POLITICS is the art of the possible, they say.
I believe two structural things need to happen in Malaysian politics for it to mature and drive progress in Malaysia:
i) The abolishment of religious and racial political parties, and
ii) The public’s understanding of the roles of political posts in modern Malaysia today.
Let’s look at the first part that is on the abolishment of religious and racial political parties. This is essential. When political parties exist solely based on two of the most divisive premise in human history, their contribution to society at large will be net negative. This is because their objectives and implementation of their vision is predicated on the bigotry of “my kind is the kind that matters” premise.
Instead of looking at what is best for society at large and then seeing how to accommodate the special interests that needs assistance for the overall good, race and religious based parties look at what is best for their kind first, at the expense of society at large.
Additionally, such racial and religious parties not only heighten divisiveness but also easily hijacked by demagogues.
I dare say all religious and race-based parties are just one step away from Nazism.
Does the Nazi philosophy of Volksgemeinschaft sound familiar to you? The aim was the creation of the “Volk”, a nation or people made up of the most superior of the human races. This concept was derived from a simplistic corruption of Darwinian, and relied on “Social Darwinism” – the idea that humanity was composed of different races, and these competed with one another for dominance: only the best race would lead after a survival of the fittest.
Naturally the Nazis thought they were the Herrenvolk – Master Race – and they considered themselves to be pure Aryans; every other race was inferior, with some like Slavs, Romany and Jews at the bottom of the ladder, and while the Aryans had to be kept pure, the bottom could be exploited, hated and eventually liquidated.
The Volksgemeinschaft was thus inherently racist, and contributed greatly to the Nazis’ attempts at mass extermination.
I will take one step further with respect to religious based parties; they are an anachronism of a time when societies were run by shamans, witch doctors and spiritual advisers to despots and kings, rather than civilised logical societies.
I am not anti-religion, but religion shouldn’t have a place in political decisions. This isn’t a slam on religion; it’s a call for inclusive political debate.
In a society where most people (politicians in particular) have some sort of faith that guides their decisions, it’s impossible to have a true separation of faith and state. That’s fine. What I am suggesting is we create and support a system where political decisions are made based on arguments that stand on their own merits without a religious crutch. Or, to put it another way, “my holy book tells me so” is off limits as an argument. But that doesn’t mean what you’re arguing for will have to change. All it means is that people need to use objective, measurable evidence to defend their arguments, instead of just referring to their faith and leaving it at that.
Some people misunderstand the point of political debate. The goal is to reach consensus about conclusions, but not necessarily consensus about the reasons for the conclusions. We can argue to reach a conclusion from the equality of all human beings as children of God perspective, or others from self-evident truths about human nature, and still others from the overall increase in happiness that would result from equal treatment. Not everyone accepted the premises of all of these arguments, but that did not prevent such arguments from having an essential role in our national debate about civil rights. They helped form what John Rawls called an “overlapping consensus,” in which different groups of citizens accepted the same conclusions from quite different arguments. So there is no objection in principle to religious arguments in political debates.
Another essential part is the partition of religion from State control. This is critical for a nation to work justly. All nations of the world will have more than one religious gathering living in them. Inside these religious gatherings, there will in all probability be one group that is in a majority.
On the off chance that this greater part religious parties approaches State control, at that point it could undoubtedly utilise this power and money related assets to oppress and aggrieve people of different religions.
This oppression of the greater part could bring about the separation, intimidation and now and again even the killing of religious minorities. The dominant part could undoubtedly keep minorities from rehearsing their religions.
In this manner, the oppression of the dominant part and the infringement of fundamental rights that can come about is one motivation behind why it is vital to isolate the State and religion in democratic societies.
The second part of what it takes for Malaysia to be a politically mature society is to have the public’s understanding of the roles of political posts sophisticated enough so that we can have very precise and correctly placed demands upon the people who are elected or appointed to such posts.
Our society still looks at politicians as potential Municipal Councillors rather than Legislators – unless they become Ministers. then they take an oversized God-like persona. We need a complete revamp in our societal-mindset. Our education system and the media need to play a role in educating the public in this respect.
First and foremost, we need to teach our society to have a distrust in the human character of our politicians and office holders. Any psychologist will tell you that to run for office and endure the public exposure needed requires a degree of narcissism and ego larger than the average general population. Such characters cannot be fully trusted with power.
Even a child who understands he or she has power over you will exploit your love for them, if you allow them to. What more grown men and women with the practiced eloquence and charisma to convince you that they have your best interests at heart.
We need to demand from politicians and officials answers to tough questions. We need to make them uncomfortable with the questions and the follow up to such questions. Grilling politicians for truth and facts, instead of lobbing softballs and backing off for fear of being disrespectful must be a Malaysian culture. Politicians are aspiring job seekers for public service. Elected and appointed politicians, Councillors, State Assemblymen, Members of Parliaments, Ministers, and even the Prime Minister, are all civil servants. They came to us for a job and now we have to be respectful of them? No! They must be respectful to us. We are the bosses.
Malaysians need to flip this paradigm. Any politicians and officials who even bristle at being thrown tough or “disrespectful” questions need to be thrown out of office come the next round.
Why? Because they do not understand that we do not owe them that job. That they serve us and are answerable to us. They should be thankful that we elected them and if they think they are doing us the favour in running for office, I can guarantee you there are 10 others more qualified to take their place. Everyone in gainful employment knows this fact. The problem with most politicians is that they have never really had any decent real-life working experience like you and I. It’s time the politicians and office-holders learn that the public is the boss and we are a demanding boss if they want to keep their jobs.
So what is their job?
For now, I am going to touch on the two basic ones, which are the Assemblyman and the Member of Parliament. Both serve the public in their constituencies – remember this part for later.
But fundamentally both are legislatures, one at state level and another at national level. They promulgate laws. That is their basic function. They are there to bring issues, debate them, and solve said issues by the instrument of proposing, making up or amending laws, and of course that include being the guardian of our spending. That’s it.
So, if that is the case, you need people with real critical thinking and experience, and a certain real world skill sets. You cannot bring in a Tok Lebai into the State Assembly or the Parliament!! You cannot bring people who can just debate but have no real life experience of how the real world works.
We could actually implement such a model by doing away with the Upper House (the Senate) as a purely legislative body and having Ministers from its appointed rank. As it is today, the Senate serves only as a rubber stamp to the ruling coalition. It might as well serve as a pseudo-legislative body which can house seasoned professionals that can serve as Ministers and an extension of the Executive branch that serve on various statutory position of leadership.
Well, that is a thought. It may seem far-fetched and wildly out of left-field but civilisation was not built in one day nor was man supposed to fly.
There is more that I hope our political landscape will evolve into. It may not be as what we see today but I am still optimistic of what it can be. All it takes is an energised informed electorate to demand more from our elected representatives and hold them to a much higher standard than what we see today.
I believe in Malaysia and I believe in us, the thinking Malaysians.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Star.