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  • Tunku Munawirah Putra, The Edge

Nurturing a progressive education system

It is interesting to watch political activist ­Fahmi Reza’s recent TikTok videos in his Kelas Demokrasi series. Fahmi is on a mission to educate voters on the political parties in existence and what they stand for. The series is targeted especially at the young voters who have never voted before and the fence sitters who are looking for a simple explanation on how the political parties contesting in the 15th general election (GE15) would affect their lives.


He explained the issue by using a political spectrum diagram based on the Nolan chart, a concept made famous by American libertarian activist David Nolan in 1969. The chart shows the position of the political party in terms of its stand on economic and personal freedoms. Economic freedom is represented by conservative versus progressive positions on the x-axis, and personal freedom is represented by authoritarian versus libertarian values on the y-axis, and the centre of the chart locates the moderate centrist.


To illustrate his idea, he plots the diagram by placing each political party’s logo on the axis and quadrant that best represents the political leanings of the parties, as perceived on the ground. His analysis of where he positions these parties on the chart seems to be quite accurate, on the basis of how they present their political views on those categories.


The organisations that are big on pursuing race and religious matters are placed in the conservative/authoritarian quadrant, and they are made up of the parties that were part of the recent government. Most of the opposition parties which fell out of power after winning the voters’ mandate in 2018 are seen as moderate centrist with some progressive and libertarian tendencies. The younger and more multiracial parties are progressive with a higher weightage on personal freedom.


With an additional 6.23 million new voters added to the electoral roll through automatic voter registration, of which 1.4 million are the young 18 to 20-year-olds, this brings the total number of eligible voters to 21.17 million, from 14.94 million in GE14, a 41% increase this time. A recent survey done in collaboration with leading media agencies and research firms shows that the key issues that concern the voters most are about the economy and education. It sends a clear message to politicians that these issues are what matter most to the people and they need to be resolved. The tribe has spoken.


Coming back to the Nolan chart on economic freedom, political parties that are conservative in nature tend to work counter to progressive policies. It used to be that the Barisan Nasional coalition with Umno leading the way was a very progressive party that placed a high value on libertarianism, though moderate and somewhat traditional in its view of religion and the monarchy. It is evident from the spirit of our Federal Constitution and of the Rukunegara that the country was supposed to be led in a progressive manner, placing high value on personal freedom. If we were to chart and position our political parties during the early post-Merdeka era, the leading parties would be in the opposite quadrant of where they are today. We would not have achieved our prowess as an Asian Tiger economy without the vision and path charted by the leaders of yesteryear.


But somewhere along the line, it all went so wrong when the political parties leading the government changed their tune to that of a conservative, authoritarian and more right-wing approach. This in turn affected our economic growth and development, which brings us to the current conundrum that we are in, of curtailed freedom and being stuck in the middle-income trap.

We had been forewarned that such a situation would arise. Tunku Abdul Rahman said, “Malays cannot, however much we wish it, do everything to our liking. We must find a happy medium to please all these people who have accepted this country as their home, and it is our duty to make it an object of their loyalty as well. In a country like Malaysia with its multiracial population there is all the reason why people of different racial origins should make every effort to understand and respect one another and to look to Malaysia as our home and the sole object of our loyalty.


Whatever changes are considered necessary for our new nation to achieve progress, careful thought must always be given to how policies and planning are carried out. One wrong move can bring untold harm both to our people and to our country. The education policy, for instance, as I have pointed out, must be one that will make the people of this country feel clever and enable them to reach the highest standards possible.”


Sadly, what we are seeing right now is some of the harm that he was referring to. A dress-code guideline issued by a renowned public university for its convocation ceremony prohibits the use of sarees and cheongsams. And in the same week, a viral video showed a person destroying a Deepavali kolam, with clear intention of vandalising the artwork. The man was not some bum; on the contrary, he was well dressed and holds a white-collar job. How did we come to this?


It all boils down to our education system, that it should be progressive and will allow us to reach the highest standard possible. And the system needs to be led by those who are driven by progressive values and are fair-minded to all. There is no room for tight control and conservatism, which are damaging our race relations with the constant bombardment of racial and religious rhetoric. It is the country and the people that are losing out socially and economically.

Therefore, let’s start with exercising our rights as citizens in the upcoming GE15 and choose wisely the party and coalition that would take us to the next level of growth.


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