By Elizabeth Zachariah (Malaysian Insider)
The National Unity Consultative Council's (NUCC) first-ever dialogue titled "Voice of the Grassroots", which kicked off today, reverberated with calls to put a stop to race-based politics and the importance of education in national integration.
The feedback from the public will then be collected and factored into the making of the National Unity Blueprint, which the council has been tasked to do.
Moderator Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who is also NUCC deputy chairman, noted that more than 30 people gave their opinions and views today.
Ng Yeen Seen, who is senior vice-president of Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI) was one of the first to voice the need to move away from race-based politics.
"We are a divided nation. Particularly so after 308 and 505," she said, referring to the March 8, 2008 and May 5, 2013 dates of the last two general election.
"There is a need to immediately end racial politics and begin a new political composition."
This, she said, was so that Malaysians can reach a common ground to "move ahead together".
Echoing her sentiments was Jerald Joseph, an NGO activist, who acknowledged that Malaysia had probably needed race-based politics when it first achieved its independence more than 50 years ago.
"But things have changed now. We have matured and we have reached adulthood. More people are beginning to choose leaders according to their strengths and not according to race," he added.
"The time has come for us to leave race-based politics behind."
A large number of the public also agreed that there was a need to look into the education system in schools which they said, is instrumental in building an integrated community.
"During the 1960s up till the 1980s, everything was in English. Everyone spoke English and everyone understood it," said Saifullah, a student.
"But now we have schools with different mediums and because of that, children learn from a very young age, the different languages according to their own community. So, the interaction between the Chinese, Indian and Malays students from young is not there."
An unidentified man, who also went up to speak, related his own experience in school, saying that he began making friends of different races in primary school.
"The important thing is to start integration from primary school. From there, children will learn to make friends without looking at race because they have not been exposed to that yet.
"This will continue through the later years in their lives as they will not feel weird or awkward in mixing with other races because of how they were when they were younger," he added.
There were also those who called for the Internal Security Act (ISA) to be brought back so that people will be more careful in what they talk about.
"Because it was repealed, there are certain people who have become emboldened to speak about Malay rights, royalty and other religious matters," said one man.
Meanwhile, NUCC chairman Tan Sri Samsuddin Osman said it is important for the council to listen to the grassroots and he was excited that a lot of people came up to speak.
"The intention is to hear from the grassroots. Unorchestrated, unstructured and whatever that comes to their mind. This is what we wanted.
"I only hope there will be more ordinary Malaysians coming up to speak in the next dialogue sessions," he added.
Today’s session will be followed by dialogues in Seremban and Malacca. On March 1, dialogues will be held in Johor, Kelantan and Terengganu, while March 8 and 9 will see the roadshow moving to Sabah and Pahang.
Dialogues will also be held in Labuan, Kedah and Penang (March 15), Perlis and Perak (March 16), Sibu and Miri (March 23 and 24).
The last session will be held again in Kuala Lumpur on March 30.