March 12, 2016
COMMENT: Ooi’s article makes an interesting read. I see it as an attempt by someone from the Penang Institute, a think tank of the DAP state government, to justify DAP’s political pragmatism in joining forces with UMNO Baru’s founder, Tun Dr. Mahathir, to oust Dato’ Seri Najib Razak as Prime Minister.
Get Najib out of power first and then worry about what happens next, that apparently is the plan. But it does not work that way since a political vaccum will be created if we do not have an acceptable alternative in place.
Tun Dr. Mahathir has own preference in either Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin or his own son Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Mahathir to preserve UMNO Baru, while Pakatan Harapan can agree on Anwar Ibrahim who is now in jail. Anwar is a good choice but getting him out of jail is going to be not easy. Tun Dr. Mahathir is not going to countenance his political resurrection, and it would be foolhardy for Prime Minister Najib Razak to get him out of jail any time soon.
Removing the Prime Minister by politically motivated dissent is unusual in our country. Tun Dr. Mahathir would not tolerate it when he was in power. Democracy does not work in that manner, since it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The next Prime Minister has to decided by Malaysians in free and fair elections. Prime Minister Najib is no fool; he knows that he can only be removed by constitutional means, either by a General Elections or a No Confidence Vote in Parliament. We are stuck.
We often use the word pragmatic rather glibly. The last time I checked with dictionary, I found it not quite complimentary. The conventional definition of pragmatist is someone who is pragmatic, that is to say, someone who is practical and focused on reaching a goal. A pragmatist usually has a straightforward, matter-of-fact approach and doesn’t let emotion distract him.
A pragmatist can also ignore his own ideals to get the job done, so in this way it can have a slightly negative meaning. The word is often used in reference to politicians to mean that they are either sensible or willing to cut corners for their cause.
A pragmatist is, in my view, is someone who will abandon principles, who is willing to work with an adversary to achieve a purpose, even though he knows that his adversary has a different agenda. DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, for example, has been engaged in a political struggle with UMNO for decades.
DAP has always been a successful political force on its own with an ideology based on justice, freedom and democracy. Its foray into coalition politics of fairly recent vintage (in 2008 when it became an influential component of Pakatan Rakyat (and now Pakatan Harapan). I am, therefore, baffled that Kit Siang should now compromise with a diehard UMNO man who was his enemy and in so doing lose his credibility and undermine the standing of his party.
The Citizens’ Declaration is an elitist document. As such, the ordinary man in the street has no time for lofty pronouncements written by the so-called thinking individuals. He is concerned about his job, food on his table, money to pay his children’s education, pay his rent and medical bills. How can he be convinced that political change can make difference to his life?
If we are to bring change by replacing Prime Minister Najib Razak by democratic means, we need to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Malaysians. The Citizens’ Declaration is of no help here. Ganging up with the former dictator, Tun Dr. Mahathir is certainly an exercise in futility.
We do not need a sociological approach, as suggested by Ooi, to understand why some Malaysians support and others reject the Citizens’ Declaration. We need to go back to the people with clear plan on how to reform our system of governance. This must involve a total revamp of our political system to stamp out corruption, crony capitalism, and uphold the Rule of Law. So, I need to be convinced with Tun Dr. Mahathir at the helm of the movement to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak from power, this coalition of strange bedfellows can get the job done, even if it succeeds by dint of good fortune to unseat him.–Din Merican
Tunku Abdul Aziz on Mahathir:
“Mahathir is a serial pathlogical “killer” of prime ministers and institutions. His obsession with his own sense of indispensability as a political force is both sad and touching were it not for the fact that it is tragically damaging for our country. Mahathir’s latest antics have merely confirmed what we have always known about this ruthless self-centred man with an over-sized capacity for mischief.”
Sociological approach to understanding reaction to Citizens’ Declaration
by Ooi Kok Hin*
Ooi Kok Hin is a research analyst in Penang Institute. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy, and is also the author of the book, “Aku Kafir, Kau Siapa” , published by DuBook Press.
The reactions to the widely-publicised Citizens’ Declaration can generally be categorised into two camps: first, support for the initiative which brings together arguably the strongest anti-establishment forces today, and second, disillusionment and uproar by those who abhor the opportunistic nature of the grand informal coalition.
Not withstanding the polarised debates, the distinct reactions can be explained through a sociological approach. We can first employ a tool of sociological analysis, which is to investigate a phenomenon through three factors: origins, nature, and functions.
In simplistic terms, origins refers to the “Where”, nature refers to the “What”, and functions refer to the “Why/How”. For those who strongly opposed the joint declaration, they emphasise the origins factor, that is, the source of institutional abuse of power: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself.
This group couldn’t forgive the former Prime Minister for his crackdown on individual rights and the integrity of the institutions, let alone accept him as the “saviour”.
Having fought against Dr Mahathir, his legacies and Mahathirism for the most part of their adult life, they view any proposal to incorporate the man into the Save Malaysia agenda as “opportunistic” at best, and “sellout” at worse.
Meanwhile, those who are willing to support the declaration emphasise the functions factor, that is, the need and utility to form a broad-based, albeit elitist, coalition to overthrow the chief danger of the time: the current executive.
This group doesn’t necessarily forgive Dr Mahathir and his allies, but they prioritise the function of the coalition to solve the problem over and above the origin of the problem. This differentiation of priority of emphasis also leads us to the second sociological tool of analysis.
Utopian v Ideology
In 1929, Karl Mannheim wrote a book called “Ideology and Utopia”. The thinking of human groups, he argued, can be divided into two categories called ideology and utopia.
The concept of ideology “reflects the one discovery which emerged from political conflict, namely that ruling groups can in their thinking become so intensively interest-bound to a situation that they are simply no longer able to see certain facts which would undermine their domination, (it) obscures the real condition of society both to itself and to others, and thereby stabilises it (the status quo).”
In contrast, the concept of utopian thinking reflects “certain oppressed groups are intellectually so strongly interested in the destruction and transformation of a given condition of society that they unwittingly see only those elements in the situation which tend to negate it.”
Using this distinction, we can say that those who strongly oppose the declaration subscribe to utopian thinking. Shaharuddin Maaruf, in applying this distinction to analyse the social psychology of Muslims in Southeast Asia, wrote “These people are not at all concerned with what really exists; rather in their thinking, they already seek to change the situation that exists”.
In other words, they don’t care about the limits of the situation; what is permissible and doable within the present circumstances. Nothing less than an overthrow of the structure and status quo is satisfactory.
The thinking process of those who sided with the declaration can be said to be still functioning within the status quo. They, correctly or not, diagnose a possible solution based on the existing and realistic condition of the society. Because they still operate within the structure of the status quo, they are limited by the realm of the possible and are more susceptible with the idea of working with the lesser evils for the most immediate agenda.
The differences between the utopian-minded and the ideology-minded are plenty. The former couldn’t accept working with Dr Mahathir’s camp because they are part of the status quo which the group seeks to do away with.
Even if institutional reforms are demanded in the declaration, this group knows that any positive outcome would not do away with the status quo since the Mahathir-led coalition will have people inside the establishment party to replace the incumbent.
For this group, it doesn’t matter if there is no immediate possibility of a political revolution that can overthrow the establishment. It doesn’t matter if a deal with the devil offers the only realistic chance of change. All that matters is the utopian fervor to destruct the status quo.
The ideology-minded, pragmatic and focusing on the immediate, seek small wins and seize whatever chance of change. The utopian-minded, idealist and focusing on the structure, seek a new political order and disdain anything that falls short of a total annihilation of the status quo.
This sociological approach to understanding the distinct reaction to the Citizens’ Declaration is undertaken in the belief that our understanding of social and political phenomena could be improved by studying it with existing academic theories and a certain academic slant or rigour.
Ideas and theories are able to provide us with a tool of analysis to deepen our understanding and explain the process of social thought and refines our analysis, instead of ramblings and gut-feeling analysis.
This distinct style of thought, utopian and ideological, formulated by a sociologist long dead, is able to explain our society’s reaction to the declaration. The fundamental difference, in this case, lies in those who insist on nothing less than the breakdown of the existing order, and those who seek to work within the status quo and salvage whatever progress might be made. – March 12, 2016.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.