Malaysia recently was ranked 19th most peaceful country in the world, and ranked first in South East Asia. For decades we have built our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic nation upon a foundation of mutual tolerance and respect for each other. I am sure there are many of you among my generation who recall a period of difficulty in Malaysia’s nation building journey. We saw how challenging it was, how easily things could have gone wrong for us as a people, had we not built trust between the various racial and ethnic groups in the country. Who could have imagined how quickly we recovered from the dark episode of 13th May in 1969?
My personal experience with the events surrounding that period had shaped my understanding on leadership to this day. I saw my late father, then Prime Minister, possess so much power as director of Majlis Gerakan Negara or MAGERAN. He had the power of the cabinet and parliament in his hands. Can you imagine the overwhelming powers that he had? Powers that others only dreamed of, yet I remember him saying to me that he feared these powers. My father was afraid of absolute power and could not wait for the day that he could surrender them back to the people, through Parliament, and restore parliamentary democracy.
I am thankful that things did not go wrong. Yet everyday my colleagues and I remind ourselves that this delicate balance needs to be protected and preserved at all times. At a recent Friday prayers I attended while in London, the khutbah or sermon highlighted aspects of maqasid syariah, touching on the duties of a leader. According to maqasid syariah, it is the sacred duty of the leader to protect the lives and property of the people. I strive to abide by my duties as dictated by Islam, and by the Constitution.
Recent events that unfolded in Kuala Lumpur put us through an important test. Our decision as government was to protect the interests and property of the larger community that depend on Kuala Lumpur for their livelihood. That day thousands of Malaysians attempted to march through the streets. If this group was allowed to take to the streets, what about others? By permitting one to group to demonstrate, would we not have given legitimacy for others to do so, for whatever cause célèbre or controversial issue that attracts a lot of public attention that they deem pertinent? Regardless of promises of a peaceful demonstration, it takes only a small overzealous group harbouring a crazy notion to attack innocent bystanders or vandalising property for things to turn for the worse. What then? Is it worthwhile for us to take the risk? Hence, as Prime Minister, it becomes my duty to protect the immediate interests of the larger community over the interests of a group of dissenters.
That said, to the naysayers who declare that dissent is not permitted simply because their illegal actions have been clamped down, that democracy does not exist in this country, how do you explain the outcome of the last General Election and the glaring lack of protest over the results? How do you explain the online voices urging people to defy the government on social media? It is a shame that these facts are conveniently overlooked in order to make the government appear intolerant and undemocratic.
In this day and age where rapid communication leads to widespread information (and misinformation), mutual tolerance and respect grow increasingly harder to preserve. The way forward for us is to progress beyond mere Tolerance towards Acceptance. What makes Acceptance more desirable than Tolerance is the presence of sincerity and openness in the former.
We are a nation undergoing transformation, a society in transition in terms of its government policies, its economic development, and its social landscape. Yet, while we undergo these massive transformations, let us not succumb to calls for action that will serve only to fracture our nation. Let us not give in to the desires of those seeking retribution that will only cause the decades of goodwill, the hard work and toil of so many to dissipate. Let us together make Malaysia a harmonious nation.