Sociological approach to understanding reaction to Citizens’ Declaration

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.

13 thoughts on “Sociological approach to understanding reaction to Citizens’ Declaration

  1. Pingback: Sociological approach to understanding reaction to Citizens’ Declaration | R-Shane Ee

  2. DAP propagandists were never really any good.

    Lim Kit Siang said that he would work with Najib, if Old Pink Lips would admit that he led the country down a wrong tangent and also admit that there was a need for far reaching reforms.

    Welcome to bizzaro land.
    Conrad, how more politically naive can Kit Siang be! Expecting Najib to recant is like expecting the sun to set in the east. Najib has reached a point of no return as he has been lying and must continue to lie to us.We can never trust politicians. They (DAP) abandon their principles and then they say they are being pragmatic. How convenient!–Din Merican

  3. Pingback: Sociological approach to understanding reaction to Citizens’ Declaration | Berita Malaysia

  4. The only people who can remove Jibby as PM are the UMNOb members. Jibby became PM because he is President of UMNOb and Chairman of BN.

    Right now Jibby is secure as he has majority of UMNOb leaders in his pocket under “lu tolong wa, wa tolong lu” and “berapa lu mau “. Even as recently Jibby gave Kedah RM 100 million on the day Mukhriz was removed as MB. Johor was equally rewarded when Muhiyuddin was removed. Money talks.

    It’s a fallacy to say a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Jibby was not elected PM rather he was elected by the voters in Pekan to be their MP. It’s UMNOb members that agreed that Jibby should be PM. So the people or electorates does not have a say on who becomes PM, only UMNOb members.

    The Citizens Declaration was drafted by a select few and does not address the views and opinion of the majority of the citizens. Secondly the CD only addresses a limited concern on why Jibby needs to be removed and these are the sore points affecting Mahathir and a few others. The CD fail to address the issues affecting the rakyat.

    DAP, PKR and the Oppo are setting aside their differences with Mahathir and riding piggy back on Mahathir just for this one agenda i.e. removal of Jibby.

    I don’t think the Oppo are sacrificing or giving up on their philosophies and stand by joining Mahathir and the CD.
    Thanks, my friend, for your comments. The Opposition is a mess of their own making. They should be strong enough to take on Najib, without having to piggyback on Mahathir. By joining forces, albeit without sacrificing their principles,as you say, they now have a credibility problem.–Din Merican

  5. Next, let’s look at the LSEs involved in the bleating from an entirely different flock of sheep:

    “Ohhhhhh, Mahathir wants to make his son and/or proxy the PM!” *chew grass meditatively for a while and stare into space* “….and he wants to bring back Mahathirism and make Umno Baru Baru!”

    Why is this an LSE? Well, let’s go through the process step by step.


    1. Force Najib to step down in mid-term. Whoops. Realise it’s impossible.

    2. Seeing as 85% of KBU are rabidly pro-Najib and are bought to the hilt with “donation money”, engineer a global oil shortage and stockpile oil in Siti Hasmah’s hair. Then use the money to buy off the rabidly pro-Najib KBU. Plan does not work. Hair leaks oil. The KBU wall is unbreakable.

    3. Get expelled from UMNO as a rebel group, thus losing all voting rights in party. Arrest looms.

    4. Realise that without any position in the party, there is no way in hell that you can get past Zahid, Hisham and the pack of chasers like Nazri, Ismail, etc. who are now way, way ahead in the queue. And you are not even members any more.

    5. Tell yourself, “never mind, we’ll beat them in the Umno elections”. Realise that neither Sonny nor proxy can even stand, because they won’t be re-admitted by the group above, who are openly hostile to them.

    6. Realise that Sonny has not been an MP since 2013 and can no longer stand on an UMNO ticket.

    7. Realise that even if Najib throws in his letter before 2018, Zahid will assume the PM-ship as Timbalan Presiden UMNO (Moo is going to be booted very soon.) cf: Tunku – Tun Razak transition.

    8. Realise that without Sonny and/or proxy installed, you can’t “bring back Mahathirism and make Umno Baru Baru!”

    9. Realise that it was never the plan in the first place.

    CONCLUSION: Anyone who thinks Mahathir even envisages Sonny as next PM in his short remaining life time is plainly insane.

  6. Currently the CD is a signature drive. It is meaningless, as even if it hits 15 million signatures, Najib will shrug his shoulders. He is a criminal on the run from jail time. Who cares about what you sign?

  7. A super Proton model cannot run on 3 wheels..

    Loads of distractions and disruptions to blame everything Najib as an excuse for calling for his removal, now change to ” Save Malaysia ” , then, what next?

    Without giving a truly independent leader to prove himself, since cutting off the umbilical chord to Mahathir after sacking his deputy only 7 months ago.?

    Saving who or what ?

    Stop wasting time .
    No confidence vote had already been defeated.
    Let GE 14 decides, Not TDM or anyone else.
    Get real .

    The Rakyat have had suffered enough.

    In this fast changing information technology world and a weak global market,
    my take is,
    Najib needs to be firm and decisive, inclusivrly on running the country competently , particularly on the economy, security and education.

  8. Ooi ignored my opinion. Ooi. Ooi. Do you hear us? 😋 Oops, nevermind. It is just mere ranting here.

    Hopefully Dato Din’s opinion matters. It is not about ideal. It is about the trust if there is a will and capability to change the system. Hydra has many heads. Cut off one, grows another.

    //The pragmatic seek small wins and seize whatever chance of change.

    What change? What win at what huge cost?
    The next step to the declaration is to act on it.
    Go figure what could be done from effort to convince 1PM to step down without massive social disobedience.
    Please do not ask the rakyat to risk one’s life to change from 1 Najib to another UMNO man.

    A big loss for no win.

    My pragmatic mind goes like this..
    Not worth the effort for any rakyat since it seems to be just a change of one Umno man to another. This could pragmatically be done within UMNO. It will be done in due course, in anyways. We welcome Tun M’s joint declaration. Rakyat always get coerced in any case. But, do not ask our rakyat to die for your son without apparent reason.

    I actually like Joecline Tan’s suggestion. It is better to eat pop corn as we enjoy the show, until the top guns willing to figure out how they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the love of this nation.

    P. S. By the way, isn’t pragmatism another form of idealism?

  9. Orang Malaya,

    Almost nobody disputes UMNO having 82 PM has a legitimate right to propose a PM when there is vacancy in the PM seat. However, once a PM is proposed and appointed to the office, UMNO has no constitutional right to dispose the PM. PM can legitimately disposed only in an election or through no confidence vote in the parliament.

    It is not an accident that the Constitution requires members of parliament, not a political party, to impeach PM when situation warrants. This constitutional arrangement ensure the PM more likely to act for the interest of all Malaysians, not just UMNO members.

    For that constitutional arrangement to work, there must be enough people believing the Constitution is indeed the supreme law of the land and all kids are raised to believe so. And PM Najib must bring up his Bugis warrior spirit to defend his PM post against a coup executed under any excuses such as corruption or saving Malaysia or people declaration.

  10. When Mahathir was breaking institution and Constitution even creating myths of history, they said it was OK because he was also pragmatic. When they pander to the Islamisation or really Arabising drive, they say it’s pragmatic to let it happen. When they let M project happened, they said it was pragmatic. Now millions of foreign workers significant number proxy voters already, they said it was pragmatic.

    It’s just not. It’s just losing one’s soul because we do not do hard and painful.

  11. With this Citizen Declaration led by TDM and opposition get behind him, we now have a giant bull-eye target at the back of TDM. Najib could throw a few cannon-balls on the bull-eye target:

    1) Najib could lead Cabinet members to pay respect to Tun Salleh Abas at his grave, expressing governmental level apology to the former Supreme Court’s chief justice. This visit will act like “cannon-ball” explosion and cause many opposition leaders running for cover. That otherwise very wise Zaid Ibrahim will dodge in fear.

    2) In order to get Chinese Malaysians and East Malaysians to Najib side, Najib could also lead Cabinet members to pay respect to former Supreme Court judge Datuk George Seah at his grave, expressing not only governmental level apology but also his desire to start a Royal Commission to look into the possibility of clearing the name of someone wronged. Chinese Malaysians care about reputation, even for their dead. This visit and announcement will act like a cannonball explosion and send all the civil rights activists such as Amiga and Maria Chin into a tailspin.

    3) Start the legislative process that will eventually make judges appointment to be a live-long appointment, with no retirement date.

    All the above will cost Najib very little in near future, but could wipe out TDM and most opposition. With the above “cannonballs” explosion, few people will keep questioning about 1MDB scandal, except those who hopelessly want to show the world of their wrong priorities. Najib may become “Bapa Perlembagaan”.

    Lim Guan Eng and Nurul better keep a distance from their fathers, lest being the collateral damage.

  12. I have no yearnings to argue until the camels come home.

    You choose your lot and i’ll choose mine. No need for endless drivel. Orang Malaya and I are old hands at this, and some of the things we have heard may ‘curl your toes’.. Like for instance: Some of the senior UMNOb Goons who are now vehemently and apparently chief defenders of Scandal n Embezzlement Inc, are cozy business partners and buddies with the Chiefs of the Oppo Clan.

    That’s Politics ala Business, Bolehland style. Are they Sleeper Agents who are potential Brutuses? Does Jibros truly have the numbers? Your guess is good as mine, but as Ferdi says, this C.D will not make any difference even if the whole ‘nation’ signs.This is not a futile Eschatological exercise.

    What it might do is curtail the adversarial and winner-takes-all hubris that our system has devolved into. There is Hope that some form of Reconciliation can take place in a country torn asunder by Racist and Religious polemics. Here’s to those who rationalize scepticism:

  13. “What it might do is curtail the adversarial and winner-takes-all hubris that our system has devolved into. There is Hope that some form of Reconciliation can take place in a country torn asunder by Racist and Religious polemics.” – CLF

    This perhaps the only real glimmer of hope from this fiasco and something I hope gets embedded in Malaysian politics.

    I think I have said enough about this topic.


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