I pray that this letter finds you in good health. With that good health, I do hope you will find in your good self some appetite and some time to read these words of mine.
On the last day of UMNO General Assembly held recently, I was in the Merdeka Hall listening to your speech as the new President of your party. Though perhaps I was the least enthusiastic and probably the most skeptical among the members of the floor, I did pay attention to what you said from behind a rostrum on a podium.
Save a black cat crossing your path, there are enough indications that you will be the next Prime Minister of Malaysia. Nothing is certain in this world, of course, but I would like to take the risk of congratulating your early. Congratulations, sir, on assuming the greatest office of this land.
It is the greatest office for no small reason. With that office, it is not too much to say that you will probably have more power than any other Malaysian has to affect the fate of our home, for better or for worse. I pray that it is for the better and I pray that you will have the strength to do so.
I am sure in the past months and even more so in the previous weeks, you have read and listened to aspirations of many Malaysians from all over. I am also sure many of these aspirations do not coincide with each other and some even contradict with each other. I appreciate this fact and I can imagine your exasperation of the word better amid a sea of competing ideals. Everybody has his or her own context when using that superlative that if it is to stand on its own, it will be ultimately vague.
Perhaps you do understand why there are contradictory dreams. But if you do not, this is the reason of why I am writing this humble letter to you. I would like to assure you that those contradictions are not signs of confusion or a sign of danger. Rather, very positively, it is only a sign of how diverse our society is.
Those are voices of the common people, be they are supportive of you, unsupportive of you, have yet to decide where to stand or simply could not care less of what is happening in the country as long as they are happy. Those voices are your sounding board.
Their opinions are your barometer. When they are uncomfortable with the direction you are leading them, many of them will find the courage to rise up to speak up. Many will even have the audacity to say it to your face. It can be harsh and sometimes, it can be unfair.
Though some might seem rude, trust me, for many of them, for many of us, this is not done out of spite. In many cases, those are honest opinions that we hold. Those opinions are about our joys, our fears, our hope and our disappointment.
There is no need to fear the diversity of opinions even when those opinions challenge norms so openly. In these days when international borders are coming down slowly but surely, challenges will be aplenty. It is only through that diversity will we be able to overcome those challenges.
It is worth noting that this diversity can only be sustained if there is openness to discuss legacy issues bedeviling us all. As we move forward and I believe you can agree with me, a rethinking of Malaysia is inevitable.
If there are those who came up to you expressing their fear that that openness will erode what they consider as pillars of this country, then be mindful that nothing last forever. To survive, we must evolve even if that comes at the price of making those pillars irrelevant. Those that refuse to evolve will be pushed to the margin and suffer the fate of so many species that roam this fair Earth today no more.
It will be a mistake to silent others who disagree with you or those that challenge norms. Do that, and you will soon find yourself with court jesters with dangerous grupthink affliction. They are incapable of adapting to new environments that always seemingly conspire to bring down tall towers for which we have built.
Many in UMNO, as I have discovered, frighteningly, wanted you to return to old ways. They want change but in their minds, they want a return to the past, thinking that they could roll back the clock as if time would roll back with the small and big hands of the clock.
Unfortunately for many in UMNO, as evident during your party’s recently concluded general assembly, they have yet to grasp the lesson. Indeed, they are in danger of learning the wrong lesson.
The answer is not in the past as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, your former President, has made clear earlier. I kindly urge you to agree with the Prime Minister. He has made major mistakes along the way but at the end of the day, although it is too late for him, he finally recognizes the zeitgeist.
More importantly, it is not too late for you, sir. You have the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and make good out of it.
I am writing this not because I care for UMNO. The fate of UMNO or for any party for that matter is of little concern to me. If your party chooses extinction over survival, then it is extinction that your party will meet. What I am concerned with is the future of our country and ultimately, my future.
Selfish as I may seem to be, I believe deep in the heart of each and every one of us, the worry is the same. What will happen to me tomorrow?
I cannot get that question and many more out of my mind.
Be well aware, sir, that we can only find the answers if we continue to search for it. We can only find the answers if we do not shy away from asking tough questions even if these questions bring upon uncomfortable answers.
To ignore or suppress these questions is most unhelpful in prodding our country forward. To do so is to create a culture of fear in times when what we need is a kind of boldness to right our wrongs while rebuilding our foundation for new towers.
At risk here is more than the future of your political party. At risk here is the future of our country. A true statesman has the faculty to comprehend that implication and I trust that you are the statesman that you can be.
While you have possibly more power than any Malaysian to affect this country, you alone cannot move this country forward. This country can only move forward if all of us are engaged with each other. And in order for that engagement to happen, there has to be freedom.
So, I beg you to not take that liberty away. I plead to you not to take it away, even as others urge you to do so, so forcefully.
Thank you and congratulations, once again.
A concerned citizen.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on April 1 2009.