Sunday, February 27, 2011

Who is minding the Nation?

There is a kind of dilemma facing certain kind of blogger. It is keenly felt each time the nation becomes engrossed in what is commonly dubbed ' election fever'. When the nation is gripped by this fever, all things become extremely partisan and dogmatic. Perspectives in the mass media become rather skewed, lopsided, inflexible, stereotyped, predictable and distorted as colored  by political affiliation and the will to power. In such atmosphere the non-partisan, issue-based sort of blogger is crowded out, stifled, sidelined, marginalized, or simply rendered irrelevant. The universe of discourse comes only in  black and white, with no subtleties, details, shades in between. The ends of politics then is not the search for truth and the real value of things, but simply the question of  'win' or 'lose'. In this situation, the public is not very interested in ideas but in 'intuitively' labeling blogger in terms of 'which side', 'whose sides', 'pro-establishment', 'anti-establishment', 'anti-Malay or Chinese or Indian', 'pro-Malay or Chinese or Indian', 'what badge', 'which banner ' and so forth. 

As a result, the deeper and more meaningful discourse of ideas, necessary for nation building and national introspection, suffers because such discourse  can only flourish outside such absolute, dogmatic and  narrow categories and transcending all of them. This stifling malady of 'election fever' can be of epidemic proportion when it does strike, sparing neither the ruling coalition nor the opposition. While these are ideal conditions for the dogmatic and narrowly partisan blogger or journalists to thrive in, for they then become very relevant within the adversarial, combative, emotional, irrational atmosphere created, it is time for the issue-based and idea- driven blogger or journalists to concede for the moment and take a back seat.

The important question is once a nation is delirious with 'election fever', who is addressing the issues and challenges of nation building? The question becomes more pertinent when at times the process of electioneering and the associated 'election fever' consumes a substantial portion of the nation's life , what with the obsessive strategising and crystal gazing as to the auspicious date of election.  Quite often the time and energy spent on 'election forecasting' is in itself most draining. More important issues are shelved, sidelined, marginalized, cool storage, neutralized, simply because they do not translate well into votes or square nicely with the ballot boxes. Even issues of nation building would be handled differently and at different depth when adapted to the process of electioneering and the power game. Consider the following examples: Nation building demands that we look at the problem of ethnic relations objectively and deeply, identifying its deeper causes, which cry out for honest and decisive solutions to the problems, both structurally and culturally; electioneering on the other hand would handle the issue in a more gimmicky, emotive, propagandist and superficial manner, crafting or spinning the issues to suit its political calculations. Just examine the manner in which the issues of ethnic relations are handled by both the ruling party or the opposition in this regards. 

Another example is the issue of corruption. The task of nation building demands that we look at corruption as an issue of governance and institutional control, but the process electioneering would rather focus on the blame game, finger pointing, mud slinging, denial or damnation. Those afflicted  and paralyzed by election fever often forget that those in power need checks because power tends to corrupt, while it is always easy for those who lack the opportunity for corruption to condemn the corrupt, while arrogating self-righteousness to themselves. Another example is the task of developing the national vision. While nation building demands that we look at this objectively and wisely, the election process tends to reduce the task to a question of dishing out what is popular, titillating and seductive in the short term, that is to say what is good for votes and the ballot box, in service of the will to power.

I can almost hear objections to the effect: 'But election is important and an integral part of democracy'. Yes that is true. Election is important but it is not everything! I also hear the objection: ' Election issues are national issues and it is the working out or the unfolding of the national vision'. Yes and no! While some of the election issues are pertinent and are manifestations of national concerns, not all significant and urgent issues of nation building manage to emerge as election issues. In our heart of heart we all know this. And then, even when nation building and electioneering seems to address themselves to the same issues, most time they would be handled at different depths and in very different ways, with different ends in mind. 

Consider the following elements, differentiating nation building and electioneering. Nation building demands leadership, while electioneering favors showmanship. Nation building works with vision while electioneering runs on 'fads', moods and controversies of the day, popularly term 'issues'. Nation building educates, enlightens and cultivates the people, while electioneering merely excites, agitates, and indoctrinates them. Nation building appeals to the rationality and better judgment of the people, while electioneering to their impulses and basic sentiments. Nation building endeavors to convince the people regarding  national vision and the better interests of the nation in the long run, while electioneering aims to manipulate, cajole and condition the people in the short-term. 

If the election fever persists and deepens, electioneering may become a permanent feature or character of a nation. The nation then becomes what I term an 'election nation', devoid of any true vision whatsoever. The history and development of the nation then suffers as it is eternally condemned to the superficiality and myopia of electioneering. It would be very difficult indeed for such a nation to achieved the status of a genuine nation, let alone a great one at that.

The mood of the mass media is certainly shifting its gear in a major way towards electioneering and away from nation building. There are many indicators of this development. For one, more 'goodies' are being dished out, which are promptly discredited by the respective interested parties. The fervor of the mob, as well as their self-righteousness, are fast rising.The leaders of both sides of the divide have certainly dawned their electioneering garbs and perform the rituals. We as a nation is now in the full swing of the electioneering mode.

I am wondering, as the nation is in earnest electioneering, who is minding the nation? They who have not traded national  vision for popular fancies and whims. They who have not abdicated the responsibility of leadership for the limelight of personality cult. They who have not bargained the destiny of the nation for their own unbridled will to power. They who aspire to contribute towards nation building and not merely and perpetually engaged in a life-long process of electioneering!