MELBOURNE, Sept 22 — The path towards a better Malaysia is for people to subscribe to the knowledge of authority and not to the authority of knowledge, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah told Malaysian students in Melbourne.
He framed this authority in terms of the different stages of democracy, the history of Malaysia in that journey, and the paths Malaysia needed to take in that transformation.
“There are many paths to a better Malaysia,” he told a mixed audience of about 130 at the annual Seminar Pembangunan Insan (Seminar on Human Development) at Melbourne Umno Club (KUAM) on Thursday.
“To me, the path to take is the path less travelled.
“I am very careful not to say there is a new path… (for) it is not rocket science,” the quiet-spoken Saifuddin said.
In his 38-minute talk — and half-hour Q&A — he suggested the many antecedents on the road to democracy.
Saifuddin identified four features for the participatory democracy needed to respond to today’s new social consciousness, especially among the young — integrity, governance, innovations in democracy, and progressive political thought.
He defined “progressive” as to “start the conversation on how Malaysians can bring discourse to a higher level”.
Among his sources, he drew from his book New Politics: Towards a Mature Malaysian Democracy (2008), which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched in 2009.
Saifuddin took pains to clarify that the compilation of essays that made up the book was from his writing from 2006, “not after the 2008 elections” (in which Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament).
Monash University law student Ahmad Hamidi has been reading Saifuddin’s writing and following his political career from 2008.
“I have no doubt your struggle is sincere,” Ahmad Hamidi said at the Q&A.
question is does it echo the Umno view.”“My
Saifuddin said the dynamic of Umno, and the dynamic of politics, was that it was viral. There were others like him in Barisan Nasional.
He singled out for mention Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Senator Gan Ping Siew, one of four MCA vice-presidents, and deputy youth and sports minister.
Expectations had been high of Saifuddin and his fellow keynote speaker at the seminar, Perlis Mufti Dr Juanda Jaya, speaking on “Surviving in the Western country as a Muslim”.
Before Melbourne, Saifuddin had met students in Sydney and Canberra, where he gave a public lecture at the Australian National University.
Greg Lopez, from ANU’s Crawford School Executive Education programme, described Saifuddin as “a breath of fresh air” in Umno.
In a post, Lopez wrote: “Most unusual is that despite having liberal views on a range of issues (not only talking the talk but also walking the walk), he has made it to the top echelons of the Umno leadership.”
Zaim Mohzani, outgoing deputy chairperson of the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia (MASCA), Victoria, spoke for many in thanking KUAM: “We left in no doubt that we have intellectually gained much from this event, and are inspired to do our part for our community.”
KUAM president Mohd Hazwan Mohd Hairollah told The Malaysian Insider: “I knew Datuk Saifuddin for his vocal voice criticising Umno from within the party.
“For me, he’s been a symbol of Umno regeneration. Besides that, I like his personality. He is so humble and easygoing; a good role-model politician for the younger generation.”
Hazwan said most of the overseas Umno clubs shared Saifuddin’s sentiments. In Melbourne, the Umno Club had always worked to educate students and Malaysians to be politically aware, and to get involved through educational activities.
“I believe a new generation with political integrity is the key to drive our country forward,” he said.
“Datuk Saifuddin’s ‘New Politics’ is evidence that he believes in the youth as co-leaders of today. Thus, it will be interesting to see this generation taking over our country’s leadership one day.
“I am positive that more reform can be done since they are more progressive and proactive.”
Ahmad Hamidi told The Malaysian Insider that Saifuddin was evidence that Malaysia “still has a bright future. It is up to us whether or not to be a part of this new wave of change.”
Public Service Department scholar Gajanayagam Jeyasundram said he had always remained optimistic about Malaysia. “So my attitude towards Malaysia (after having heard Saifuddin) is reinforced,” said the third-year commerce student at the University of Melbourne.
Saifuddin also spoke to Radio Australia on “Umno and its place in Malaysia’s ‘new politics’.”
Saifuddin is in Perth, the next stop in his four-city programme, to meet Malaysian students, and meet Australian agencies — sports councils, national library, election commission and tertiary education officials.
He will attend the general meeting of MASCA, Western Australia, and join Malaysian students at Curtin University in their pasar malam.