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#MalaysiaBaru requires disagreements.

Growing up in Malaysia, it is common to witness arguments shut down because they are sensitive to any given group of people.

It's a go-to method, to avoid virulent chatter, as subjects by convention which upset any particular groups, demography, communities or random hippie communes, are taboo.

Say, sensitive, and the discussion ends.

I have to ask, what possible subject is not going to be divisive? Everything falls under that filter.

There is a disconnect about argumentation as a tool for resolution, as Malaysians are trained to fear their own shadows, and wait for nightfall to witness the rays of hope, foolishly.

The whole nature of discourse is built on opposing ideas or defending positions deleterious to others. If the truth is self-evident in the matter, there would be little reason for discourse.

For example, it is fine to talk about a litter of kittens tossing and turning in tuxedos. All day long Malaysians can regale tales about cats and their over-glorified kingdom of hairballs.

Turn the discussion to any part of national education, from admission, costs or administration, and the participants of the conversation have arrived at a sensitive issue. Clam up is the solution.

Malaysia is a fairly successful country, so the casual observer would venture to ask, surely that success is built on navigating difficult things.

No, the studious Malaysian would answer. We solve our problems by bypassing them behind closed doors, where deeply dissatisfying compromises are produced.

Our authorities believed that since common people cannot arrive at sensible conclusions, therefore to avoid sensitive issues getting out of hand and causing unnecessary problems for the rakyat, it is better they are discussed away from the rakyat.

If the general population is not involved in the discussion, then who is?

Ah, now we arrive at the heart of the matter.

Discussing sensitive issues behind closed doors is a euphemism for the elites to decide among themselves, in exclusive spaces. Usually the prime minister with a grip over matters. In short, it is about concentration of power, because responsible utilisation of power is only possible when it involves 'better and fewer people.' Which is wrong.

The alternate option, or at least the opposite extreme, is a free for all, for a Malaysia where maddening discourses in the media, on the streets, at the playgrounds and anywhere the rakyat may convene, are commonplace. Any lunatic willing to post on Facebook is welcome to join in.

This is what surely haunts the new government, how much of freedom in the debating of the sacrosanct will they allow under Pakatan Harapan?

Can New Malaysia, or #MalaysiaBaru, stay that course of openness or revert back to status quo?

After all, Mahathir Mohamad, the master of the status quo controls Putrajaya right now.

A free for all

Is there a method when people interact without restraints?

There is an uproar already following Hindraf 2.0 asking University Teknologi Mara (UiTM) to allow non-Bumiputera admission. Of the incendiary topics available, this is right up there.

A group representing a minority demands for community upliftment through the assistance of a university system (on top of the Shah Alam and Puncak Alam main campuses, there are more than 20 branch campuse) which is predicated on the mission to better Bumiputera students only.

For every disenfranchised Indian Malaysian kid who has to hack through the wilderness of economic displacement, there'd be four poor Malay Malaysians who've taken the UiTM route to a meaningful economic future.

Rural and urban kids with stories of riding motorbikes on the dirt roads of the Felda plantation, or working part time at the 7-Eleven in the city which occasionally gets robbed. Which is why sympathies will lie with for all the advocates regardless of their position.

Education is opportunity, but for whom shall the opportunity materialise?

It is sticky.

Two truths

Discussing a matter does not mean there is a deadline in resolving it.

Participants realise intuitively about the impossibility of the standoffs in crucial issues.

Then why bother?

Allowing an open discussion validates the relevance of the issue. It brings supporters and detractors to spaces where the conflict crystallises organically through the force of arguments from competing factions. Often not pretty but heartening when done proper. It validates because while the outcome has not changed, the differing perspectives are recognised.

The issue is defined better, where the pitfalls lie, even without agreement.

It's vital to enable active dissent as a positive component in a society. This is how a freer society thrives. Not a collection of passive agreements, but polite acknowledgement there are those who fiercely oppose each other's views yet remain relevant because all their positions have merit. That being Malaysian is not about agreeing as much as being able to disagree and to respect the rational thoughts of your opponents, and above all not forgetting we are all Malaysians with ideas for our society's progress.

Second, it improves our options.

The best ideas come from the unlikeliest of sources. When there is a culture of fertile debate, especially inside universities, they offer the likelihood of better solutions.

The behind closed doors tradition, limits participants.

Third eye blind

Asking whether conversations through the media, in the playgrounds, street and everywhere else the rakyat bump into each other should be allowed is superfluous; they are rife in the age we live in.

There is no way to contain conversations in the information age.

Government can facilitate, not block, conversations today. The sooner it realises leading not blocking conversations would be the role of government, a responsible government, the sooner there will be more nett positive changes.

Free and freer is the way forward. Government's role is leadership over it, not ownership of it.

Does this answer the painstaking problem of denying poor Indian kids access to a system which uplifts the economically disadvantaged? No it does not, but it does point us in the direction of a solution, and not a means to avoid the discussion.

But it does give the answer that government needs to have faith in its people to be sensible.

In this new Malaysia, the open disagreements will rise in the short term, and that is not this present government's fault, it is a by-product of decades of silence. Shouting about it is not a solution. For most of the contentions there are no viable solutions in the short term, perhaps even in the medium term. They'll be difficult, gut-wrenching and distressful, but where do we go after choosing the wrong path to solutions the last half a century?

It's going to be rough stretch the country has to manage, not ignore. Once Malaysians find their footing in this environment, they can be referred to as citizens of a mature democracy.
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Publication:Malay Mail Online (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia)
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:May 31, 2018
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