By Kee Thuan Chye
I’ve said before that Najib Razak is a prime minister who does things by halves. Now there’s talk that he’s going to junk his ‘1Malaysia’ slogan for a new one. Online news website The Malaysian Insider reported this on August 21, based on information from sources. If it turns out to be true, I’ll be able to say that Najib is also a prime minister who doesn’t see things through.
A brand needs time to be developed. Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ has been around for only four years, and that’s not long enough to win it acceptance and pulling power. Work has to be done to imbue it with more substance – work that includes making Malaysia a truly inclusive nation, which wholeheartedly embraces all its races, religions, cultures, languages without placing any above the rest – so that in the longer run, it can come to be trusted. If Najib discards it for a new slogan, it would show that he’s not willing to put in the work; he has no staying power.
And what might that new slogan be? How more potent will it appear? How more meaningful? If you haven’t heard it yet, hold on to your seats. Just in case you fall off laughing. Or faint. It’s called “Endless Possibilities”!
Many Malaysians will be wondering what it means. “Possibilities” is a big word. It’s also an abstract word. You can’t picture anything when you come across it. It also has five syllables, which is not appropriate for any slogan. Combine that with “endless” and the meaning is even more abstract. Not only that, it sounds pompous.
And of course it’s vague. But then vagueness seems to cohere with what Najib prefers. Last year, he reportedly said of ‘1Malaysia’, “I didn’t define the concept very clearly, but that was by design.” He said he wanted to give it an “element of strategic ambiguity” so that it could take in other views, including those from the public.
Perhaps his advisers told him to say that, but it doesn’t sound like good advice. One would think a slogan that has something concrete to impart works better. ‘Bersih, cekap dan amanah’ (Clean, efficient and trustworthy) which Mahathir Mohamad touted during his early years as prime minister may not be the best of examples, but at least it was something that people could relate to. His successor Abdullah Badawi’s ‘Work with me, not for me’ also made some earthy sense, even though it was also broad.
But ‘Endless Possibilities’ … what endless possibilities?
As a slogan per se, it’s lame. It’s not action-oriented. Compared to it, ‘1Malaysia’ has at least a semblance of concreteness. It symbolises an ideal state – of national unity and racial harmony, even equality. ‘Endless Possibilities’ connotes something airy-fairy. It doesn’t convey certainty, only what may be.
Just consider this: “There’s a possibility that it will rain tonight.” When tonight comes and it doesn’t, well, it’s okay, we were only expressing a possibility. “There’s a possibility we will achieve high-income-nation status.” If we don’t, well, we did say it was only a possibility. “Heck, there’s a possibility we are going to be the greatest country in the world.” Syiok sendiri laaa. Possibility only.
I’ve also called Najib a dream merchant before for trying to sell us intangible transformation programmes. Perhaps something insubstantial and phantasmagorical like ‘Endless Possibilities’ would suit his workings fine.
Already, people are making jokes about the slogan. A friend of mine came up with the satirical ‘Endless Piss-abilities’. Another friend asked, “Endless possibilities for bleeding the nation dry?”
On the same note, it looks like Government cronies may be faced with possibilities of making money. ‘1Malaysia’ spinoffs such as Kelinik 1Malaysia, Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia, the 1Malaysia Youth Fund and Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) may have their names changed. Perhaps, too, the company set up and wholly owned by the Government called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
With name changes, we would of course also need new logos, letterheads, posters, billboards, shop and company signs. Who do you think would be cashing in on this? Ahhhh … perhaps that’s where the slogan might be apt.
By the way, what would BR1M be called? Endless Bantuan Rakyat? Bantuan Rakyat Tak Habis-habis? Well, giving out BR1M to households earning RM3,000 or less a month has already been promised by the Government, which also said it would be done every year, so why not get literal and call it that indeed?
One thing’s for sure. BN component party leaders would have to mouth new platitudes and propaganda. And with ‘Endless Possibilities’, it should be easier to avoid getting caught out. They are less likely to find themselves in the spot MCA President Chua Soi Lek got into when he said that ‘1Malaysia' would make the people think of themselves as Malaysian first, their race second – only to have Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin declare, “I am a Malay first.”
Perhaps that’s why Najib might be giving up on ‘1Malaysia’. It’s not working. What it promises contradicts with reality. And to be sure, he cannot change the reality without causing an upheaval that could end in his own downfall. As I pointed out when he first unveiled it in 2009, there will always be 2Malaysias as long as there are two classes of Malaysians – Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras – and they are accorded different statuses. Najib wouldn’t have the courage to try and change that; he wouldn’t be prepared to sacrifice his own position.
He might therefore indeed opt for the safe and easy way out – change to a slogan that is neither here nor there, and therefore invite no controversy. If and when that happens, be prepared to think of words that might describe his action and the character of his administration. The possibilities, you can be sure, will be endless.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling books No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians and Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!