The Sun (Malaysia)
Balancing religious conservatism and economic growth
my fellow Malaysians in celebrating Hari Merdeka on Aug 31 as we rejoiced on our Independence Day. It is a day for us to reflect on the fact that despite the challenges of building a united country, we have proved that we can overcome the difficulties facing us.
Malaysians can be proud that they can celebrate their National Day in a peaceful and secure environment.
Malaysia is more diverse in race, language, culture and religion than most former colonies in the British Empire. Upon achieving independence in 1957, the country inherited a good system of law and order, a reliable public administration and a welldeveloped infrastructure of transport and communication.
Furthermore, we were fortunate to inherit a good education system based on the British model. Combined with the country’s rich resource base and its strategic location in Southeast Asia, which is considered one of the most dynamic regions in the world, our economy developed fast and evolved into a significantly more diversified and stable entity than it was over six decades ago.
The strong economic growth enabled absolute poverty and high youth unemployment to be eradicated.
Our leaders were pragmatic in formulating development policies, resulting in all races feeling a sense of belonging to the country.
In every economic five-year plan, the government prioritised spending on advancing education and healthcare for the rakyat and improving living standards in rural areas.
We made significant progress in reducing inequalities to prevent the recurrence of internal instability, such as the May 1969 racial riots, from happening. This incident further solidified the government’s resolve to pursue higher economic growth targets.
As Malaysians have secured their basic needs for food, clothing and housing, they now aspire to enjoy additional rights and freedoms akin to those witnessed in prosperous nations around the world.
With their exposure to international television and social media, where they observe new trends in lifestyles from around the world, the new generation of Malaysians is also experiencing a trend toward Westernisation.
Religious conservatives should understand the generational shifts taking place among our youths and show greater tolerance for their modern lifestyles.
They should refrain from trying to impose their conservative moral values on society as this can have adverse implications for the economy.
If local and foreign investors perceive a lack of business safety due to the increasing influence of religious conservatism in the country’s politics, they may relocate their operations to neighbouring nations.
In a free enterprise economy, such as Malaysia, the “goose that lays the golden egg” is the private sector. Malaysia’s aspirations of becoming a high-income country will depend on maintaining sustained and high levels of growth in private sector activities. This is especially crucial for modern and cutting-edge technologies, so that we remain competitive in the global economy.
All this will depend on private sector businesses being confident that Malaysia will remain a tolerant country in dealing with issues of race and religion, within government policies or among the political leaders.