Saturday, December 11, 2010

Elect the Select

The public is wondering if the general election might be around the corner. This is understandable as some of the actions and manoeuvres of major political parties are indeed indicative of mobilisation, gearing up and the closing of rank.But still, even as they gear up for the election, whenever that maybe, all the parties or their coalition seem to faced many problems within and without. Some of these 'domestic' problems have been the center of public focus, in great part due to the action of parties denouncing and undermining each other in the political contest. In short, whatever the public gained by way of information is not so much due to democratic competition of ideas as the desire of parties to politically discredit or denounce their rival.  Hence where the public gain by way of some information, they lose out in terms of depth of ideas or political philosophy offered by many of the political parties. It would seem that our political parties are primarily dictated by two tendencies. either to politically denounce or discredit rival parties or garner public support by appealing to emotion or populistic tendencies.

While politicians and political parties serve their interests, however they may define that to be, still the public reserve their democratic right to determine their leaders and future policies. This inalienable right assumed however some vigilance and alertness, some power of discrimination on their part to distinguish between genuine and propagandistic ideas, between the sensational and the realistic, between the democratic and the populistic. The public should discriminate between leaders and demagogues, or those aspiring to be such. The public should be true to themselves in distinguishing between leaders with constructive ideas for the national good and those who merely represent and confirm popular prejudices or selfishness.

I have been observing some of our recent political development. Definitely the sense of political gearing is unmistakable, regardless of the date of the next general election, be it on the part of the national ruling coalition or the opposition coalition. I would like to share some of my own impressions and 'perplexities' with readers.

The presidential speech at the last UMNO general assembly was clearly aimed at mobilisation and the closing of rank, obviously with the coming election in mind. Before this many of the speeches and action of the present party leadership tended to dissociate from the past. In a departure,  the presidential speech for 2010 more than generously acknowledged the contribution and achievement of former premiers. In fact more than just acknowledging their contribution, in his speech the president sees his leadership more as a continuity of the past and building upon the foundation laid by his illustrious predecessors. Another sure sign of mobilisation and the closing of rank is the image entertained of the Malays. Instead of the usual slur and condescending attitude, the speech idealised the image and cultural identity of the Malays formally or 'nationalistically',in a manner clearly meant to be a crowd-pleaser. The usual derogatory reference to 'subsidy mentality', 'crutch dependence', 'free-loader syndrome' or 'lackadaisical mindset'  is conspicuously absent.  This raised the question might it not be an attempt to appease the mounting criticism against the leadership alleged  'insensitivity' of Malay feelings and sentiments in some of the newly inaugurated policies?

This idealisation of Malay image and cultural identity however  was to some extent 'unravelled' when the speech urged the Malays not to 'squander' their rights and interests by their negative attitudes, complacency and attitudes of the past. Hence the image of the 'squandering' Malays' is still there albeit latently (whereas the issue really is who and which Malays had been squandering or abusing and how? )

Another sign of mobilisation and the closing of rank is of course the direct reference to the question of Malay rights. Putting the speech in a wider political context, it raises the question whether it wast meant to pacify Malay grouses and 'disillusionment' towards the party leadership for seemingly disregarding Malay interests in formulating new policies? This interpretation is plausible given the speech's assurance that Malay rights is safe and secure under the Constitution. The question remains though would a formal assurance by way of constitutional argument be enough to appease Malay concerns over actual policies and their consequences in the concrete texture of real politics?

BN partners are quarrelling among themselves. In whatever ways component party leaders try to minimize the    damages of bickering in public, from the public point of view they still conjure a general  picture of disunity and disarray. Component parties are still arguing on fundamental issues of bumiputra participation in the economy. We cannot go into the actual issue as such, given the present constraint. I merely wish to highlight the point of basic differences or tension within the coalition, marring a picture of unity and common political platform. Recently there are bickering on the procedural propriety or the political wisdom of individual parties  announcing policies of national implications through party channels, in disregard of other coalition partners. Gerakan president spoke of the undesirability of 'big brother', 'small brother' attitude within the coalition. Regardless of his thinking or  intention,  in raising the issue the Gerakan president had implanted the image of disunity, conflict and strained relations within the BN rank in the mind of the public.

The opposition coalition is not faring any better either. It had been inflicted by droves of resignation and party defection. To make matters worse, each defection was usually accompanied by  sensational disclosures of 'inner happenings', recounting internal weaknesses of the parties. A usual grouse tantamounts to disillusionment with party leadership and party policies. Many defectors question the moral integrity and right of leaders or the party to national leadership. I suppose the conflicts in the opposition coalition bears out one political reality, that once in power a former opposition party or coalition would be exposed as any other group to the corrupting effects of power and position of influence in various forms. A keen political observer would see that in some respects the PR coalition is sharing the same experience and challenges as the BN in matters of ruling and wielding power.

At the last party convention, the PKR president said something of a curiosity in her presidential speech. According to her Anwar Ibrahim is 'god-sent' and 'born' to lead the people. As evidence, she offered the political career of Anwar Ibrahim in being able to resist all 'political threats'. She contented that had he been ' an ordinary person like us' he would have succumbed. Now I cannot help wondering. Was it a personal opinion or reflective of party party thinking? Was it approved by Anwar Ibrahim,who is the party adviser? Did he approve of the assessment on himself? What prompted the president to say it? What motivated her? Was it a wife's  loyalty to her husband? Was it an instinct of dynastic ambition, be it for her husband or daughter's long term political career? Or is it the feeling of PKR that Nik Aziz and PAS should not hold the monopoly of divine sanction? PKR should also avail itself of sacral political endorsement. Was it the resurfacing of the old ABIM credo with its inclination towards 'Islamic' symbolism and theocratic elements ? Was it a desperate attempt to ease over serious internal problems, serious enough to merit 'divine interference'? As strong as the problems were (Zaid's challenge towards leadership for example as one), the antidote had to be just as strong.

Nevertheless it raises the question: is the party now embarking  towards personality cult as a formal ideological platform for the next general election, where 'divinely sanctioned' leaders are offered to voters? What might be confusing to the electorate is how would the party reconcile this platform with its other image of liberalism, pragmatism, neutral pluralism, or populistic democracy? The question is perplexing enough if it is a question of choice between theocratic inclinations  or democracy as commonly understood: it is even more confusing if we have the liberal, secularist, pluralist and the sacral, all rolled in one supreme leader!

Like I said earlier, politicians will do what they are wont to do in the name of winning power and influence. Nevertheless the public have their inalienable right to choose their leaders and influence somewhat their future or destiny. It is up to them though to exercise this right wisely and discriminatingly, settling for nothing less than  what's best for their future. They should see to it that by means of  election, only those with genuine ideas, integrity and political will, invariably constituting the select few, should be entrusted with positions of leadership.