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The trouble with not a few of our prime ministers is that they tend to think that if only they can find the right slogan, everything else will fall into place and all our problems will be solved. Thus, we had Mahathir Mohamad’s “Wawasan 2020”; Abdullah Badawi’s “Islam Hadhari”; Najib Tun Razak’s “1Malaysia”; Muhyiddin Yassin’s “Kerajaan Prihatin and Ismail Sabri’s “Keluarga Malaysia”.

And then there were all those other gratuitous catchphrases like “leadership by example”; “clean, efficient and trustworthy government” and “Bangsa Malaysia”. 

As we now know, it was all a sham, a show, the dishonest manipulation of voters’ hopes and aspirations. Mahathir, for example, excited us all with his “Bangsa Malaysia” slogan but then went on to do more to destroy national unity than anyone else. He talked about clean, efficient and trustworthy government but left a legacy of massive corruption and institutional decline.

Now it’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s turn at sloganeering; his ‘Malaysia Madani’ vision, the new national philosophy, is supposed to “restore Malaysia’s dignity and glory….”

Now it’s Madani this and Madani that. There are Madani moments, Madani open houses, Madani signages, Madani budgets and the Madani spirit. One DAP politician opined that the Madani concept could help “overcome Malaysian Indian issues”. Agriculture minister Mat Sabu even justified a string of crony appointments by invoking Madani. 

I suppose if you want to be politically correct these days, throwing in the word “Madani” a couple of times in whatever you say is a must. Just add the magic word and everything becomes nice and kosher. Contracts, titles and appointments might possibly follow.

As one weary civil servant complained recently, everyone is acting like Madani is the word of a prophet, a philosopher-king, that must be diligently studied and applied to every aspect of government and society. 

All we need now are Mao-style little Madani red books for everyone to carry around and quote from. After all, during his recent visit to China, Anwar equated his Madani vision with the Thoughts of Chairman Xi Jinping.  

Now, don’t get me wrong; Madani contains lots of wonderful things like sustainability, prosperity, innovation, respect, trust and compassion. It also talks about national unity,  inclusivity and brotherhood; courage, identity and determination; tradition, culture and local wisdom. And for good measure, nobleness, purity of heart and goodwill have been thrown in too. 

But the real question is what effect will this latest itineration at sloganeering really have?  Slogans without sound policy and meaningful action are just thunder without rain, smoke without fire. People are getting disillusioned. What they need is not another bumper sticker but policies that will made a real difference in their lives.

After Anwar extended the contract of MACC chief Azam Baki and praised him for doing a good job, I no longer believe he is as serious about fighting graft as he says he is. His refusal to put the MACC in the hands of someone with unimpeachable integrity and independence is a clear sign that he wants an agency he can control, not one that will ruthlessly, independently and impartially root out corruption wherever it may be found. 

How to have faith in a man who keeps on big-noting his resolve to fight corruption but passes up opportunities to clean up the system once and for all? With every passing day, the gap between rhetoric and reality grows wider. So far there’s no sign of that Madani courage and determination in really fighting corruption.

Cukup lah, enough of all these slogans. What we need is for the government to just do its job honestly and competently. Revive our decaying institutions. Act decisively against bigotry; let everyone know that discrimination will no longer be tolerated. Stop the crony appointments. Put in place a credible anti-corruption infrastructure. Reinvigorate our democracy by getting rid of repressive legislation. Reform our education system. Use the wealth of the nation to uplift every Malaysian who needs help irrespective of race. 

If there’s real political will, nothing is really impossible. If we don’t seize this opportunity for change, Malaysia’s future will be bleak.

And instead of all those fancy slogans – odes to vainglory all – let’s dust off the only national philosophy that truly means something to most Malaysians – the Rukun Negara. Instituted by royal proclamation on Merdeka Day 1970, it neatly encapsulates what our nation ought to be about. If we had invested in it, emphasized it in schools and given it substance in national policies, Malaysia would be a different place today.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 20th May 2023]