MALAYSIA needs to move away from ethno-populism in order for the country to grow, said prominent economist Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram.
He said the country was still very much plagued by the older generation’s belief in race-based politics.
“We have a situation or a political stalemate. It is very important for younger people to recognise the biggest problem in Malaysia today is the older generation.
“The main ideology of these people is unfortunately some version of ethno-populism. It can be Malay, Muslim, Chinese, Indian, Sarawakian and even Bidayuh ethno-populism.
Ethno-populism is defined as a form of political mobilisation where leaders rally support from specific ethnic groups while cross-cutting other races.
Jomo, the former United Nations assistant secretary-general for economic development said this form of political ideology will only inhibit the nation in the long run, evidenced by recent happenings.
“But it limits us, it limits our ability to recognise what is good for the nation, limits our ability to get out of the heritage of colonialism and it limits our ability to begin to think about what is possible.
“Let us face it, we are not a big country. We live in a constrained world. We need to think. We need to reorder ourselves,” he said.
The economist, however, said the younger crop of Malaysians were still not affected by this brand of politics and need to act fast to eradicate this ideology.
“In a way, people who are perhaps less affected by ethno-populism are the younger generation who dream different dreams. Many of them are still influenced by things like identity politics and so on but for them, that is not ethno-populism.
“Unfortunately, for an older generation identity politics is very much associated with ethno-populism,” Jomo said.
Another fundamental problem, said Jomo, were politicians being short-sighted and sacrificing the country’s prosperity for their short-term gains.
“You cannot run a country on a short-term basis alone. We already have a big problem of short-termism. We have a government that lives and thinks from day-to-day of its own survival.
“We have problems with politicians who are short-termised thinking about elections, party elections. We have too many short-term leaders in this country,” he said.
He added the Vision 2020 roadmap created by former prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein before was supposed to get rid of ethno-populism, but the plan failed as there was no continuity.
“Vision 2020 provided a break not only for economics in the second half of the New Economic Policy (NEP) but a break from the politics of ethno-populism.
“Superstitious beliefs tied to culture were supposed to change in this vision.
“Ultimately, his son was among those who betrayed his legacy,” Jomo said, referring to former prime minister Najib Razak.
What is key for the youth to move forward, Jomo said, was to learn from past lessons and take active measures to be all inclusive.
“So how do we move forward? It is up to the younger generation to define it but it is important for them to know the past and what has failed,” he added.
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT