Principled Politics of our Time

September 25, 2016

 Principled Politics of Our Time

by Dr. Munir Majid


Image result for alain juppe

ALAIN Juppé may not be a household name in Malaysia but the principled politics of this former French Prime Minister (1995-1997) in his country’s fraught national environment is worthy of note.

Despite France’s reputation for being the most pessimistic nation on earth, he projects himself as a prophet of happiness. He attunes himself to the promise of a happy national identity.

He strongly argues the diverse and mixed society is not a threat to France. He is against calls for a ban on burkinis (a preferred swimming costume among Muslim women). He proclaims: “I won’t turn people in France against each other.” Notably, in the Islamophobic climate in France, he holds to the concept of integration against assimilation.

Juppe is not a starry-eyed idealist however. His clear integration carries fixed rules: charter of secularism, reorganise Islam in France to ensure French funding and preaching, firm line on immigration control with annual quotas set by Parliament.

For him: “The role of a political leader is not to add to the unhappiness of the times, or to darken the situation even more.”Juppé is a Gaullist, fighting against Nicolas Sarkozy to win nomination of his party, Les Republicans, for next spring’s presidential election.

Sarkozy is riding the wave of popular sentiment to win nomination by speaking out against Muslims, immigration and all things not lily-white.

Jean-Claude Juncker, perhaps better known in Malaysia as President of the European Commission, sees the need for better explanation of European values against blatant nationalism, the galloping populism that is gripping Europe.

The values of freedom, tolerance and democracy, and the rule of law are a high point for humanity which must be defended. In Britain, after Brexit, some segments of the populace have taken that vote as a democratic mandate for racism.

Polish people, one of the most hardworking in the country’s labour force, have been beaten and, in one case, murdered on the streets of Essex. As of last week there had been 31 attacks on Poles since the Brexit referendum: in Plymouth, Yeovil, St Ives, Harlow and Leeds, among others.

Image result for Juncker

Juncker is very clear the whole European polity must fight against discrimination and racism. The British Government and laws, of course, do not countenance these attacks.

But there is undoubtedly a strong undercurrent of intolerance and hate in much of Europe which not insignificant numbers of politicians are exploiting and whipping into huge waves of all possible illiberal tendencies.

There are brave, liberal and true politicians who are willing to stand against these waves, for the values of the liberal and tolerant order that recognises the total and full rights of all citizens, not a regime that reduces some of them to the status of semi-citizens, a regime that hounds them to the periphery of national life. People like Juppé and Juncker have a tough fight ahead. But they are in it.

In America we see the rise of Donald Trump as nominee of Abraham’s Lincoln’s party to be President. That is how close illiberalism and intolerance can get to the seat of power to wreak disastrous outcomes: this in America, but not forgetting Europe or anywhere else.

Image result for Trump the demagogue

There are grave dangers of Trump-style fear and demagoguery, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s hard-line brand of national-identity politics, surfing on a fear of Islam and cultural difference. Don’t forget, not too long ago Sarkozy was a respectable centrist politician and President of France. That is how strong the dangerous currents are.

Image result for colin powell on trump

Former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell may call Trump “a national disgrace” and an “international pariah” (in a leaked email to a former aide in June) but his rise reflects what is happening in America as well.

What the Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton calls the “basket of deplorables” – whether half or all of them – are his supporters, who are American. They are there ready to be turned into overt racists and jingoists by cleverly exploitative politicians like Trump.

There is an argument claiming these Trump supporters are the uneducated underclass – the lumpenproletariat – who have been under-served and under-provided in an economy of huge disparities of income and wealth. This may be so. But as many as half of them? Is American society that poor?

There are actually perfectly “normal and respectable” Americans ready to be had, to go down that racist, Islamophobic and jingoistic path. Quick to blame others. Fast on the draw to exaggerate and to caricature.

These are the people – and there are many of them in the American Congress – who have been against Barack Obama these past eight years he has been US President because he is black.

They have been driven by the power to show, even if a majority of Americans may support Obama, they can jam it and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for him to do his job – not infrequently against America’s own interest.

These are the people who are so anti-Muslim just beneath the surface that they are quick when scratched to jump and point at the Islamist threat to America. On the other hand they do not see gun laws and the police shooting blacks as any threat to American society.

They are irrational. They are emotional. They are one plus one equals to two people. The type one plus one equals to two populist politicians lap up. Politicians with no principles. Politicians who do not understand the complexity of things.

It is all too easy to whip up xenophobia among them. Looking at all this from Asia, we have no cause to be complacent. Indeed, we have our own dark spots in many countries.

Image result for Najib Razak the Corrupt

Taking just Malaysia, we have to defend our democratic, liberal and tolerant tradition. If we allow our populist politicians to ride roughshod over it there will be hell to pay not too far down the road.

It is deeply disturbing the way “liberal” has been turned into a bad word. As if it meant licence and excess, and therefore has to be snuffed out. To be replaced by what? A plutocratic religious order?

Exhortations and many actions point to this. Whipping up a frenzy.It is also deeply disturbing that the consensus on a multi-racial and multi-religious society in Malaysia is being challenged by some quarters. Again, to put what in its place? A uniracial, monocultural polity?

These are big issues principled politicians should take a stand on – like Juppé and Juncker.

Individuals and commentators, and groups like the G25, can make their point, but even they are attacked for being “liberals” who know nothing about religion – by those who claim to know everything.

But even groups like the G25 and those from civil society will ultimately be ineffective if leaders in the formal political system do not take up their cause. Or they have to get into politics.

Let us remind ourselves. When we talk about Vision 2020 we must not just talk about the economic targets. All this was to happen in a country and society that was “democratic, liberal and tolerant.” In a system with “strong moral and ethical values.” Go back and read that statement in 1991 – and hopefully be revived.

Image result for Tun Ghazali Shafie and Rukun Negara

Our King and Rukun Negara

Go back to Rukun Negara in 1970. The aspirations and principles expressed for our society, even if just after the May 1969 racial riots.

Look at them closely: Belief in God; loyalty to King and country; democratic way of life; just society; liberal approach to rich and diverse cultural tradition; rule of law; good behaviour and morality.

They were strong expressions that go back to the Federal Constitution espoused by the two greatest political leaders this country has ever had – Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman – both of whom had the strength of character and leadership to define the future, even as they sought to repair the damage done to the country in 1969.

Image result for Tun Razak and Tun Dr. Ismail

We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to make sure the country does not deteriorate. As we look at what is happening in our country, at what is happening in Europe, America and elsewhere in Asia, our politicians particularly must arrest populist tendencies and provide principled leadership to secure the future, and not just fight among themselves for the next piece of cake.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

20 thoughts on “Principled Politics of our Time

  1. Principled Politics? Maybe CLF, Conrad, Abnizar, katasayang, Veritas et. al have something to say about this misnomer or whatever you may call it. If politics is about the means to power, what so principled about it? I thought Niccolo (surname Machiavelli) has written a treatise on it. –Din Merican

  2. Exactly dinobeano ! Surprised that as Dr Munir Majid is deemed very scholarly and held in good Esteem , how does he justify himself about making accolades on ” Principled ” Politics ? As far as I am aware , there’s nothing principled about Politics , save that personal Ambitions drive them on and on , up to the point that if it dislodges him from his ambition to stay as number One, he will break all manner of principles ( even break the laws ) , to ENSURE he stays on the ‘ top ‘ by hook or by crook….( as the saying goes , because I am afraid our Beloved Malaysia has set a Bad example ) –

    This word or aberration ‘ principled ‘ is Pugnacious , and it invites or provokes to think that Politics is a dirty business, and whoever is shrewd or cunning wins the dirty game …..we have seen bad examples , No ?

  3. I thought about what I am going to ask, and I chuckled thinking that it might be too naive a thought, but anyway I’m still going to give it a go. My understanding of the thesis put forward by Niccolo Machiavelli is that, one has to, in the pursuit of power and in preserving that power, act ‘wicked’ (being ‘wicked’ is what ‘the end justifies the means’ mean) and that has been the SOP of the powers that be (except perhaps in the case of righteous, pious and God fearing persons – such as the late TG Nik Aziz). If the late TG Nik Aziz’s approach in the power game is the antithesis of all that Niccolo expounded, and bearing in mind that the late TG has been successful (at least by my standard), then perhaps “principled politics” has a place in the power game, but how might it be put to work, especially against and in the face of opposing forces applying the ‘wicked’ approach?

  4. Dato.Din,

    I guess principle is a dog whistle word today, given what ktemoc has spelled out clearly.
    Dr Munir Majid wrote an article on IDEA’s behalf not without a reason.
    I have no opinion. I trust Senior Uncle Lim’s gut instinct. Games of Thrones.

    Principle has always been there, and it is definitely not with flawed individuals. But, I didn’t want to distract Senior Uncle Lim’s decision on suggesting how I read my Bible, and how I read my Chinese classic. Either way, there is no good and bad in this weekend’s dog-whistle “principle” word play. It is merely unfolding of a game plan that has been put forth for sometime.

    We the rakyat is only here to make the ambitious prince fight others among themselves for our own advantage, to hopefully come to a fruition of a genuine two party system. With UMNOb being so weak, I guess the “prince” has already figured out that we the rakyat has no leverage on them today.

    There is still no reason for me to doubt senior Uncle Lim’s conscience and instinct in this matter. Will spend prayer time on this for Malaysia.

  5. My own inner voice says this to me. If senior Uncle Lim does not have strong conviction on this himself, why not practice transparency and allow all DAP members to vote on this. For the very least, this would invigorate DAP’s cause of Malaysia for Malaysians.

  6. Principled politics? I will settle for a realistic plan by the opposition. There is no real plan by the opposition, not really. Principally, they refuse to admit Hadi’s PAS is the no. 1 problem. Even DAP dare not attack at risk of being painted anti- Islam. Other critics including non-BN critics of DAP, refuse to also confront the issue. What principle went it cannot be real?

  7. Principled politics is an oxymoron.

    As for uncle Lim, I would like to suggest that he confers with Anwar and forms a new party. After all, their political objectives are basically the same. An added bonus is that they are not race based.

    Only then can he agonize over Bersatu.

  8. Principles in politics?
    Good grief, that’s like applying the Thermodynamic Law of Entropy to mundane human proclivities! To keep it simple, entropy is the tendency for closed systems to become increasingly disordered and chaotic. And that to increase order in one system requires increasing disorder in another. Comprendo?

    I think, we should first understand what ‘Populism’ actually means, how does it come about and what are it’s driving forces. And finally what are the ‘Principles’ that can be applied to stem it’s untoward effects.

    Take Brexit for example – the forces that are rendering the EU apart are exceeding the ‘effort’ and energy required to cobble it together. External stress and internal mass disenchantment. Insularity and eccentricity must be recognized as potent forces just as economics and mere lip service of unity in diversity.

    In short, what is needed is not more ‘Principles’ – for these have been starring at all of us, through the moral-ethical lenses imbued by nationalism, religion (sic!), education and critical thinking (if any). It’s the Application, dude – not more Slogans and writing stuff just to fill empty pages!

    So what we need is strong, effective and charismatic Leadership that is able to strike a fine balance between hard and soft power.

    2 millennium before Machiavelli, Lord Shang Yang, one of the founders of Chinese Legalism, had advised that for those who rule – might is right, power everything. Humans are idle, treacherous, greedy, cowardly, shifty and foolish. The only way to deal with them is to entice, terrify, reward and punish. He made Qin what it later became – China. Machiavelli of course was more sophisticated but the Renaissance was just as chaotic – with the Italian city states in perpetual conflict. His argued that without the ruthless, deceptive and cynical exercise of power, there will be no peace, statehood or possibility of progress.

    The mitigating factor of Good Leadership requires a healthy dose of Charisma.

    Dinner is ready, and my Leader (aka better half) requires my attendance. Can One of you guys expand about ‘Charisma’ in Leadership Theory. Thanks.

  9. My opinion is that there is a place for principles in politics.
    It’s not helpful to be totally cynical and say that “all politicians are the same”.

    However, principled politicians are very unlikely to reach the pinnacles of power, as politics always involves compromise and some amount of rhetorical obfuscation.

    But principled politicians can act as some sort of conscience of the nation
    (e.g. the late PEKEMAS MP Tan Chee Khoon) and push debates
    over public policy in more socially just directions.

    I would say that Bernie Sanders is a principled politician.
    I’m not sure if Aneurin Bevan is a principled politician but he helped to
    introduce the National Health Service to the UK and he resigned
    (“on principle”) when user fees were first introduced.

    Here’s an article on Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party of Britain:

    A (relatively successful) principled politician I can think of is
    Leon Blum of France. However, even he was forced to compromise some
    of his principles (over planned military support of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War) because the conservatives and fascists were strong in France in the 1930s, and there was threat of civil war in France if he did not compromise.

  10. About 30 years ago, after a charity bicycle ride from London to Southend, I was invited to Westminster to meet some MPs.

    I took the opportunity to have a few minutes chat with Jeremy Corbyn as I felt then that he was probably the most principled of MPs – together with Dennis Skinner.

  11. Perhaps can add Clement Attlee to the list of principled
    politicians ? (Attlee was voted as one of the best PMs of
    Britain by British academics who specialise in the study of

  12. Dato.Din,
    It has been a few days. I guess I should explain on how I read the world of politics as a Christian, at least in terms of how my faith guided me or how I have viewed the book we Christians inherited, and how it could still give me hope inspite of much brokenness, brought forth by so many Christians throughout the ages. It is in no ways an attempt to whitewash the sins and harm brought forth by Christians. But it is a faithful read into the text which is always in a tension of now and then, order and chaos. I am an Amillennialists. Amillenialists do not seem to dominate today’s Republican politics, but its’spirit does lend credence to the American pragmaticism and activism in most major political events.

    Niebuhr and Tillich are two of my favorite theologians. They led me to write the following which I have shared a number of times already.

    Both Republicans and Democrats in the States found inspiration from Neibuhr’s work, with or without God in the personal lives.

    The same applies to Martin Luther King Jr ‘s eschatology.

    Another great man who influenced my thinking is Thomas Merton with his activism in peace and reconciliation of the other worldliness in a secular age.

    Principles are there for Christians. But, for amillenialists, it is not being naive, nor pessimistic. That is the American spiritualism that I found, Dato.Din. Actually, the American spiritualism in Morningside Heights of New York City.

    David Brooks constantly shared his thoughts from the conservative end.

    Bill Moyer would share his from his progressive stand.

    Sure wish I could be more like 宋向节, a great missionary in China and South East Asia.

    Dr Bakri said it well, I merely talk. No action. Layu-layu Tanah Melayu.

    CLF, dumb dumb like me does read Purpose Driven Life. It is an attempt to help get me focus and more sharing :p.

    I wonder who are the inspirational Islamic theologians Malaysians look up to?
    Who do you look up to, Dato.Din?
    Socrates, Plato and Aristotle of Antiquity, Confucius and Mencius of China, and Tagore of India. Islamic Theologians like Hamka and Nurcholish Madjid maybe. None from Malaysia because most of them spread politically coated theological bull which only UMNO accolades pretend to accept.–Din Merican

    Just thought I should include the wikipedia of 宋向节. It is just amazing of China, Hong Kong and even Singapore has wiped clean his digital record. I guess that is the reality that we live in … Was there ever such thing as principle?

    This is my philosophical or rhetorical reply for those who claim there is never a reality, or a principle: we may not know the truth. But, it must be there for the statement that there is no such thing as truth to stand true. The same applies for principle. Chinese call it 法 which CLF has alluded.

  14. First, I thought Dr Munir could have given us a teaser as the starting point of a two-part series on Principled Stewardship. His experiences in the corporate world, say “Principled Corporate Management in Malaysia”, as a sub-set, would surely be a fitting introduction to a discourse on the larger set of players, now titled “PRINCIPLED POLITICS OF OUR TIME — the dynamics of the principals in both sets acting, in the main, without principles have not made for a pretty picture of human behaviour precisely because of the lack of personal integrity. So, I am surprised this word is completely missing from the text.
    Muslims and some non-Muslims are familiar with the story of Saidina Omar, upright and virtuous (to a specific wax work!), blowing off the candle that he had lit earlier while working on government affairs, only to light up his own candle when he found out that his son needed his help to solve a private matter — two candles, one OGS and the other private. Is this not principled politics, albeit at the lowest, localised level? This is the personification of principled leadership. Which is cause and which, effect? The answer is obvious — principled leadership anywhere, be it in family, business or politics cannot happen without being underpinned by personal integrity.
    Readers here will agree with me, I am sure, that some authentic accounts of great paradigms of principled management practices from a man who once led the once high-flying MAS would be welcome.
    I have taken too much liberty with my introduction.
    I find his assertion: “The values of freedom, tolerance and democracy, and the rule of law are a high point for humanity which must be defended” a little off-putting and dangling in mid-air, in search of a defender — who? Isn’t Dr Munir not guilty too of resorting to taking part in “. . . the irritating habit of putting Western actions at the center of everything”, as said by the brilliant Turkish physicist, in another context? Or, is this tacit but unintentional admission by him that these laudable values, must by some unexplainable laws of natural accession to Humanism originate from the West? No, it was a false scent as he immediately goes off at tangent to talk of racism after Brexit, misdirected populism, demagoguery, creeping xenophobia,and more.
    The part that strikes the strongest chord with me is: “. . . espoused by the two greatest political leaders this country has ever had – Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman – both of whom had the strength of character and leadership to define the future . . .”
    I have written earlier in another blog of a minor “miracle”, for lack of a better term, which is taking place now, as only such an event could happen anywhere in the world, that never again will any country, including ours, ever experience the phenomenon of the ruling Head of State exercising his office once with the man who was Prime Minister, more than forty years ago, and then a second time with the same man’s son as Prime Minister.

    Who may I ask Dr Munir thinks, with his grasp on national politics, of the principled kind, is best suited to continue the leadership role defined by Tun Abdul Razak?

    Dixi et salvavi animam meam’.
    I have said it and have saved my soul.’ (after Hans Kühn)

  15. This is embarrassing! Correct version:

    . . . Isn’t Dr Munir guilty too of resorting to taking . . .

    not deleted

  16. Glad that Sumpitan Emas , the man with the golden ‘blow-pipe ‘ has re-appeared after a long absence…..Kudos to yourself !

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