Finding common ground

MANY of you will notice in the weeks to come, just how restrained politicians can be from talking about politics during the fasting month.

It is almost as if there is a glimmer of hope that they can have civilised discussions.

Let us talk a bit about unity. What exactly is the endgame when we talk about national unity? What are we expecting from Malaysians? Importantly, at what cost is this unity going to be a reality, and will the public pay for it.

And we should be talking about this since we have 33 years – about one generation – to try and achieve national unity in the form of Bangsa Malaysia by 2050.

To start with, unity involves finding common ground, just as the government came up with the Rukun Negara after the tragedy in 1969.

Everyone shares the faith in God, everyone believes in loyalty to king and country, everyone believes in upholding the Federal Constitution and the law, everyone believes in good behaviour and morality.

At least, when they are students in school. But I doubt if it remains relevant among adults, since Malaysia as a society has changed with age.

As we get older, not everyone believes in the existence of God, and some even argue over God. A few years back, people were arguing about the very word in Bahasa Malaysia.

Similarly, while many remain loyal to the king, what does it mean to be loyal to the country. The country is often perceived as the ruling government. Perhaps it is due to one coalition governing for so long.

At the same time, I doubt we can argue that everyone believes in good behaviour when someone asking the prime minister a question gets slapped because of the tone he used.

So, what do we all believe in now that can unite us as a whole nation?

Yes, most people still believe in God but God and religion have been so abused in politics that the faithful are left shaking their heads.

Similarly, when things are done in the name of king and country but for a select group, it leaves a bad taste for others who have sworn allegiance for decades.

And finally, there is the belief that everyone must have good behaviour and be moral. Yet again, when you have cases of corruption among some entrusted to enforce the law and uphold the constitution, it erodes the belief in the Rukun Negara, and subsequently the country.

Thus, many give up and abandon their individual struggles, believing the change that is best for the nation will never happen. They then look for an exit plan an the emigration numbers become food for thought.

So, what can unite the people? Well, a former prime minister had used propaganda to unite Malaysians during an economic downturn. This included broadcasting a television commercial which portrayed Malaysia as a sampan caught in a storm. Disasters – natural or economic – do create unity, but let's not pray for one.

What else? Well, a groundswell belief in the capacity to change is one, and I think this is what Transformation 2050 is about.

And yet, when you start slapping people asking a question, that momentum is affected. If only half bought the message the first time, perhaps a third of those believers will now be doubting the belief that change is real.

Unity as a nation requires us to look beyond factors that people take to heart – culture, race, religion, income levels, class – as there is a lot there that needs time and effort to mend. It requires everyone to buy into paying this cost, and be happy if the benefits are not equal but equitable.

Sadly, politics isn't doing any favours with this one.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: