Nazir Razak released a biography “What’s in a Name” that talks about his family, his career and his country– our country. We have bought this eBook from Amazon Kindle Store India with Amazon Gift Card in Indian Rupees for around RM25. Pay RM36 with Malaysia Credit Card or >40% more from Amazon Kindle Store Malaysia.

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Nazir Razak rose to prominence by being the CEO of CIMB. He is also the youngest brother of Najib Razak, our ex-premier who was unceremoniously booted out in the 2018 General Election due to the 1MDB scandal. In fact a lot more people got to know Nazir from his criticism of his brother’s handling of 1MDB than his CEO role in transforming CIMB from a small merchant bank in Malaysia to one of the most successful banks in South East Asia. In the book, the 1MDB part is the part that got people attention and is the part Nazir talks at length; how he learnt about 1MDB and tried to keep a distance, how it caused a fallout in his family, the dilemma he was cast into when he had to choose between family honor and familiar relationships, and the consequences he faced when he decided to speak up.

Nazir is sincere, his voice is passionate and he speaks with conviction when he says that our country needs reforming; that the New Economy Policy ( NEP) that his father introduced in the 1970s has been misused and turned into a hotbed for corruption. He saw first hand how people enriched themselves by just being proxy or proximate to the center of powers. NEP, meant to uplift the Malays, ends up enriching only a small cluster of well-connected Malays. The unholy alliance of money and power, in turn, corrupts politics and creates an environment where mega scandals like 1MDB thrive.

Despite being credited with stabilizing the country after the 1969 riot, NEP has shown its age as its weaknesses are well apparent throughout the years. And not just only in the area of money politics, but also in the area of racial relationships. Non-Malays come to see NEP as a means to “help” the less-qualified Malays at the expense of the more qualified Nons and the country general well being. Despite a substantial improvement in socioeconomic status and dominating all key government and GLC positions, Malays still feel insecure; they feel that their position, identity and religion are always under threat from the non-Malays ( “DAP” bogeyman). As the country becomes more and more conservative, suspicions grow on both sides, and the politicians who fan the flame reap the rewards.

It’s a vicious cycle that we all know too well. After some 60 years of BN homogenous rule, PH finally came to power in 2018, riding on the wave of promised reform. But it unceremoniously collapsed 22 months later. The main reason for the collapse: UMNO and PAS played up racial and religious sentiment. The whole sorry episode underscores how difficult it is to uproot the whole system, however corrupted it is. Race and religion is the trump card of the Old Establishment, and it was and is and will hold the country back.

To overcome this, Nazir proposes a National Consultation Council (NCC), an above-all body that draws from a broad spectrum of people, whose responsibility is to recalibrate our sociopolitical agreement so that we can rebuild and realign our institutions, politics and socioeconomic strategies. Nazir is acutely aware that racial politics is a big part of the problem. Therefore NCC is made in the spirit of reflecting Malaysia as a moderate and multiracial country; it aims to ensure that our electoral constituencies to be either sufficiently multiracial or diverse in order to mitigate racist politics and safeguard the rights of the minority and at the same time, still protecting the rights and positions of the Malays and Islam.

As a double beneficiary of NEP, it’s commendable that Nazir gave it a critical look and proposed changes. But I am less sanguine about the chances of his success. The woes of Malaysia today are not just about the racial politics and the racist politicians. The real problem lies in the mindset of the people, for which the politicians are just the symptoms. For too long, our education system is working to magnify the contributions of only one race in nation building at the expense of others. For too long, our textbooks emphasize the role of only one religion in the whole course of human civilization; the contributions of other civilizations are ignored or just plainly usurped ( Do you even know that there is a Persian civilization which lived alongside with Islamic Civilization at least for a while? And many of the Islamic scientific contributions are actually Persians in nature? No? So much for our well-rounded education)

And who is the hand behind the education system? It’s the bureaucracy, or the “deep state”, a term loosely referred to the civil servants who are involved in policy making. Politicians come and go, but bureaucracy endures. Yes politicians do decide, but their decision is based on the recommendations proposed by the bureaucracy, who have their own agenda. The hands of the politicians are pretty tied, especially when it comes to reform. Even if PH does manage to serve on its full term, I doubt they can do much to reform the bureaucracy and the ideology behind it. You have to change the mindset of those people who have been brainwashed by our skewed education system for decades. And not only that, you have to change them all because they are working as a group. Can you do that without being labeled as anti-Malay and/or anti-Islam?

By introducing NEP, Nazir’s father, Tun Razak not only changed the socioeconomic status of the people, but he also opened a can of worms by irrevocably changing the direction of the education system, because without the latter it’s hard to justify the former. Throughout the years, the second change grows a life of its own and now is a beast that is even harder to rein in, and which unfortunately serves as a moat against the eradication of corruption, racism, religious fanaticism that Nazir hates so much.

I can see the well intention of Nazir the son, and I wish him all the best in reforming the country, but frankly speaking, I am not optimistic.

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