Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A case of two opposing sides

By Karim Raslan, The Star

We’ve reached a point where it doesn’t matter who brings the change – BN or PR, conservative or liberal, socialist or right-wing. Malaysians will get behind whoever is the most sincere in taking us out of this mess.

LAST weekend’s thwarted march wasn’t an ordinary incident – it reveals two radically different world views.

While the march was nominally non-political, the chasm between the two forces – the Government and the demonstrators – clearly mirrors the increasingly acrimonious split between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

Of course, a deeply divided political terrain is always troubling, however, it is at least proof of a dynamic and thriving public discourse.

Ironically, the opposition, despite being excluded from the mainstream media, is clearly setting the terms of this debate.

It also shows that Malaysia remains a democracy – albeit a flawed one.

Indeed, I’d argue that the intensity of the discourse over the past few weeks highlights quite how much we Malaysians care about the state of our nation.

We can see and feel that the state is becoming more polarised – and in such a situation, we are being forced to choose sides.

Sitting on the fence is no longer a viable option – especially when the fence is been shaken so hard by the two opposing sides. However, there are some positives. Most notably the fact that the divide is not racial despite what some politicians are alleging.

In fact there are Malays, Indians, Chinese, Iban, Kadazan, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindu on both sides of the debate. Indeed, the struggle has gone way beyond racial and religious lines.

Instead we are tussling over political philosophies and principles.

While the differences are certainly stark, their mere existence indicates a certain maturing of our political system presenting us with the alluring prospect of a two-party system.

I must stress that the racial diversity on both sides represents a steadying force – anchoring us together as a nation.

And yes, you could say, it underlines the fact that we are debating a truly Malaysian set of issues.

So what are these substantive political differences? Well, for a start, they transcend mere personality.

On one hand, we have a strident Umno-led Government demanding the continuation of the status quo.

In this respect, Umno is very definitely a conservative (small “c”) force – defending and promoting the interests of the influence-bearing classes.

It’s arguable that Umno’s small businessmen/contractors have adopted the mindset and behaviour of the many minor aristocrats and noblemen that once surrounded Malaysia’s many istana (or palaces) jockeying for favours and/or contracts.

The current Umno vision is retrogressive – it looks back to the party’s heyday under Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It is not a dynamic, expansive vision – witness the primordial and unavoidable cry for Malay unity interspersed with Malay rights.

As with those enamoured and indeed obsessed by the past there is a paranoia and fear of change. Understandably then, any concession or reform is seen of as an affront to Umno’s domination, dignity and integrity.

On the other, you have what is essentially a socialist front in Pakatan Rakyat.

They claim to represent the interest of the rakyat – the ordinary people, taking a moral high-ground on issues such as corruption, mismanagement and civil liberties.

They know the language of the people – focusing on day-to-day issues from rising food prices to the quality of education.

Obviously my formulation ignores the inconsistencies, but there’s no denying the socio-economic and “class” basis to this struggle.

At the same time the respective leaders play up these associations because politics – let’s face it – is also theatre and understatement doesn’t play to the gallery.

Returning to Pakatan, I must point out that the coalition’s very new-ness means they are much more flexible, less rigid and accepting.

Indeed, Hadi Awang’s courageous stance on Negara Kebajikan is an indication of the extent to which Pakatan is exploring new paradigms.

Of course, PAS carry a certain baggage themselves. For example, will the gentle and considerate PAS of today be replaced by a morally sanctimonious force once in power?

At a time when technology is changing so rapidly, (iPad succeeded by iPad2, just when you’ve begun to understand it), we’ve got to accept political systems have to change as well.

But will the face-off between the two opposing forces benefit us – the rakyat?

Well, I for one am confident that there will be change and that we as a nation desperately need that change.

Indeed, we’ve reached a point where it doesn’t actually matter who brings the change – BN or PR, conservative or liberal, socialist or right-wing.

Malaysians will rally behind whoever is the most sincere in taking us out of this mess, just as Ronnie Reagan and later Obama inspired their respective voters.

Ironically, after all this talk of substantive politics we’re back where we started with character and personality.

So, we have to batten down, wait, watch and judge because at the end of the day we, the people are sovereign and through the ballot box, we can kick out those who’ve let us down.

So carry on ladies and gentlemen of the political world, we’re watching and evaluating your performance.

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