PUTRAJAYA, 11 Oct 2008: National unity will be Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s greatest challenge when leading the country next, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
He said his successor would have to give priority to this issue as the state of inter-racial and inter-religious relations at the moment was not good.
“I think we have done well to thrive for this long but we need to get back to basics and understand that Malaysia is stronger for the mix of different races and communities that we have,” he said in an interview with Bernama.
Saying that Malaysia’s racial and religious mix was a blessing and not a curse, he said Malaysians must not allow these “assets” to be turned into “negatives”.
“We need to tackle these issues head-on, with honesty and understanding. After more than 50 years of independence, these issues still remain with us.
“Every time a generation understands it, there comes a new generation that has to be educated and told about all this, how to live with one another without conflict. So the public education on the subject of race relations and religious tolerance is something that they know.”
Abdullah said the knowledge or understanding for religious and racial tolerance that every Malaysian ought to have was that like the dos and don’ts in a family.
“When the young generation is born, at some stage they have to be told about the family, what we stand for, what we’d like to see, how they should play their roles, how they should behave. It is all very important. So when every new generation comes, they have to be educated. This is an issue that will be with us for a very long time. This will be Najib’s biggest challenge,” he said.
When asked that Abdullah was perceived to have backed away from inter-faith dialogue, he said he had not.
“What I have said is that these sensitive discussions must be handled with care, perhaps behind closed doors, because it is such a volatile and emotional subject. Every time it is raised, there will be people who will feel threatened; they feel as if their rights and sensitivities will be trampled upon,” he said.
On what Barisan Nasional (BN) needed to do to regain the trust and support of the people, he said the coalition formula had worked for over 50 years, first as the Alliance and then as Barisan Nasional.
“To me, it is a good model, because it gives everyone a seat at the table. The Opposition has also formed an Alliance, but I think it will be difficult to make that work because their ideologies are so different. But like all things, our formula needs to be revisited from time to time.
“It is always complicated when you have such a big “family”. Some people say Umno is too dominant. Some people in Umno think that others are demanding too many things. What is clear is that we need to have more clarity. We need to discuss how we can make our collaboration more effective.
“That is why I have called for a BN convention early next year. It may not come up with all the answers, but it will certainly put us on the right path.”
Asked to comment on what some observers had said that the BN would have suffered an electoral setback regardless of who was leading the party, he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t want to say anything, I have never thought about it. What we need to do now is not talk about what has happened or who is more well-placed to lead but we have learnt the lessons from that experience of the last general election.
“What we need to do when the next general election comes is to do better than we had done before. What is clear is that we should listen closely to what the people want and deliver it to them. — Bernama