In the previous posting, we had seen how an otherwise historically sound and necessary policy degenerated into a racial policy, which in turn generated great racial or communal tension in the nation. Malay elite with vested interests justified them in the name of all Malays along communal line, while non-Malay elite with vested interests denounced all legitimate Malay interests in the name of their community along communal line too. The sum total of it all is that the DEB or NEP emerged as one of the most contentious single issue in Malaysian history. It became so contentious that we Malaysians forgot some basic truths or our nation, namely: a) there are many fair and broadminded Malays arguing for legitimate Malay interests, b) there are many fair and broadminded non-Malays arguing for legitimate non-Malay interests, c) there are many Malay chauvinists seeing everything in racial terms, d) there are many non-Malay chauvinists seeing everything in racial terms. The sad thing is that we had closed our mind to category a) and b), while surrendering it to the conditioning and manipulation of category c) and d), with the dire consequence of surrendering our civic life to chauvinism.
We would soon witness the dawning of another ‘era’, the much anticipated and speculated New Economic Model or NEM. I should like to jot down some comments and response to the idea, as mental notes more for my own understanding.
The timing and circumstances of its introduction is unfortunate. It comes in the aftermath of an electoral debacle and with a strange ‘airing’. There was an announcement of a ‘ big thing ‘ coming, with scanty details, and definitely with little or no public involvement in its genesis. The general public mood created can be reasonably summed up as cynical and skeptical ‘what now?’
The choice of the name ‘New Economic Model’ too invites some reflection. I know many might justifiably argue what’s in a name. On my part I wonder. Is it a reflection of how it sees itself in relation to its predecessor the NEP? It merely changes a word, from ‘policy’ to ‘model’. Is it a case of mere dislike of the word ‘policy’ because of its bureaucratic tenor, while the word ‘model’ is more ‘management-like’, ‘academic’ or ‘sophisticated’?. In other words, is it simply a case of sophistries or an indication of commitment and continuities with the past in the NEP? Is it an indication of ambivalence or ‘dualism’ for the future, for easy and convenient maneuver between the ethos of the NEP and the NEM, depending on occasions and audiences?
The choice of name apart, there is the more substantive issue of principles and development philosophy. To begin with, the New Economic Model should indicate clearly how it sees itself in relation to the New Economic Policy. In some aspects, indeed not wholly, the New Economic Model seems antagonistic to its past. Its closely associated concept of ‘liberal’ and ‘liberalism’ connote this. Liberalism suggests a freeing of from past constraints or ‘shackle’. Does this mean that the NEM does not feel a commitment to the issues and concerns of the NEP? If indeed, the NEM dissociates itself completely from past issues and principles, what would these be? ‘Eradication of poverty’ and ‘restructuring the economy, these being the main objectives of the NEP? The new slogan of ‘meritocracy’, interlaced with condescending rhetoric on the Malay lack of competitive spirit, certainly doesn’t help in projecting the NEM as a multiracial policy. It is the old argument of Malay elite with vested interests under the NEP, as well as the all time favourite of non-Malay chauvinists.
The simple truth is that, while there is a self-serving elite that waxed riches from corruption and cronyism, most Malaysians of all races, Malays and non-Malays, have to and do ‘compete’ to earn a decent leaving. Sloganeering under ‘liberalisation’ and ‘meritocracy’ without genuine understanding and commitment to the principles will merely lends itself readily the wild swinging of the pendulum between ‘ pro-Malay’ NEP and the ‘pro-non-Malay NEM’. Before we know it, we are back to the basic discourse of chauvinism that continually haunts our nation.