Book Review: Participation without Democracy: Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia


April 16, 2019

Book Review:

Participation without Democracy: Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia

Garry Rodan (Cornell University Press, New York, 2018)

 

Those of us who study politics differ on whether our discipline is rightly termed a “science”. People who weigh in on the “scientific” side tend to emphasise, alongside the permeation of numbers and deductive hypothesis-testing, the stock of knowledge we have accumulated: core concepts and theories, tested and refined over time. With his provocative latest book, Participation without Democracy: Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia, Murdoch University’s Garry Rodan puts years of field research and insight honed over decades to work to prove that such pretensions are more aspirational than well-founded. His argument, taken to its logical conclusion, impugns much of what political scientists study when we study “democracy”. It suggests we have missed the crux both of what distinguishes regime types, and of what sorts of political dynamics spur, constitute, and emerge from transitions. And his argument is convincing.

Southeast Asia—home to a bewildering array of institutional innovations—offers Rodan a trove of variation to mine, as he probes how these states really function. Those readers familiar with Rodan’s extensive oeuvre will note points of continuity with his earlier work: the inseparability of politics from economic forces, the salience of civil society, the crafty ways in which regimes and their leaders sustain dominance. With its rich detail and critical perspective, this book seems something of a capstone as Rodan approaches formal retirement, bringing his rich, career-spanning material on Singapore as well as Malaysia into conversation with a similarly nuanced discussion of the Philippines, and weaving together theoretical threads.

Participation without Democracy places modes of participation (MOPs) front and centre, characterising regimes in terms of both the extent and the type of participation and contestation possible. The book is explicitly oriented toward theory; hopefully the words “Southeast Asia” in the title will not deter readers focussed on other regions. But Rodan builds his analysis with fine-grained evidence, astutely assessed, from his three cases.

He proposes that elites meet the challenges that contradictions of capitalism pose—rising inequality, social disruption and others—by introducing new modes of popular participation. Elites use these MOPs to contain and channel dissent, while deepening concentrations of power and wealth; opponents sometimes hope these same modes offer tools to dismantle elite power. The “central paradox” Rodan traces is the extent to which “expanded political representation—in both its democratic and nondemocratic forms—is serving more to constrain political contestation than to enhance it”. Regimes and the elites at their helm find ways of serving their own interests by strategies that may look participatory on paper but, in practice, narrow the space for contestation and fragment or co-opt challengers.

Political scientists have long placed participation and contestation at the fore of definitions of democracy, but usually with a primarily electoral focus and more as indicators to be measured than as patterns requiring qualitative evaluation. Rodan demonstrates that we need to delve deeper: to ask not just whether participation happens, but who can participate and via what modes, which questions are open to debate and what happens to input gathered. He brings ideology squarely into the frame, not just vis-à-vis neoliberalism—he presumes elites are devout capitalists and popular opponents, less so—but also as shaping how citizens and states engage and pursue their respective interests.

Rodan argues that consultative and particularist ideologies predominate in the Southeast Asian cases he studies. The former favours technocratic, seemingly apolitical problem-solving without political competition while the latter favours discrete communities’ or identities’ rights to specific representation. He also finds germane, though, democratic ideologies (those that facilitate challenges to inequalities inherent to a hierarchical order) and institutionally unbounded (and infirming) populist ideologies. By embedding their preferred ideological frame in institutions—MOPs—elites may fragment or delegitimate challengers and corral the scope of debate. While these ideologies of representation are not mutually exclusive, the “struggle over the permissible boundaries of political conflict” is central to what constitutes politics.

MOPs emerge from relationships within capitalism, developed over time. History matters—especially legacies of Cold War-era suppression of the left and its institutions. Also, the sites of participation under different modes shape the sort of inclusion they allow. On the menu are autonomous individualised political expression, extra-state civil societal expression, collective societal incorporation, and state-sponsored, individual administrative incorporation. This framework shifts our gaze from democratic elections or authoritarian coercion to, for instance, the extent to which civil society is organised and articulated with or independent of political parties, and the breadth of elite-challenging issues and alliances.

Rodan uses two broad initiatives or patterns from each of his three countries to illuminate distinct MOPs and tease apart how each regime functions. Singapore exemplifies societal and administration incorporation, driven by a largely consultative and particularist ideology of representation. Rodan homes in first on the explicitly nondemocratic Nominated Member of Parliament scheme, designed to pre-empt partisan parliamentary opposition by incorporating unaccountable and appointed representatives of sectors and under-represented social segments (who might otherwise find common purpose and/or drift toward opposition parties) for their apolitical expertise. He parses, too, a series of institutions and initiatives for soliciting individuals’ policy feedback, from elaborate ongoing mechanisms to periodic mass “conversations”—albeit with largely pre-set agendas and without necessary influence. This vision of incorporating feedback demonstrates, Rodan explains, a technocratic ideology of politics as the “noncompetitive technical exercise of solving problems”.

In the Philippines, state institutions and capacities serve the interests of oligarchs, who are challenged by opponents ranging from moderate social democrats to anti-capitalist revolutionaries, all with differing visions of democratic representation. Rodan’s first case, the party-list system for electing a share of members of Congress, encourages fragmentation of challengers (as by a three-seat-per-contender cap). The system has been co-opted by forces of traditional politics; it does more to contain than amplify threats to elite privilege.

Meanwhile, proponents of bottom-up budgeting, introduced in 2012, pressed hard-to-reconcile the goals of first, reforming undemocratic institutions via fortified civil societal organisations and second, problem-solving efficiency. That divide served to diminish its role even before Duterte nixed it altogether, and was exacerbated by the program’s ideologically consultative approach of incorporating stakeholders and expertise into cooperative deliberation on elite-defined policy problems.

Lastly, in Malaysia, we find the challenges of a deep-set and structurally reinforced particularist ideology, rendering any sustainable, shared alternative vision elusive. Rodan details how the deep permeation of that ideology has effectively scuttled periodic, carefully delimited initiatives for high-level economic policy consultation and transformation. Any real challenge to extant privilege, as well as critique of the integrity of state institutions, have been put beyond the pale. Last May’s electoral upset may have loosened strictures on the latter front, but to question racial privilege remains, for now, verboten. Over time, these initiatives have disabused many reformers otherwise willing to accept administrative incorporation of hopes of genuine influence. Overall, there are fewer consolidated state-sponsored, extra-parliamentary MOPs in Malaysia than in Singapore or the Philippines, even despite the launch, post-publication, of new consultative initiatives.

The more independent modes that have emerged in Malaysia also face hurdles. Efforts to coordinate within civil society, Rodan argues, as for restoration of local-government elections or broader electoral reform, had made headway even before the 2018 elections. This could be seen most notably in the at least minimal inclusion of nonpartisan local counsellors in opposition-controlled Penang and Selangor after 2008 and the wide-ranging, if more catch-all than coherent, Bersih coalition. But the vagaries of Malaysia’s political economy, as well as NGOs’ preference for prioritising liberal ideological notions of good governance and individual liberties rather than economic issues, intercede. Bersih, for instance, lacks “a socially redistributive reform agenda to address structural inequalities”, without which “UMNO’s particularist ideologies of race and ethnicity would remain seductive for many disadvantaged Malays”. The new government’s embrace of ethnic particularism as a core plank of its campaign strategy in 2018, he suggests, was an unsurprising result.

As Rodan illustrates, these three countries manifest different patterns of capitalist development, including the role of the state and parties, such that they may even adopt similar MOPs with different motives. In all, though, we see starkly the gap between participation and even discursive, or issue-based, representation. In all, we see the balance among and implications of different MOPs as encoding and reinforcing ideas about how power is organised and what it means to be represented—from being permitted to help hone pre-defined policies to being able to change policy agendas, and from participating qua individuals or officially sanctioned categories to seeing promise in and space for novel collective mobilisation. This all presses us to assess regimes less in terms of their institutional structures than per a deeper evaluation of whether those institutions serve more to consolidate elite control or empower outsiders—an issue less of whether the institutions “work” than of how they are designed, and in whose interests.

Rodan’s analysis throws down the gauntlet to scholars of regimes. He offers a trenchant, if polite, rejoinder to more superficial assessments, and ups the ante by concluding with sketches of how an MOP framework helps us to understand contemporary populist challenges or transitions to other institutional forms. He considers how an MOP framework may also assist in making sense of the permeation of depoliticising consultative and particularist ideologies in established democracies such as the UK. The agenda Rodan presents recommends a fundamentally different approach to understanding and classifying regimes—one which will surely call into question the status of most purported democracies by scrutinising how the policy/political process actually works. Illiberalism at home, and pro-market ideologies abroad, are putting pressure on Southeast Asian civil society organisations’ financial health.

Moreover, and in keeping with his intellectual roots, Rodan asks that we not pretend a distinction between politics and economics: it is the “dynamic societal conflicts” economic processes generate that produce political institutions. That said, the language of capitalism’s contradictions seems at times a bit forced. Presumably any other economic order would yield its own contradictions and its own similarly skewed MOPs. Still, given the near-hegemony of capitalism in Southeast Asia and globally, whether state- or market-led, Rodan’s critique of this particular structuring of production, wealth, and interests is understandable.

But it is not just scholarly observers, but domestic reformers, who may find Rodan’s analysis challenging. Rodan stops short of describing what MOPs would enable effective challenges to elites and their privileges—real democracy—or from what quarters we might expect such a push. Which interests understand themselves sufficiently as silenced that they seek another path, and how might institutions be remade (or opposition parties be induced) to engage with those perspectives and preferences more directly? There is an underlying assumption here of a politically neglected non- or anti-neoliberal core in all three states, not just the Philippines, ready to be mobilised.

One might ask, though—particularly given the now-protracted enervation of organised labour, plus mass investment in capitalism (for example, cross-class participation in stock markets), however manifestly inegalitarian—whether alternative ideologies are now more decrepit or discarded than actively suppressed. And are there positive examples operating alongside, and perhaps at cross-purposes to, these institutions: have these patterns of social conflict yielded also more progressive, perhaps even scalable, MOPs? Put differently, where do we go from here, beyond trudging resignedly toward an elitist, contention-stifling future? Uplifting this book is not —but Rodan’s provocative exegesis is not just a good read, but a call to rethink how we study as well as pursue participation, representation and elite-challenging reform.

Meredith L Weiss is Professor and Chair of Political Science in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She has published widely on political mobilisation and contention, the politics of identity and development, and electoral politics in Southeast Asia, with particular focus on Malaysia and Singapore. Her books include Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow (Cornell SEAP, 2011), Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia (Stanford, 2006), the forthcoming The Roots of Resilience: Authoritarian Acculturation in Malaysia and Singapore (Cornell), and ten edited or co-edited volumes, most recently, Political Participation in Asia: Defining and Deploying Political Space (with Eva Hansson, Routledge, 2018) and The Political Logics of Anticorruption Efforts in Asia (with Cheng Chen, SUNY, forthcoming). She co-edits the Cambridge University Press Elements series on Southeast Asian Politics and Society. Current projects focus on “money politics” in Southeast Asia, urban governance in the region, and reform processes in post-GE14 Malaysia.

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Musings on a nation gone half-mad


April 14, 2019

Musings on a nation gone half-mad

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman

Published:  |  Modified:

 

 

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/musings-on-a-nation-gone-half-mad/

COMMENT | Like all of you esteemed readers, I sometimes do not know what to make of the world we are living in. Especially that of our beloved country. But think about it, we must.

The wealthy and the powerful are having a field day, during the remains of their day perhaps, in a world ever changing wherein information wants to be free and the cybernetic world can help the maddening masses bring mad leaders down. In my half-wide awakeness, these past few days, I thought of these:

Malays and the syndrome of Harry Houdini

Reading about the state of things, I see academics continue to sell their soul to the forces of idiocy, to the deep state of decadence guised as traditional authority! Academics loyal to the power of hegemonic-idiocy, possessed, diseased hearts and minds, unfit to be teachers of ethics in society.

But that is their right to be intelligent or to be ignorant. Their right to give advice, to make things better, or to make matters worse. Their right to be ideologues, intelligentsia, or purely intelligent beings who will not sell their soul for any pound of gold. To be a sophist or to be a Socrates.

In my musings, I thought of these: No society will need monarchs to protect it, if each member takes pride in being a natural-born aristocrat with a free spirit.

Malays are too slow in releasing themselves from the shackles of feudal fear and mentality. Move faster. Question authority! Malay feudalism is merely a social construct borne out of a historical accident, lasting as long as the rakyat continue to surrender their mind, body and spirit.

Modern-day slavery continues to define our economic condition. The system of social injustice prevails, like a cultural logic of late capitalism gone illogical.

There is this cultural disease in Malaysia, manufactured. It is self-fear. Like a selfie of a one’s fear. Fear of other races instilled in the Malay mind is for the benefit of the powerful, political, and the feudal. For survival.

Malaysians must understand that today’s war is not about race and religion, but about class: of the powerful versus the powerless. Of the have-a-lots versus have-nots. A long war ahead, to redefine the way of the world and act upon it.

Too much bad history has plagued this most-obedient-people in the world. Only when Malays are taught critical reasoning, critiquing feudal ideology, and “liberation theology” will they be free.

The political and the feudal deep states have been using the old British colonial strategy of divide and enslave in order to maintain the status quo. In the Malay tradition, the idea of blind loyalty to feudalism must be dismantled. It is unfit for Malay intelligence of the Industry 4.0 era, especially.

In all cultural traditions, there are enabling and disabling aspects. Extract, reflect upon, revise and reconstruct those which are useless to the advancement of human cognition and liberation.

There is now a battle of cognition over culture in the Malay psyche. I presume a liberated Malay mind will never kowtow to any monarch, politician, ayatollah, or any master of slavery. We must end this form of mental imprisonment.

We must, especially, set the youth free. But freedom for Malay youth does not mean freedom to join Mat Rempits or neo-Nazi groups. That will be suicidal freedom.

There is this malaise in the south. This idea brought me to a related notion of hegemony and false consciousness. “Bangsa Johor” is an invented “nation” living in an oxymoron: being fearful of feudalism, yet showing absurdist freedom.

Today’s grand hypocrisy

In countries ruled by “Muslim monarchs,” you seldom find true Islam, mostly hypocrisy. Abuse of Islam is everywhere. Look around. In Malaysia, the more politicians claim Malay-Muslim parties will defend and protect Malay-Muslims, the more you find national robbery done nicely. Even the Pilgrimage Fund, the holiest of holy investment body, got robbed holistically, done religiously.

In today’s political chaos, we need a Napoleon with the heart of Socrates, the mind of Plato and Cicero, to return. In today’s politics, the Malay masses is the ageing Hang Tuah, blind-obedient, watching Jebat and the King fight over wealth. People are helpless, drained by the hope they held for 60 years. After a year of regime change, hope is slowly turning into yet another period of hopelessness.

In the case of the recent U-turn decision on the Rome Statute, are you justified to pull out of the Rome Statute when one has always wanted to be known as a “Third World warrior”? Aren’t we tired of claims of political conspiracy and coup d’état when the real issue is of no principle and the leaders involved could not make a stand? However dumb and dumber a president is, at least Americans have two terms maximum to suffer. Malaysia?

Let us take seriously the comical North-South Malaysian Cold War brewing. Today’s Pakatan Harapan–Johor government squabble is opening up an exciting dialogue on the role and responsibilities and limits of the monarchy.

The debate on the balance of power, the nature and future of the monarchy, and the growing voice of the people in deciding who is abusing power and what then must the rakyat do – these are demonstrations of a mature Malaysian democracy. Cultivate this wisely, but surely.

The wealthy and the powerful

Wealth and power have intoxicated those who are supposed to make Malaysia a better democracy. Arrogance will be overthrown. Race, religion, and the royalty will no longer be conveniently used as weapons of disharmony when information is set free.

It’s crucial now that our education system be transformed to teach the history of the people more than the history of the monarchy. In the Age of Post-Humanism, The Age of Kings will give way to The Age of Reason and Malay Enlightenment.

Over the decades, the intelligence and rationalism of the Johoreans have been eroded by this sense of false consciousness. Power and wealth held by the display of the sword, gold, and mental and physical enslavement cannot be sustained.

There was never a “protection of Malay rights”. Only a licence and reason to plunder, propped as an absurd symbol of tradition. The 1MDB fiasco and many others swept under the carpet or yet to be uncovered, are testaments to the magnitude of plunder.

Never in my life have I humiliated my mind by kowtowing to any form of modern and traditional authority. Never will. I

I believe Johoreans should be obsessed with books, and not just with football. The latter can be a passage to mind control and mob mentality. Besides, there is no Bangsa Johor. There is only Rakyat Malaysia.

Our goal as a nation is to treat each citizen with equality under the shadow of the Constitution’s supremacy. Young Johoreans, who do not know history, are cemented with fear, football, and false consciousness. Free them!

Thomas Jefferson revisited

Thomas Jefferson, statesman, author, an admirer of the Enlightenment thinkers and, most importantly, the author of the American Declaration of Independence did not want King and Religion to be foundations of the new nation.

In the case of what is happening in the Islamic world, we see chaos. Islam hates hypocrites. So, why do hypocrites appoint themselves as defenders and rulers of Islam?

In difficult cognitive times like these, I seek refuge in the work of, amongst other philosophers, the humanists such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot. And Marat and Robespierre.

Will we ever get out of this madness? Like Harry Houdini, the escape artist?

This is the question of our times. We are in a black hole.


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He holds a doctorate in international education development from Columbia University, New York City, and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

 

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?


April 13, 2019

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?

by Fareed Zakaria.com

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/11/who-understands-our-times-bernie-or-the-donald

There are many explanations for Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in this week’s election that have to do with Israel’s particular situation — its economic boom, stable security climate and the prime minister’s political talent. But he is also part of a much larger phenomenon: the continued strength of populist nationalism around the world — and the continued inability of left-of-center parties to respond to it.

Image result for BERNIE AND TRUMP

 

The case for populist nationalism goes something like this. It’s a nasty world out there. People are trying to take our jobs, undermine our security, move into our country. The cosmopolitan urban elites don’t care; they benefit from these forces. So we need a tough guy who will stand up for the nation and against the liberals in our midst.

In some variant or another, this is the argument made by Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Jair Bolsonaro, the Brexiteers — and, of course, President Trump.

In 1972, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that nationalism “expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world.” He placed the roots of modern nationalism in Germany, a country obsessed with finding its place in the sun. But the sentiment — a kind of victim mentality — can be found in almost all modern variations, even among rich and powerful nations.

Look at Putin’s claim that Russia has been pushed around by the West since the Cold War, the Chinese obsession with their humiliation since the opium wars, the Israeli right’s complaint that the world is biased against Israel and Trump’s constant refrain that all foreigners — from Mexicans to Chinese to Europeans — take advantage of the United States. These leaders promise to rectify the situation and restore their countries’ proper standing in the world.

Trump’s embrace of the word “nationalism” illustrates the simultaneous attacks on domestic elites (with their politically correct language) and on perfidious foreigners. “We’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said in October. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

When asked the next day what he meant by the term, Trump responded, “I love our country. And our country has taken second fiddle. . . . We’re giving all of our wealth, all of our money, to other countries. And then they don’t treat us properly.”

Netanyahu, for his part, has long argued that Israel deserves a much better “place among the nations,” a phrase that was the title of his 1993 book that argued for a robust Israeli nationalism that is aggressive and unapologetic. Though Israel’s strength and security have grown immeasurably, as its historical enemies — Saudi Arabia and Syria, among others — have either become buddies or basket cases, the argument that the world is against it has somehow persisted.

In fact, despite the pose of victim hood adopted by most of these populists, nationalism is probably the most widely held ideology in the world today. Which American politician today does not speak up for the United States? The real debate is whether nationalism should be informed and influenced by other values such as liberty and equality and, if these two sets of values conflict, which one should be preferred. That’s why the most ardent capitalists — from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman — have always been in favor of globalization and economic freedom above nationalist protections and controls.

The danger for liberals is that they underestimate the power of these raw, emotional appeals. For centuries, liberals have assumed that nationalism was a kind of irrational attachment that would grow weaker as people became more rational, connected and worldly. In fact, Berlin wrote, like a twig that is bent in one direction and has to snap back, as globalization grew in its reach, nationalism would be the predictable backlash.

Populist nationalists understand the core appeal of their ideology. I recently asked a Bolsonaro supporter whether the Brazilian president’s economic policies (which are free-market-oriented and reformist) or his cultural nationalism was the key to his appeal. The supporter’s answer: Nationalism is the party’s core; the economics is simply about efficiency and growth.

Meanwhile, liberals in the United States still don’t seem to get it. The Democratic Party continues to think the solution to its woes is to keep moving leftward economically. This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) revealed his new Medicare-for-all plan, which was immediately co-sponsored by four other presidential candidates. The plan will probably require an additional $2 trillion to $3 trillion in annual tax revenue.At the same time, Trump tweets about the Democrats’ love of “open borders” and insists he will protect the country and enforce its laws. What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Sanders?

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Mahathir, royalty and democracy


April 13,2019

Mahathir, royalty and democracy

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

Published:  |  Modified:

 

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” ― Eugene Debs

COMMENT | The agitation in the Malay power structures continues with the democratically-elected Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad skirmishing with the royalty of Johor on the question of the appointment of the state’s menteri besar. This is not only a political issue but rather – nobody wants to admit this – a moral issue as well.

Think back when Tommy Thomas was the nominee of a democratically-elected government for the post of attorney-general and the Council of Rulers held back their consent for a couple of weeks because it was concerned that Thomas – a non-Muslim and non-Malay – would not defend certain rights and the sanctity of Islam.

As reported, Anwar Ibrahim said, “The Malay rulers had made it known they did not want the special rights to be belittled, and I told them I agreed with them and explained they would never be threatened,” he said. “We then had to explain to the Agong our intentions and stance for reform, and stated clearly that the special rights of the Malays would not be affected.”

Here was a Malaysian, with impeccable credentials, a history of using the law as means to illustrate the corruption and bigotry of the former regime and a successful lawyer in his own right, vilified because of his race and religion and for his views which were grounded in a rational interpretation of the Federal Constitution.

This was good enough for the people who elected a government because they wanted change but not for the royal institution which was considering the views of political parties – PAS/Umno – and non-governmental organisations which did not have a mandate from the people. Consider that while one former attorney-general’s career was mired in sycophancy, corruption, collusion and legal legerdemain, this apparently this was enough to stay his eviction from the post of AG.

Mahathir warns of the dangers of an absolute power but so far Pakatan Harapan has not demonstrated that it wants to empower democratic institutions and defang fascist institutions of the state. While the prime minister is correct when he claims that history demonstrates that the rulers had no problem “selling off” their states to foreign powers, the reality is that this kind of culture is pervasive in mainstream Malay power structures.

Before the election, the prime minister and his coterie of followers were warning that Umno was selling off the country to China, for example. This kind of polemic was meant to inflame the Malay polity in the same way how the far-right uses such themes to galvanise their base. Post-election, there have been all these overtures to China and backpedalling and spinning on deals; deals which should not have been used as racial fodder by the then opposition but were convenient tools to rile up sentiment.

The prime minister is correct when he questions the need to hold elections if the royalty can, without restraint, meddle in the policies of a democratically-elected government. When the government was forced – this, of course, is a matter of opinion – to retreat from the Rome Statute, the crown prince of Johor wrote, “Long Live the King. Demi Agama, Bangsa dan Negara. Daulat Tuanku.”

Since when was the Rome Statue an issue about religion and race? Think about it this way. When a far-right politician or when a Harapan political operative uses such a phrase, what would the response have been? They would have been vilified as being racist or a bigot and the discourse – and rightly so – would have centred on race politics.

Instead, what happened? The comment section was closed down for certain news stories when it came to the crown prince. This, in itself, is a kind of protection because Malaysiakini would be liable for comments made as the Harapan regime is “considering creating legislation that takes action against news portal operators who do not take action against readers who leave comments that touch on racial, religious and royal institution sensitivities”.

See? Absolute power in the hands of elected officials is also a threat to democratic freedoms.

Latheefa Koya is right when she points to the silly and immature argument put forward by the crown prince, but James Chin is also right when he observes the average rakyat is fighting with both hands tied behind his back, unlike Mahathir. You get away with a lot when you are free to use social media as you see fit and your detractors are not afforded this privilege.

“You know where to find me” does not work for the rest of us because the state security apparatus will definitely find you and slap you with sedition charges even if your comments are valid. See the state’s case against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (above).

The sultan of Johor, when thanking the government from withdrawing from the Rome Statute, said this, “I hope the government will always prioritise the people’s interest over political interest.” But the interest of the people was not prioritised. In fact, by pulling out of the statue, the government was prioritising their political interests. Anwar said the Rome Statute was good for democracy and transparency, hence any inference that it was not “good” for the people is illogical.

Speaking of transparency, A Kadir Jasin is being investigated for sedition when he posted something about the royal upkeep. And what did Anwar say? “While I support democracy and freedom of expression, what was said was inappropriate. We have worked very hard to get the Malay rulers to appreciate this new administration” and that this (Kadir Jasin’s view) was “unhealthy”.

For those Malaysians who want democracy and worry of the corrosion of our democratic institutions, the people who are doing this are not only unelected officials (which include the bureaucratic class) who make statements which are contrary to their constitutionally-mandated roles but also politicians who use race and religion as a means to constrain democratic principles and rule of law.

Mahathir has positioned himself as the people’s champion even though he has a history of undermining democracy. Indeed, when it comes to the role of race and religion in mainstream Malaysian politics, democracy is always under threat. And this is with a moderate government. Let me be very clear – Harapan’s numerous laws against free speech and for “cultivating” national harmony are all anti-democratic. This does not include the religious component which also impedes democracy in this country.

It is no point blaming the Malays on their feudal mentality when the reality is that all Malay power structures have used the rhetoric and the apparatus of the state to carry out agendas which go against the fundamentals of democracy.

Meanwhile, on the other side, there are the royalty who never bothered to flex their muscles when the country was being looted and the Najib regime then thought up something like the National Security Council Act which undermined the power of the royalty.

Now, with the backing of the far-right, we get a ludicrous situation where Johor Umno names their preferred candidate for the menteri besar’s post and wants to “advise” the Johor sultan to dissolve the state legislative assembly.

Ultimately, we have to choose a side. Or choose no side if the choice is meaningless. What the prime minister has to do, what Harapan has to do, is to demonstrate that the support of the people for their side is a meaningful choice. What they have to do is demonstrate that elected representatives are empowering institutions and dealing with anyone who thinks they are above the law regardless of their station in life, the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs.

Democracy could go down when elected officials do not fulfil their constitutionally-mandated roles and instead give up power to unelected officials or be drowned out in a vox populi. The latter is cold comfort but at least we had a choice, which is also why it is silly and immature to claim that the people stand with Mahathir. The reality is that Mahathir, the arch-proponent of strongman politics, finds himself standing with people who have a different vision for this country, which history has shown he does not share.

Absolute power in anyone hands is dangerous especially if we, the people, give it to them.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of the National Patriots Association.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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No repeat of ‘Dr M vs palace’ showdown, says analyst James Chin


April 13, 2019

No repeat of ‘Dr M vs palace’ showdown, says  analyst James Chin

 

by Malaysiakini  |  Published:  |  Modified:

 

Malaysians are watching the ongoing thriller between Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Johor palace with nail-biting suspense. But those expecting an explosive climax could be disappointed, according to political analyst James Chin.

While acknowledging that most Malaysians agreed with Mahathir on the role of a constitutional monarchy, he does not foresee the current friction leading to a similar episode which rocked the nation in the 1990s when Mahathir, during his first tenure as premier, trained his guns on the rulers.

According to the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director, times have changed.

“Now you have instant public opinion via social media…

“We are living in the social media age. Back then, BN could control the narratives by the mainstream media like newspapers and television. Now, (the government) can no longer do this,” he told Malaysiakini.

Chin’s point is illustrated by the fact that the Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim himself is using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to lock horns with the prime minister with regard to the Rome Statute, Ship-to-Ship (STS) hub and the appointment of the menteri besar.


Read more: PM spells out hazards of giving rulers absolute power


During Mahathir’s previous confrontation with the monarchs, the government-controlled media had launched an all-out offensive, detailing the rulers’ lavish lifestyles and how much the government spent on them.

Meanwhile, Chin also expected the police to crack down on those making hard-hitting comments regarding the ongoing tussle on social media.

“There are a lot of people out there who think they can speak like Mahathir. But they cannot get away with it. The only non-royal who can say anything is Mahathir,” he said.

Certain quarters have also accused Mahathir of exploiting the issue to cement his grip on power, especially in the wake of intense criticism against his administration over its reversals and unpopular decisions.

James Chin

However, Chin does not believe this is the case and pointed out that Mahathir was just being himself by responding to media queries which other politicians would sidestep.

“If you follow the timeline, in all cases, Mahathir was answering reporters’ questions (regarding his differences with the palace).

“The bottom line is most sultans want to appoint their menteri besar. There was the same problem during BN’s time. But (former premier) Najib (Abdul Razak) did not want to confront (the rulers).

“Mahathir is different. When a reporter asks him about this, he replies,” added the analyst.

Chin is also convinced that Mahathir and the Johor palace would reach a compromise on the menteri besar position.

“Of course,” he replied when quizzed on this.

“Dont forget, the menteri besar becomes menteri besar only if he is sworn in by the sultan. So the system will force them to compromise,” he added.

The Johor menteri besar post fell vacant after Bersatu’s Osman Sapian resigned on Monday.

The verbal jousting between Mahathir and the Johor palace erupted after Tunku Ismail tweeted that it is the sultan’s prerogative to appoint the menteri besar.

Mahathir, however, argued that if the rulers are allowed to decide on who becomes the prime minister or menteri besar, Malaysia would not be a democratic nation.


Read more: Quick recap – Mahathir’s first royal tussle


Meanwhile, Unisel’s communication lecturer Ismail Hashim Yahya questioned if Osman is a victim of a tug-of-war between certain parties in Johor.

In an article penned for Malaysiakini, he also focused on the drama surrounding the incoming menteri besar.

“The political tussle is not between the candidates of different parties but rather between the influence of Mahathir, (PKR president) Anwar Ibrahim and the palace.

“If there are elements… to safeguard certain interests or if a game of chess is being played behind the scenes, then it is no longer a rational consideration for the rakyat but a desire to take over,” he added.

 

 

Mahathir justified in pulling out of Rome Statute


April 8, 2019

Mahathir justified in pulling out of Rome Statute

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

Published:  |  Modified:

 

 

“And if we find whoever breaches the law – we don’t care who they are – we will take action, whether they are prince or pauper, we will take action. That is our stand.”

– Dr Mahathir Mohamad

COMMENT | If certain quarters assumed that “forcing” the Pakatan Harapan government to pull out of the Rome Statute was some sort of victory, reading the transcript of Mahathir’s press conference should be a reality check for them. If anything, the pugilistic response – even in defeat – is more of a slap in the face than anything in the Rome Statute.

Image result for Statute of Rome

Some people are disappointed that Harapan pulled out of the Rome Statute. Some people are disappointed with the non-Malay political operatives for supporting this move. It makes the Harapan government look weak when the far right forces, in collusion with certain members of the royal houses, disrupt a democratically elected government from carrying out policy decisions.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah rightly points out that the deep state – my term is the deep Islamic state – is mounting a vigorous offensive to usurp the democratic process in Malaysia.

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to usurp the legitimate aspirations of people who voted for the Harapan government.

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to derail a democratic process in the name of race and religion

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to make the prime minister of this country bend to their will and, of course, the non-Malay political operatives sit silently while Malay power structures flex their muscles.

This may sound strange, but I have a lot of sympathy for Lim Kit Siang  when he says this decision was forced upon them. This Rome Statute fiasco was initiated by elements who are not democratically elected, but who have the influence to plunge this country into a protracted constitutional crisis that could derail any form of reform, however small.

While Kit Siang wonders how people’s minds could be poisoned, the reality is that the “people” had nothing to do with this. The Rome Statute issue was not fuelled by populist sentiment in the Malay polity, but rather the machinations of certain individuals to erode the legitimacy of a democratically-elected government.

There was nothing Harapan political operatives could say or do, which would mitigate the damage done by individuals who have a stake in the intersection between commerce and royal prerogative, which has had a deleterious effect on the political process, but which has been condoned by the Malay political elite (in collaboration with non-Malay power structures) since independence.

Which is why Anwar’s response to this plot to destabilise democracy was predictable and disappointing. Mahathir was not “wise” to withdraw from this. It is never wise to withdraw from something that Anwar admits “is good for reforms, transparency and rule of law”.

Claiming that some concerns should be “assuaged” is bone-headed since we know, Harapan knows and anyone with a smidgen of intelligence knows, that there were never any legitimate concerns, only the concerns of individuals who decided to challenge a democratically elected leader, using the toxic politics of race and religion.

This is the issue here. What we have is a member of a royal house leading the charge to usurp the democratic process. The only options were:

(1) Confront those institutions which are hampering reforms head-on by signing the statute and probably creating a manufactured constitutional crisis (a royal showdown), or

(2) Reminding those people that even if the statute is abandoned, they will still be held accountable for any malfeasance they commit and the false hope that their station in life protects them from legal consequences is just that, a false hope.

The only viable option is to play the shadow game until Harapan gets its acts together by demonstrating that, even without the symbolism of such international treaties, it is willing to carry out reforms which, so far, Harapan has lacked the backbone to do.

This is payback for the Malay political elite who, for years played this race and religion game, are now confronted by genuine democratic impulses of a Malaysian polity restless for real change and stymied by the very institutions they defended for years.

Now, if Bersatu is the sole protector of race and religion that it wants to be, then things would be different. Suddenly the people would be knowledgeable and those individuals whose agenda is to stir up trouble would be bereft of political influence.

This is why Bersatu strategists and political operatives have been texting and calling me, pointing to this situation as the perfect example as to why Bersatu needs to beef up its presence in Harapan.

The prime minister is on his own here. While I may have a little sympathy for the ruling Harapan elite, this is the fault of Malay power brokers who have weaponised institutions and religion for years against the rakyat.

For years they used the royal institutions for their own purposes. Now the royal institution is flexing its muscles to curtail the agenda of democratically-elected leaders because the reality is that Harapan does not have the majority of the Malay community behind them.

If you think the attacks against the prime minister is getting harsh, think back on the fascists’ attacks against someone like Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (above) who is being investigated by the Harapan state for comments made about royalty.

In order to take on the anti-democratic forces in this country, Harapan has to commit to serious reforms, many of which would lay bare the toxic confluence of religious, racial, royal and corporate power in this country.

They have to stop demonising citizens like Fadiah Nadwa and commit to an agenda of reform, which does not necessarily mean signing on to international treaties, but rather, legislating and creating policies that empower the people and not merely anti-democratic institutions.

If Harapan does this, it will not be forced to do anything by the anti-democratic forces in this country and Malaysians will come to understand that all roads lead to Rome.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of the National Patriots Association.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.