COMMENT I echo the repeated urgings made by Nazir Razak to establish the second National Consultative Council (NCC2). The ‘desperation’ he expresses is not wrongly placed, instead it symbolises the state Malaysia is in today. Malaysia is sliding down a dangerous path, thus a radical proposition is needed to challenge the status quo. I would like to humbly present a policy proposal of how the NCC2 should operate.
Let us first analyse the history of the National Consultative Council.
The May 13, 1969 Chinese-Malay riot was the nightmare scenario in a society that hoped for pluralism. One hundred and ninety six people were killed between May 13 and July 31 by official accounts due to racial tensions (‘Race War’, 1969). The events led to a series of radical steps.
HM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong declared an emergency effective on May16, 1969, having been advised by the prime minister. The National Operations Council led by Abdul Razak Hussein was formed immediately for governance. Soon, the National Consultative Council (NCC) was created to evaluate race relations and national security.
It consisted of ministers, representatives from state government, unions, political parties and groups that formed the core of Malaysia. (Hooker, 2003 : p.231) The recommendation of the council were implemented over the next decades and that remains the most significant act of racial unity.
The NCC is best known for two contributions. The Rukunegara; which recognised God, Agong, constitution, law and morality as fundamentals of Malaysian identity. The second contribution was the New Economic Policy (NEP). These became pillars of subsequent economic growth and redistribution. The NEP was able to minimise poverty and improve Malaysian economy while Rukunegara helped further Malaysian identity.
Torii (1997) summarised how in its 20 years, NEP has raised the bumiputera share in economy from 1.9 percent in 1970 to 20.4 percent in 1990. The recent 2010 Malaysian Census positions the bumiputera population at 67.4 percent. The goal was 30 percent capital ownership but this has stagnated since.
The NCC formulated a middle ground that fostered unity and alleviated poverty. But we are left with institutional gaps that have allowed corruption and arrested progress towards goals of fair redistribution. This paper examines and argues that there is a critical need for NCC2 in Malaysia.
It concurrently discusses the viability such an idea. It concludes with a framework recommendation within which NCC2 will be most effective. The framework discusses authority, structure, scope and wider principles the NCC2 must start with.
Malaysia today is facing a very different set of problems. In wake of the discovery that the prime minister was involved in the largest instance of corruption in Malaysian history where US$700 million was traced to his personal account (Ramesh, 2016), we have seen institutions of democracy and individuals that have tried to challenge the status quo cornered to a wall (Leong, Ngui & Hamzah, 2015).
We cannot afford to wait for the election as time is not on our side. In less than a year. We have seen the media being suppressed. We saw investigators being investigated. We witnessed a law (the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act or Sosma) intended to be used against terrorists being misused to stifle voices of dissent.
We saw attempts to blatantly gerrymander through malapportionment for the benefit of one party. We see race and religion being manipulated to deflect accountability even if it comes at the expense of national unity. We have seen and heard of the myriad of incriminating stories published and reported by more than 68 news agencies across the world which drags Malaysia’s reputation down.
All of these just show that any delay in finding a solution will just cause more harm than good. I suggest that we postpone elections until after the NCC2 has laid down its groundwork. Elections without an overhaul of the system is futile.
NCC2 a platform for all parties
We cannot expect one party or coalition to solve the systemic problems which plague our country. Institutional reforms will never be made a reality if they are driven only by one party. This is due to the extreme partisanship which exists in Malaysia. Not only do MPs vote on party line, but the government also has a disincentive of accepting notions of reforms which are seen to be opposition-driven.
If the opposition tables a reform agenda in Parliament, government acceptance of the policy will be construed as BN bowing down to the opposition’s demands despite it being the right thing to do. The opposition on the other hand cannot pursue for reforms unless they hold the majority in parliament. This therefore creates a unique room for backdoor cooperation to take place.
NCC2 must be done in private
We must also consider the sensitive nature of discussions which will take place which mandates a closed-door discussion. Talks on a possible amnesty for Najib Abdul Razak, or on sensitive issues like race and religion cannot be done in the open for the time being as it may lead to the over politicisation of critical issues.
This means that we need politicians, NGOs and NGIs from all sides to sit down together in private to brainstorm on the possible way forward which benefits all Malaysians.
Feasibility is definitely a barrier to the success of the NCC2, but that can be tackled accordingly when parties sit in private together to negotiate the terms and conditions.
Amnesty a key scope of NCC2
Najib should be offered conditional amnesty if he steps down with a transition plan which guarantees institutional reforms.
There are many instances of such compromise. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in South Africa in 1976 gave amnesty to 849 individuals to restore social order (Department of Justice, nd). Restorative justice took precedence over retributive justice. Ronald Reagan’s amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants sealed his legacy. Apuuli (2005) notes how amnesty has been critical to Uganda’s fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The crisis in Malaysia has been going on for years now. Entrenchment of power and politicized institutions means there is no feasible way out without change from top. Malaysia is moving to a stage where laws are being diluted and subverted; institutions are being appropriated and reshuffled to protect worst actors. Amnesty acknowledges the cost of a long drawn stalemate and recognizes that often the opportunity cost of bad governance is too large to bear.
NCC2 should be chaired by a representative(s) of the Conference of Rulers
The Conference of Rulers should appoint a representative(s) to chair the NCC2. This chair must be the bridge among all the parties involved. This chair with the assent of the Conference of Rulers will command authority to ensure that an outcome can be put into action.
I personally believe that Nazir is the right person for the job. Not only is he the ‘father’ of the NCC2, but he is also a technocrat who can act as a bridge among the existing political parties.
Institutional reforms as the focus of NCC2
As I have mentioned before, one of the biggest failures of NCC1 is the absence of a sustainable institutional framework which acts as a check and balance to any party who runs the government of the day. These institutional gaps have to be filled.
Reforming the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Executive Branch, the media and other democratic institutions should be the focal points of the NCC2.
In times of desperation, a radical solution is needed to save Malaysia. This requires for compromises to be made by all parties and for difficult decisions to be made and executed. The NCC2 provides a unique platform for ideals to be translated into reality. It is high time that we make the NCC2 a reality.
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SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is a part-time lecturer at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) Malaysia and is Asia’s best debater, winning the United Asia Debate Championship in May 2015.