Ideas of free­dom

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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

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