WHAT a historic transformative promise it would have made had PAS president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang been at the grand Gawai Dayak 2023 celebration in Kuching early this week, where Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim joined hundreds of local leaders and Gawai celebrants to chant the celebration’s theme, ‘Segulai Sejalai’.
Segulai Sejalai is Iban for ‘Together in unity’. The verbs, which are transitive and active, denote a group’s fortitude and commitment to a single objective.
Yes Minister, Hadi would have been mesmerised by the demonstration of Dayak unity from various tribal groups, dressed in their vibrant traditional garb and unwavering in their dedication to the unity and harmony that define the current Unity Government.
Yes Minister, Sarawak is proud of the powerful statement of unity and harmony made during the grand Gawai celebration.
If Hadi had attended the Gawai celebration and observed the entire production of unity, peace, and harmony by the various Dayak ethnic communities, would you have expected him to change his mind from his usual rhetoric?
Will his political beliefs soften?
These are hopeful conjectures. But he was not there.
Notwithstanding, ‘Segulai Sejalai’ is set to spread beyond the boundaries of Sarawak. It is anticipated that the slogan, which PM Anwar chose to use for federal purposes, would take on a life of its own.
Reinventing the wheel
What has emerged from the Gawai celebration was an epic shift away from Putrajaya in reinventing the wheel to accelerate the pace of unity, development and progress.
‘Segulai sejalai’ was adopted as a slogan to represent this.
Sarawak is a model of cooperation and development that the other states should emulate, PM Anwar has unapologetically acknowledged.
Yes Minister, as a living example of a region where rapid development and advancement are founded on and motivated by these values, the Prime Minister praises Sarawak’s spirit and dedication to harmony and unity
Sarawak presents to the nation a state where diversity is valued and pluralism proudly flourishes. Opportunities abound for everyone to contribute to the general well-being of the community. People can cooperate despite their fundamental differences to support shared socio-political and economic development.
Sarawak a model on pluralism
The assertion encapsulates the model’s core assumptions regarding the unification of people from various ethnic backgrounds who are devoted to pursuing a common developmental goal.
It entails creating a flexible structure and a sustainable process.
The process’ size and complexity, including the arrival of external intervening factors such as religion and politics, could cause the result to differ from what was anticipated and planned.
Yes, Minister. It is easier said than done.
The issues affecting attempts to achieve unity and harmony within the context of pluralism and diversity will not go away, and they would eventually surface as political fodder at the appropriate time.
This is true even after primary data is collected, processed, and new findings are extrapolated, as any researcher or academic would do, to identify new approaches to establishing a platform with clear programmes for sustainability.
Nevertheless, it raises issues that call for clear-cut answers in terms of institutions, policy, affirmative programmes on equitable distribution of power and opportunities, and participatory development.
How can we persuade people to voluntarily join the team, give up their past ethnic pride and prejudices, and concentrate on a shared future?
What novel initiatives at the various levels of government are required to hasten the enculturation process that genuinely builds a foundation for profound unity?
Yes Minister, we are still at the ‘crossroads’ and must navigate past numerous racial and religious ‘noises’ and intervening factors to be able to stay on course towards a fulfilled shared destiny.
We are a nation of diverse ethnic and religious belonging and on the journey towards a united nationhood. There is no alternative to it.
The repeated appeals made over the years by our leaders to rise above hegemonic ideologies and values, almost likened to a declaration of a treatise or reaffirmed national commitment, should be well received by well-intentioned Malaysians.
Extremist ‘ideologic’ groups
There are, however, extremist ideologic groups that work to undermine the views and sentiments of the majority and obstruct the process of unification and the ensuing development initiatives of the Unity Government.
In their equation, power matters more.
Among them are organisations and groups that decide to stoke racial tensions and make statements that cut across the multi-ethnic unity platform that has gained support under the unity government.
Their action that irks the current administration appears to be driven primarily by political gain and is seeking to gain nationwide acceptance. These groups seem to place little importance on taking into account the population’s multi-ethnic makeup and unique characteristics.
The situation raises questions on the dynamics of enculturation and ethnocentrism, and how they compete with one another.
Generally, people who reside in an exclusive society with an inward-looking window view the world through the prism of their own group.
They view the in-group as the gold standard and evaluate all other groups in light of this benchmark.
Is their pursuit a myth or reality? Or is it a fleeting act intended to accomplish a temporary objective?
Call to heed Agong’s advice
Malaysians, including detractors of unity, have been admonished by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah not to use religious issues as fodder for political debates and cause division.
If we were to build a powerful, prosperous, authoritative and dignified nation, we must all reject the rhetorical agenda of division and instead, work together to guide the country towards a better future.
This is something we can learn from the Agong.
His Majesty’s advice should be heeded, and those groups that have not been amicable and supportive of calls to support the current regime ought to depoliticise their public discussions of religion.
Yes Minister, if they cared about maintaining the unity of the people and seeing peace and harmony prevail, they would give up their ethnocentric cause and work with all ethnic groups to find a way to a shared future.
Start by upholding the Unity Government’s guiding principles and ideologies.
PM Anwar is committed to transitioning Malaysia’s affirmative action practices from race-based to need-based, believing that a needs-based approach would benefit the Malays more than purely racial policies.
It has been shown that hitherto racial policies had benefitted a few elitists and their allies to further their own interests.
Growing public awareness of the issue and backing for PM Anwar’s courageous action are signs that there is a problem.
Issues of race and religion are chronic fault lines in the country.
Right now, the 19-party Unity Government and the populace’s enthusiastic support are helping PM Anwar advance.
The revitalised agenda is one that supports the people, and strongly emphasises unity.
* Toman Mamora is ‘Tokoh Media Sarawak 2022’, recipient of Shell Journalism Gold Award (1996) and AZAM Best Writer Gold Award (1998). He remains true to his decades-long passion for critical writing as he seeks to gain insight into some untold stories of societal value.