1. Thank you very much, and on behalf of all Malaysians let me offer you the warmest of welcomes. For those of you who have travelled to be here, I hope you have time to venture out into the city and get a taste of life in Kuala Lumpur.
2. 25 countries and more than 30 political parties are represented here at the UMNO International Forum. We come from every continent on earth; from different histories and political systems. But we face many of the same pressures at home.
3. Around the world, demographics, technology and development are redrawing the political landscape. As our populations change – becoming more urbanised, more affluent, and more connected – their experience and expectations of government also change.
4. We face complex, often global problems, which require governments to work with people, businesses and each other. Yet public trust in governments around the world is collapsing. According to a global survey, fewer than one in six people believe that government officials can solve social problems, make ethical decisions – or even be completely honest about difficult issues.
5. And so, despite the diversity of our political traditions, many of us must confront a similar challenge: to keep our politics relevant, and our people engaged in the democratic process. To do so, we must change. This morning, I would like to speak about how – and why.
Ladies and gentlemen,
6. There are three significant changes that are common to our societies.
7. Firstly, people are more connected than ever before. In 1997, just 2% of the global population used the internet. Next year, it will be closer to 40%. In the space of a single childhood, we have gone from using reference books in libraries to carrying Wikipedia in our pockets.
8. The decentralisation of knowledge – and the creation of new modes of communication and new industries – is as profound a revolution as the invention of writing itself. More information is more accessible to more people than at any time in history.
9. But the digital revolution is not just about the dissemination of knowledge; it is also about discussion. Via audio, video, image and text, people are freer to communicate with one another than ever before. Borders and barriers to interaction are melting away, as an increasingly global community shares ideas, principles, and experiences. And the implications for governments and political parties are profound.
10. Voters are better informed and more discerning; free to compare and contrast their political systems like never before. This places government under greater and more nuanced scrutiny. But just as competition encourages improvement and innovation in business, so it can improve governance and politics.
11. Traditional relationships between media, government and business elites are also evolving. In a media environment which changes by the second, news spreads further and faster than ever. As journalism is democratised, ordinary citizens are finding they have a global voice.
12. With decentralisation of information, then, comes decentralisation of power. More than ever before, people have the power – and the knowledge – to hold governments to account. Just as the printing press made Europe’s Reformation possible, today’s technology brings a new democratic accountability.
13. We should use our new-found voices responsibly, and with moderation. Rumour and disinformation now has a global reach; citizens should be mindful that provocative words can have real consequences. Established media outlets should refrain from inflammatory headlines, and honour the trust the public places in them as the keepers of truth.
14. As for governments, our response should be more openness, not less. We should be unafraid to practice a more open politics, with greater disclosure of policy and performance, and more genuine interaction with the public.
15. The digital revolution breaks the hierarchical power structure whereby governments and media had a constant voice and the citizens spoke only on Election Day. We should turn this to our advantage. We now have technology that supports a much wider and deeper range of public involvement in policymaking, with ‘open source government’ and open data breaking down traditional divides. We should honour not just the traditions but also the future direction of technology – towards greater openness and information sharing – by preserving the internet as a space for free discussion, and bringing more government functions into clear view.
16. The concept of transparency itself has been redefined in the digital age. But so too has our conception of privacy. As we have seen over the past six months, the globalisation of communications has opened up new risks to individual privacy and state sovereignty. There has been an increased level of spying conducted by some of our allies. As we work to combat terrorism and organised crime, we must guard against access that compromises individual liberties – and poisons public trust.
Ladies and gentlemen,
17. The secondly challenge is demographic: the makeup of our societies is changing, and countries with different population profiles are experiencing different effects.
18. Those with ageing populations face particular pressures on productivity and spending. They must manage the tension between welfare provisions and the cost of healthcare, and raising the revenue required to support an ever-older population. Theirs is a challenge of prosperity, and it is one that we must tackle soon: according to the UN, by 2050 there will be more pensioners in the world than children.
19. Countries with youthful populations must find opportunities for young people, to ensure they have a stake in society. In the Middle East and North Africa, we have seen what can happen when the economic and democratic needs of young people are ignored. To maintain stability, we must integrate young people into the economy and give them confidence in the political process.
20. Yet demography is about much more than age. Many countries are becoming more diverse, as people from different races and faiths move and marry; in the US, for example, the number of people who consider themselves multiracial is growing faster than any other group. Societies – including Malaysia – must find a settlement which is inclusive and sustainable, where no one is left behind, as we deal with growing diversity of race and faith. It is principally a challenge of harmony.
21. Addressing demographic change will require responsive politics; and a willingness to take on difficult questions – of responsibility between generations, and entitlement between people. We should muster the courage to take decisions for the long-term, not just the next electoral cycle, for demographic change demands policy foresight. It also requires a commitment to the principles of moderation: of tolerance, respect and understanding. We should seek solutions which are inclusive, not divisive.
22. The third change concerns development.
23. After the recent financial crisis, many nations are taking stock of their role in the global economy, and their prospects for future growth. Politicians must show that they understand both the pressures on people’s lives – and those that shape national economic destiny.
24. In much of the developed world, the financial crisis shook public confidence in both markets and governments alike. Political parties struggled to respond to the credit crunch. In the worst affected countries, a generation of leaders lost power. But disenchantment was not limited to the ballot box: anti-austerity protests also grew to target corporate excess.
25. This crisis of confidence was intensified by the macroeconomic shift which is creating new centres of gravity in the global economy. As services follow production into no-longer-emerging markets, countries which rode the wave of early industrialisation now look for new sources of growth.
26. For the developing world, the challenge is different: to unlock truly equitable growth, so that citizens benefit from greater income and improved living standards, learning from those who went before without repeating their mistakes.
27. And for all nations, there is a pressing need to adapt to a new era of sustainability – environmental, economic and social. The development which brings the next wave of countries to ‘first-world’ status must be cleaner, fairer and more sustainable than the last.
28. Sustainable environmental policy is a matter for individual countries and for the world at large. At the micro level, we should pursue the little wins which make a big problem smaller: improving energy efficiency standards, investing in new energy technology, protecting our forests and incentivising sustainable development. And at the macro level, we should commit to securing the best possible global deal to address climate change.
29. But growth must be economically sustainable, too. In an increasingly global economy, unbalanced growth can cause cross-border contagion. As the global conversation about the quality of growth shows, policymakers and the public are keen to learn from crises past, and build a global financial system that encourages innovation without recklessness.
30. That means reforming the financial sector where necessary, strengthening frameworks and financial systems, managing government and household debt, and using monetary and fiscal policy to support sustainable growth. By doing so, we can rebuild public confidence in the financial sector’s ability to contribute to national development – and government’s ability to properly manage it.
31. Finally, development must be socially sustainable.
32. Last month, we hosted a conference on social businesses here in Kuala Lumpur. I was struck by the depth of the commitment – amongst delegates from around the world – to the cause of profit-making with a conscience. As our economies mature, and governments recognise the limits of their ability, there is a growing space in which non-profit and social businesses can contribute to better national outcomes.
33. But social business is only one part of the puzzle. More generally, people now place a much greater emphasis on social value in development. They want to see housing projects which bring affordable housing for the many, not just luxury condominiums for the few. They want land developers to bring community needs into their business plans, and city planners to prioritise public space. And they want an economic system which works for them, not just the elite.
34. Breakneck economic development can sometimes cause casualties, as inequality bubbles build up. And behind some of the developing world’s headline growth statistics, things are getting worse. In a recent World Economic Forum poll, growing inequality was rated the number one concern in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. From the wealthiest regions to the poorest, from captains of industry to average citizens, inequality is consistently identified as a severe and worsening problem.
35. For socially responsible development, we should affirm our commitment to education and labour market reforms as a means of undoing inequality. We should embrace greater gender equality, as studies show the more equal a society is, the more competitive it is. And we should put a policy premium on socially responsible development, with incentives to grow social businesses – and a business culture that gives profit and social value equal weight.
Ladies and gentlemen,
36. The changes I have talked about today – technological, demographic and developmental – ask that we adjust our politics.
37. We must show that government can address the needs of the citizens and the challenges of the age. And we must encourage participation in the democratic process, to safeguard against apathy and extremism. To do so, we must demonstrate our commitment to effective government, and open politics.
38. Effective government means showing that we can navigate complex problems and find equitable solutions. It means delivering on people’s development expectations, and cutting through the cynicism which says that government is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It means proving that we can respond to those three changes I spoke about earlier: demographics, technology and development. In short, we need to show what government can do.
39. Open politics means increasing participation in the political process, embracing greater transparency, and improving the state of democracy within our parties; reforming internal processes and distancing ourselves from money politics.
40. I know that these things are easy to say, but hard to do. And I know I have said plenty about what political parties should do, and not so much about what we are doing. So by way of conclusion, let me say a few words about my party, country and Malaysian people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
41. I am the President of UMNO: the United Malays National Organisation. Our story cannot be separated from Malaysia’s story. We have governed since independence; guided this young nation through its darkest times and its greatest hours.
42. Yes: we are a Malay political organisation. That is our founding principle, our heritage. But we govern in a coalition of many races, and we govern in the name of all.
43. Together, we took this nation from the brink – when race riots threatened to unleash a storm of hatred and violence – to what it is today. A modern, peaceful, multiracial and prosperous society – one of the world’s most dynamic, and most diverse. A nation unfinished in its creation, but which shows all the potential for greatness.
44. It is not always easy to maintain peace, stability and prosperity. To embrace moderation and our differences rather than focus on what divides us. And sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we go too far.
45. This year’s general election was hard fought, and hard won. On both sides, hopes ran high, and emotions sometimes ran higher. My party was returned to office with a mandate, but the result betrayed increased polarisation in the country.
46. I acknowledge that. I acknowledge it. But I want to heal these wounds and achieve national unity. I am determined to lead a government that governs for all Malaysians. Because I believe our greatest achievement – UMNO’s greatest achievement – is not the defence of just one race, but the creation of one state, one nation. One Malaysia.
47. It is the work of a lifetime, and it is not yet complete.
Ladies and gentlemen,
48. It is a myth that one race can only prosper at the expense of others. History shows us – in Malaysia and elsewhere – that shared peace and collective prosperity are the true guarantors of national success.
49. Collective prosperity means that no-one is left behind. In a perfect world, when democratic rule prevails, all people would be afforded the same opportunities. But in Malaysia, as in many countries, that was not the case. In the aftermath of colonialism, a majority of the population were largely poor, and largely shut out of the economy.
50. So in the name of social justice, we introduced affirmative action policies to level the playing field. To help the original inhabitants of this land – not just the Malays, but all the indigenous people, those in Sabah and Sarawak, Muslim and non-Muslim alike – who found themselves without an economic stake in Malaysia’s future.
51. Our situation is not unique. Many countries – from Australia to South Africa – have struggled to find the right formula to overcome inequality.
52. By putting in place policies to support historically disadvantaged groups, we are not denying the rights of other groups. In fact, an economy founded on growth with inclusiveness will deliver better outcomes for all communities. Under Barisan Nasional, Bumiputera policies will continue as long as there is a need, but no longer. Our history shows that affirmative action, national unity and growth can coexist. I ask for the continued support of all Malaysians, as we build on our economic successes, and look towards a brighter future.
53. This shared ambition for Malaysia is critical. The Arab Spring has shown us how uneven economic opportunities cause alienation and instability. And we have seen what happens when people succumb to the politics of hatred: in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Darfur. We have also seen the riches which co-operation can bring: just fifty years have passed since the Malaysian Federation was formed, yet we are on the brink of high income status.
54. I believe history will judge UMNO by its ability to uphold the dignity not just of the Malay race and Islam, but of our country. Yes, we fought for and secured independence. Yes, we took our economy from humble beginnings to sterling success. But the past is not our future.
55. Now we must make our party and our values relevant to new generations; to those who have only ever known an independent and wealthy Malaysia, and who expect greater liberty and more opportunity. This is the new politics. We are not fighting the same fight as we were in the 1960s, the 1970s, or the 1980s. For our party – and our nation – to succeed, we must understand the aspirations of younger, better educated, more urban voters. We must be mindful of tradition, but look always towards the future.
56. We must strengthen the bonds between our people, from the biggest cities to the smallest kampungs. We must demonstrate that our vision of Malaysia’s future is compatible with people’s interests; that UMNO has not just a proud past, but UMNO a clear vision for the future. We must put nation above self, and people above self-interest; rejecting corruption, embracing open politics, and living the values we espouse.
57. In this task, we are aided immeasurably by the Malaysian people.
58. I believe that Malaysians share an instinct for unity and moderation. Our nation is founded on tolerance, and guided by the principles of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect. Sometimes, those principles are tested. It takes the utmost courage and conviction to stand firm. It is a standard which few meet, but all of us should aspire to.
59. We can do it. We can do it. And as we prepare to join the ranks of the developed nations, we look to learn from those who have taken great strides before us, and share our experience with those still to come.
60. That is what today’s conference is all about. So once again, on behalf of all Malaysians, I welcome you to this, the UMNO International Forum 2013.