Kuala Lumpur, 16 February 2021 – The Institute For Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) commends the Ministry of National Unity’s launching of two landmark documents, the National Unity Policy as well as the National Unity Blueprint 2021-2030 but cautions against the documents providing mere lip service to the underlying issues driving race relations in Malaysia. Some positive elements of the Blueprint includes an emphasis on the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara and recognition of the importance of a shared history. All of this provides a clearer narrative on the issue of national identity and the forging of a Bangsa Malaysia. These documents are timely given the increasing polarisation and divisiveness inflicting politics and society in Malaysia and also abroad.
More importantly, this Blueprint presents a golden opportunity for Malaysia to evaluate and critically discuss race-related policies such as the New Economic Policy. “2021 marks 50 years since the NEP was introduced and since then there hasn’t been a critical evaluation of the policy at a national level. The introduction of this Blueprint can be a good place to start this conversation. Furthermore, these documents may even contribute towards resolving some pressing issues such as Malaysia’s ‘brain drain’ situation as well as structural and economic inequality,” comments Aira Azhari, Manager of the Democracy and Governance Unit at IDEAS.
“The launch of this Blueprint comes at an opportune time for IDEAS. We are currently leading a 2-year project on National Unity and Inter-racial Harmony, where we have conducted focus group discussions and roundtables around the country, with the aim of further understanding how Malaysians perceive race relations. We will soon begin our public campaign for this project and welcome any engagement with the government on this important issue,” says Aira.
The Blueprint does present some concerns. “Both the Blueprint and policy documents only generally highlight the conceptual framework and overall aims, but unfortunately falls short on detailing to the stakeholders the operational processes and relevant mechanisms involved in realising these aims. What are the new and innovative ideas that the new documents are introducing that will result in different outcomes? We hope that more inclusive engagements with civil society leaders will be conducted in the coming months where these details will be ironed out.
“Furthermore, using indexes alone is not a sufficient benchmark in which national unity can be measured. The approach to unity needs to be more holistic and courage needs to be shown in confronting delicate issues such as affirmative action and day to day discriminatory practices. The government must learn from the failed experiences of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) and the Consultative Council for People’s Harmony (CCPH) that proposed anti-discrimination and national harmony related bills. Now is the time to show that difficult topics should not be avoided but must instead reflect the realities on the ground,” comments Aira.
“Another point of concern is that the Blueprint uses the 13th May 1969 racial riots as a starting point when actually, our struggles with race relations should be contextualised from when we achieved independence as well as our colonial history if indeed the documents genuinely intend on addressing the aspect of shared history as a common value. If left unattended, this oversight risks becoming a missed opportunity to have concrete, mature discussions about the prevailing challenges we face in building positive inter-race relations.” concludes Aira.
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