My Say: The moment we are waiting for
This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 16, 2018 - April 22, 2018. -A +A
Soon, Malaysians from all walks of life all over the country will face the moment they have been waiting for â" polling day on May 9. It is an event for them to shape the future of the nation with their votes.
Never in our history will every vote count so heavily, not only in deciding which party will form the next government but also whether the political check-and-balance mechanism, which holds our fragile country together under the framework of the Federal Constitution, is still relevant.
For the longest time, Malaysian politics has been underpinned by the traditional 3Rs: race, religion and royalty. In fact, some argue that the constitutional mechanism that our forefathers so tediously and delicately put in place, is , to a certain extent, to act as a check and balance on these 3Rs.
In other words, the government of the day is duty bound to manage and balance these sometimes conflicting 3Rs to hold together our relatively fragile multiracial and multi-religious society.
Now, apart from the 3Rs, another R â" the regional political powers â" have gained prominence since the last two general elections. Sabah and Sarawak, especially, have become the true kingmakers, and whoever is backed by members of parliament from there will eventually form the federal government in Putrajaya.
And the politicians have since put their newly-discovered bargaining power to good use in negotiating the restoration of the rights of Sabah and Sarawak under the 1963 Malaysia Agreement with Putrajaya. Hence, the people there have been relentlessly courted with generous electoral promises â" ranging from more petroleum money to wider autonomous power â" by both sides of the political divide.
Obviously, not many are happy with such a development. Some in Peninsular Malaysia think the âliberalisation of state rightsâ has been pushed too far and too fast for their liking.
In fact, talk of state rights was unthinkable just a few years ago. A Sarawak minister, Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, recently recalled that any dissenting voices on the issue of state rights were silenced by the previous prime minister. Obviously, he was referring to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the countryâs longest-serving prime minister. The irony is that Mahathir is the candidate for prime minister if the opposition Pakatan Harapan should capture Putrajaya in the coming general election.
Make no mistake, some Malaysians still see the 4Rs â" race, religion, royalty and regional politics â" as something negative in a multi-racial, multi-religious and modern democratic society.
But recent incidents may have made some more appreciative of the 4Rs in acting as a check and balance in Malaysian politics. A case in point was when the Malay Rulers took a stand on Muslim-only launderettes in Johor and Perlis. Many non-Malays feel unsettled when they see such acts committed in the name of Islam here and abroad. They are concerned over how religion has encroached into everyday life back home.
They have lost faith in politicians being able to stop, let alone roll back, disturbing ultra-Islamic trends. How can we blame them when some politicians have been playing to the gallery on this sensitive issue?
When it comes to the emotionally-charged electoral battlefield, it is a political landmine where even the royals must tread carefully, as the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, found recently.
In a statement posted on the Johor Southern Tigers Facebook page, Tunku Ismail launched a thinly-veiled attack on Mahathir without naming him, and warned Johoreans not to be duped by a âforked-tongueâ individual. He also said changing a cou ntryâs fate and improving the system was not by bringing down the government, but by changing it from within. From the responses to the post, such views were not well-received by many.
Anger is the keyword that underlines this general election, especially in cyber warfare.
When the internet first took off, the hope was that it would make the world a more democratic and better place. The fear now is that the avalanche of digital information might push things the other way.
Platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram are inundated with political messages by many angry Malaysians. It is near to impossible to reason with these angry folks â" and there are many of them in cyberspace. Their logic is simple: no matter your reason, if you are not with them, you are against them, and if you do not support their fight to change the corrupt government, your integrity and even your morality is in question!
For example, someone recently posted online a cartoon by Lat, â No matter what, we are all Malaysiansâ. He had hoped to cool down the overheated cyberwar between opposing sides. To his horror, some hardcore supporters of a political party used the cartoon to question the loyalty of the opposing side for not joining them in their struggle to change the government!
This brings into question the growing role of technology in politics. How much of a difference, for instance, do digitally-enabled protests really make? Many seem to emerge from nowhere, then crash almost as suddenly, defeated by hard political realities and entrenched institutions. The Arab Spring uprising in Egypt comes to mind. After the incumbent president, Hosni Mubarak, was toppled, the coalition that brought him down fell apart, leaving the stage to the old powers â" first, the Muslim Brotherhood and then the armed forces.
Herein lies the danger. How far can this anger carry this election campaign, and where is our nation being pushed to? What we fear most is tha t in our fury and haste to seek Rousseau, we might end up finding Hobbes.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher. His political philosophy is closely associated with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution â" a benchmark of modern democracy. On the other hand, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. He wrote that civil war and the brute situation of a state of nature could only be avoided by a strong, undivided government.
For the longest time, we have always viewed the general election as a contest of political ideas or electoral promises between two competing political coalitions. We are all too familiar with promises made by politicians on both sides. More often than not, their promises look impressive on paper, but fall short when it comes to actual delivery. This time around, we should not simply buy into whatever promises are made.
We should hold them accountable for the ideas or polic ies they propose. Not only must they present their ideas and plans, they must also show us details of the funding and convince us that their proposals are workable and affordable. That is the difference between policies that are responsible and spending pledges that are simplistic and opportunistic.
Yet, the fact remains that no political ideas or electoral promises, no matter how attractive, are going to work if we donât have a peaceful and harmonious society. And, we can only have a peaceful and harmonious society if there is a delicate balance of the 4Rs of religion, race, royalty and regional politics.
The voters will soon face the moment of truth at the polling booth. Which coalition has what it takes to continue balancing the 4Rs based on the constitutional and political balancing mechanism our forefathers put in place?
If we allow our untamed fury to get out of hand, will we face a scenario where we seek Rousseau and end up finding Hobbes?
Kh aw Veon Szu, a former executive director of a local think tank, is a practising lawyer. Opinions expressed in this article are his personal views.
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