The Sunday Star, 9 October 2011
The New Deal proposals for Malaysians have caught the attention of some young people who hope they will become a reality.
THE youths of today are a generation in a hurry. Born into the digital age, the pace in which their world spins often leaves their parents and the establishment struggling to keep up with their expectations.
They sometimes lament that established institutions are out of tune with their needs and aspirations, whether politically, economically or socially.
The young generation is also much bolder and articulate in expressing their needs and dissatisfaction.
When the MCA announced a New Deal for Malaysia based on fairness and bravery last week, where affirmative action must be based on needs and merits, as well as others, it drew both plaudits and scepticism from the young.
Even as they welcomed party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek’s speech on the New Deal, they expressed scepticism over whether it would receive the necessary support from other Barisan Nasional partners to be realised.
“Reading the speech, I was filled with great hope for the future, my future and the future of the youth today,” says 25-year-old Vince Chong, deputy chairman of the National Young Lawyers’ Committee of the Bar Council.
“That is essentially the crux of Dr Chua’s speech he was selling hope. And the reforms that he proposed as key points for the New Deal are exceptionally appealing.
“But I am also alive to (the fact) that reality may not allow it. The road to realise all key points of the New Deal is exceptionally tough. And there must be the political will to back it, not only from Barisan members but also members of the Opposition,” adds Wong.
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), a non-profit think tank, has described MCA’s call as a “very bold move” even though there is nothing “radical” in the New Deal.
“The announcement (New Deal) was very exciting, not because of the content but because MCA as one of the senior partners of Barisan National is beginning to speak out,” Ideas chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan says.
“And it is about time that the party speaks up so that they are part of the making of policy proposals,” adds Wan Saiful.
Under the New Deal proposal, affirmative action must be based on needs and merits. If any particular group is poor, it must continue to receive help.
Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak reportedly said that any affirmative action to help bumiputras should be based on meritocracy to ensure only the deserving ones are promoted,
“Hopefully, with MCA speaking out, the PM will feel he has the political support to implement it,” says Wan Saiful.
As a Malay, Wan Saiful, 36, personally believes it is “unfair” to have policies based on race.
“Malays are beginning to speak out against affirmative action,” Wan Saiful observes.
“There will always be extremist elements from all races. But there are also unifying forces from progressive elements of many parties,” he says, adding that his organisation is “more than willing” to talk to people from all races who need help or to listen to their concerns.
Political scientist Ong Kian Ming of UCSI University describes the New Deal as “bold” and, in some ways, beyond what Najib has proposed as part of the political transformation programme.
“For example, Dr Chua called for the abolition of the restriction in the AUKU (University and University Colleges Act) which prevents students from being members of political parties,” says Ong.
“His outreach to young voters and the emphasis on demands beyond that of the immediate concerns of the Chinese community show that he is in touch with political reality post 2008,” he says.
However, Dr Chua faces challenges in making the New Deal a reality as much would depend on the votes MCA can recapture in the next general election as well as how much support the party will get from Umno.
“The New Deal has many good aspirations but the larger electorate will quickly move on to focus on Najib’s transformational agenda rather than the MCA’s own transformational agenda,” adds Ong.
Najib appears not to be relying on MCA and MIC to reach out to the Chinese and Indian voters but is instead relying on his own popularity, according to Ong.
“This may not be sufficient in swinging enough votes to win back some of the seats which MCA lost in 2008 especially in areas with strong PR incumbents and relatively weak MCA candidates,” he says.
For Chew Hoong Ling, 31, the most important part of the New Deal is the economic proposal.
“People will not complain and will even close an eye when they have enough to eat. But when people struggle while the leaders are seen to be lavish and corrupt, the people will turn the tables (against them),” says Chew, a member of the National Youth Consultative Council.
Chew is calling for the empowerment of youths to give them the opportunity to be entrepreneurs and not just employees.
“We have babies born every year but the leadership hoards positions for over 10 years. How can young people climb up the (corporate) ladder in their lifetime?
“There should be policies to empower youths in other sectors and facilitate youth groups to be entrepreneurs,” she says.
For the young who are well educated, they have no patience to wait for changes as their education affords them the mobility to move to places with better opportunities. This mobility also gives them the ability to effect changes to their lives without intervention from the state.
“Brain drain will continue to happen until major reforms are made by the ruling government where there is meritocracy, where contracts are given out based on merit,” says William Lee, 27, a web designer.
Lee, who graduated from Monash University, Melbourne with a degree in electrical and computer systems engineering, is planning to leave for Australia.
“I plan to leave the country as a back-up plan’, in case things don’t work out here,” he says.
Lee says he and his friends started their own businesses with their own efforts.
“We did it ourself. Nobody helped us.”
Ann, a financial executive, believes Dr Chua speaks for all Malaysians in his New Deal.
“Given his ideology of the New Deal, I would say he is really speaking 1Malaysia and pushing for equal rights for all Malaysians.”
In the following weeks, Sunday Star will explore the key points of the New Deal articulated by Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.