1Malaysia: ‘Good slogan, poor product’

By Stephanie Sta Maria | May 19, 2011
Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: The endorsement of unity as the golden key to nation-building is an age-old practice that has not always produced the envisioned borderless society.

In the 1960s the military leaders of Burma promoted “Burmese nationalism”, but this ideal disintegrated when the ethnic Burmese majority sidelined the identities and interests of the other communities.

Thailand, too, fumbled with the unity baton as its political parties jostled for ownership of the unity concept while igoniring the plight of minority communities.

And then there’s Malaysia whose trumpeting for unity came a year after Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak took office in 2008. From the moment of its inception, the 1Malaysia concept has struggled with various distractions that have challenged both its validity and authenticity.

First came the accusation that 1Malaysia is based on the 1Israel concept to which the government and its public relations company, Apco, fiercely denied.

The denial has found support in Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim who rubbished the allegation and pointed out that “unity in diversity” was a concept first touted by former prime minster, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and MCA founder, Tan Cheng Lock.

“Even the British had set up a Communities Liaison Committee in 1949 to unite the people, but fac

ed resistance because people couldn’t differentiate between ethnicity and nationality,” he said.

This inability to differentiate between the two became 1Malaysia’s next stumbling block when Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that he was first Malay and only second, Malaysian. The proclamation sparked public mockery of 1Malaysia that only grew as more members of Najib’s Cabinet performed similar blunders.

Perennial dispute

“The real question is how many people feel like Malaysians first,” said Farish Noor, a political scientist with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“Nation-building must be internalised and this can only happen when citizens think and behave like Malaysians. So then the next question is, how do you deal with pluralism?”

Khoo viewed the issue in a simpler light. If it is your ethnicity you want to emphasise, he said, then call yourself a Hokkein or a Tamil instead of a Chinese

or an Indian. To him the mix-up is a result of an “unenlightening education system”.

“If history is clearly explained all these issues can be resolved,” he declared. “But our government says that history isn’t as important as science. So then bring your science to solve this issue!”

Yet neither history nor science will be able to settle the perennial dispute of whether 1Malaysia champions equal rights for all or continues perserving the Malays’ special position. And the government’s benevolence towards Malay right-wing groups like Perkasa has only added to the furore.

Just two months ago Najib admitted that his brainchild may need further clarification in light of its varied interpretations. His acknowledgement contrasted with a survey conducted by the Information Ministry last July that reported an 84.4% rise in public understanding of 1Malaysia.

The ministry claimed the figure had surpassed its key performance index of 71.9% and labelled 1Malaysia as the “most saleable and spreadable national principle”. A branding expert, however, disagreed.

Poor product

The expert, who requested anonymity, was blunt in his assessment of 1Malaysia as a good slogan attached to a poor product, namely the government.

“A strong brand needs a strong product,” he explained. “A badly designed and manufactured product will never have a good brand. And this product has many fundamental problems, mainly its constant policy flip-flops. If this was a company all its investors would ditch it.”

“1Malaysia has succeeded as a slogan in that everyone knows it but whether they buy it is a different matter. Slogans don’t really mean very much. It’s just marketing hype.”

Meanwhile, Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) president, Dr Nasir Hashim, called 1Malaysia a “pro-management political system that needs overhauling”.

“If the system is pro-management, then it cannot be pro-people,” he said. “So the government should stop saying that 1Malaysia is pro-people just because it sounds good. All this sloganeering means that something is up Najib’s sleeve. If unity truly existed, we wouldn’t need a slogan.”

Going purely by these observations it would be easy to deduce that 1Malaysia has not quite met its objective. But Farish is restrained in his judgment. According to him, it is difficult to qualify or quantify the success or failure of 1Malaysia from an academic standpoint alone.

“You have to look at the general behaviour of the Malaysian public,” he said. “Look at the state of the Malaysian society and in the newspaper headlines. That will tell you all you need to know.”

  1. #1 by k1980 on Thursday, 19 May 2011 - 1:34 pm

    After been paid USD70,000, 1Malaysia was designed by 1Apco after consultation with 1Mossad,

  2. #2 by vsp on Thursday, 19 May 2011 - 10:03 pm

    1Malaysia is 1UMNO Malay Big Con.

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