the country that needs renewal in the same way that the English do not talk of having a new England every time their government changes hands. England remains steeped in the tradition of justice and integrity propounded by some of its greatest leaders.  And the country remains obstinately principled in maintaining what foreigners think are its idiosyncratic ways of managing things.

Recently, I entered into an altercation with a bank manager in England who refused to accept my international passport as evidence of my identity as co-holder of the account I shared with my husband for the last thirty years. The joint account bore my married name (as required under British law) while my international passport registered my maiden name. I was refused a banking transaction until I provided my marriage certificate as proof that I am actually the legal wife of my husband. And we have been married for close to fifty years.

While expressing my distaste for the stickiness in English banking procedures, I secretly admired the bank manager for his professional integrity and politeness in handling a woman scorned. I wonder what would have happened if I had slipped a hundred pound note into my passport. Would I have been reported for attempted bribery?

The promise of a renewal thus lies in Malaysians themselves. We must become a people reborn with the sound code of ethical conduct and behaviour required of us in fulfilling the nation’s aspirations. Malaya and Malaysia’s ideals have remained constant and consistent since independence and even in the run up to Merdeka.

Our hope has always been rightly placed in the quest for peace and harmony; national integration and unity; fairness, justice and equality; and most of all national integrity which is the sum total of the personal integrity of every Malaysian.

What will go down in history as the tragedy of the deposed BN government is its betrayal of the nation’s ideals by groups of people who could not see the wood for the trees and were blinded by their obsession with material development at the expense of the spiritual. What the PH government should endeavour to achieve during its five-year term is change in the rakyat’s attitude and behaviour.

The integrity of each and every Malaysian is what contributes to the nation’s prosperity.

* Datuk Halimah Mohd Said is the President of Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE).

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.

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