Ideas of freedom
our constitutional history, economic policy, interethnic and interreligious challenges – a safe space that I helped facilitate to achieve rational discourse (something rare and precious these days). Today, some of these fellows have gone on to join politics, start their own movements and one was even awarded the Queen’s Young Leaders Award by Queen Elizabeth. I watch on with pride.
Second, our undying belief in the principles of liberty and justice (a quote from Tunku Abdul Rahman’s declaration of independence that we often use). We organised numerous conferences over the years, but the flagship one that always reminded me of why this work was so gravely important was our Liberalism Conference. Held annually, it was the one conference that would attempt to dispel the unfounded views that put liberalism in negative light.
Unprecedented, this was the only platform that brought together speakers from disparate perspectives on one panel: from right-wing conservative groups like ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia) and Perkasa (Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa) to the more liberal IRF (Islamic Renaissance Front) and Sisters in Islam (SIS). Sure, the speakers would consistently disagree since they had different worldviews altogether, but this was the rare opportunity for the issues to be discussed openly. Only through engagement can there be any resolution on how we can live together in a common space.
The Liberalism Conference would also bring together varied perspectives on the economy: should there be more or less government intervention in managing our economy? Again, there are vastly different opinions. We explored the negative impact that poorly managed government-linked companies have on the country’s fiscal health; how opaque and non-transparent public procurement practices mean that even bumiputra companies do not benefit as long as they are not well-connected; how excessive government regulation makes it tough for companies, both small and large, to operate in the country.
How about the political future of the country? Bringing together political leaders from both sides of the divide was this conference’s forte. What is the right model that works to secure the future of Malaysia? The Barisan Nasional consociational model that was meant to allow different ethnic groups a political party to air their grouses, or the Pakatan Harapan model where each party is at least in theory multiracial? More importantly, what public policies should be implemented to ensure the long-term wealth to allow all communities to prosper and flourish, living the lives they desire?
These are all questions that have been explored deeply throughout my years here, and it is this enabling of such intellectual debate that I believe has added value.
The Malaysia of today has the burden of dealing with multiple faultlines, and it is these we must carefully navigate. At a time when these faultlines – race, religion, geographical distance, urban-rural divide, language – seem to be rearing their ugly heads more often than we like, it is ever more important for there to be avenues for us to understand “the other”.
Finally, the working together with other members of civil society was a valuable experience. Through a coalition of governance, integrity, accountability and transparency (GIAT), we launched several