Saturday, May 31, 2008

The next 50 years

By: Jacqueline Ann Surin theSun Merdeka coordinator (Thu, 30 Aug 2007)

So, here we are at the cusp of our 50th anniversary as an independent nation. It is, no doubt, a significant juncture to be at

Over the past 50 days of theSun’s Merdeka countdown, we have attempted to be retrospective in order to better understand how we reached this point in our nationhood.

We hope our Merdeka countdown has been a useful reminder for all of us about how this nation was founded and what were the external and internal forces that led to our independence, and what sacrifices and negotiations were made as we learnt to live in and govern a multicultural polity.

The countdown has definitely highlighted not just our successes as a developed nation but also pinpointed several crucial issues that we need to deal with if we are to continue developing a people that is mature, progressive, intelligent and resilient.

Many would concur that Malaysia is at a crossroads. Being 50 years old provides us with a useful junction to stop and look, before we move forward. But we are at crossroads not just because we turn 50 tomorrow. We are at a crossroads because there are national issues and concerns that we have yet to adequately grapple with.

National unity is not a given we can take for granted, despite the peace and prosperity we have all worked together for, because of contesting claims about the nature of our social contract. Attempts are also being made to reconceive the spirit of our Federal Constitution – that which guarantees rule of law, justice and equal citizenship rights to all.

The quality of our education is on the slide. Essential services such as water and healthcare are being privatised to the chagrin of lower-income groups.

The efficiency and effectiveness of our government institutions in serving the rakyat’s needs and upholding the law are being questioned as we continue to grapple with issues of corruption, integrity, transparency and accountability.

At the same time, our economic resilience, as we become more exposed to globalisation, will depend on adaptable and creative strategies that must necessarily be based on a system of meritocracy. But whether the political will exists for that shift to happen remains to be seen.

Looking back is, indeed, a useful exercise so that we can chart our future direction with wisdom and foresight. And now that we’ve looked back, it’s time to look forward.

One of Dr Stephen Covey’s habits for highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind”. That same principle can be used for our nation.

Hence, as a finale to our Merdeka countdown, we thought it appropriate to ask Malaysians to share their hopes and aspirations for the future.

We invited notable personalities to talk about their vision for the nation in the next 50 years in politics and government, civil society, ethnic relations, arts and culture, business and economics, the environment, infrastructure, education, sports, and not least, their vision for our capital, Kuala Lumpur. We were also privileged to have an architect envision for us in detailed visuals what the Kuala Lumpur skyline might look like in 2057.

We tried to get as many diverse views as possible so that, going forward, the national leadership would have benchmarks to measure the hopes and aspirations of prominent Malaysian thinkers.

Some of these essays, all of which begin on the next page, are truly visionary. Others use current conditions as a launchpad for their aspirations and to ask pertinent questions about where Malaysia is heading.

These are Malaysian voices, sharing with the rest of the nation their hopes for a Malaysia in the next 50 years.

While their priorities and ideas moving forward may not all be the same, one thing is common: all have envisioned a Malaysia that provides a place for all Malaysians. It is a Malaysia that is resilient and adaptable, and comfortable with diversity of cultures and views. It is a Malaysia that is inclusive of all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or class.

Indeed, it is the rakyat who make this country what it is; who, no matter the nation’s political climate – often upped by self-interested politicians at different points in our history – have proven time and again that as a people, we are capable of living together respectfully and peacefully, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Hence, it is to Malaysian citizens that we pay a special tribute to in our centrespread collage of the rakyat.

It would, of course, be hard to accurately predict what exactly the nation will be like by 2057. But greatness is often a result of committed and passionate individuals believing hard enough in an ideal to want to do something constructive about it.

Our founding leaders showed this commitment and passion. Present day leaders from all sections of society, including the personalities in this special pullout, continue to show that same spirit for progress, peace and prosperity for all.

There is much to do in the years ahead to achieve our national aspirations. This Merdeka, let us be thankful for what we have gained over the past 50 years and let us look forward, committed to our national ideals – hopeful that we will make these visions a reality in the next 50 years.