The solution to extreme political partisanship may be found in creating a political culture in which the ideas and moral virtues of governance can be debated in the political realm, observes Ronald Benjamin.
Some political analysts have expressed concern that political partisanship in an extreme sense has permeated Malaysian political culture. One analyst said that that partisanship among the educated is so pronounced that it is very difficult to get some individuals to agree to a point made by the other side.
While it is true that political partisanship in Malaysia has reached a critical point, the question that should be asked is, why is this so? Giving a simplistic reason that the safety of anonymity provided by online media is the cause of the vicious vulgarism that comes with partisan politics does not hold water. The mainstream media have been vulgar, partisan and deceptive. But a closer look at the prominent online media will show that they provide balanced coverage of views from the government and the opposition – something that is found wanting in the mainstream media .
To understand the partisan attitude among the educated, it is vital to look at the political dynamics of Malaysia over the years. The Barisan Nasional government has held on to power for more than five decades with its hegemonic control of vital institutions of government. The means it uses to stay in power at all costs has created a deep sense of injustice in the psyche of the urban educated.
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The discerning educated believe that real change will not come merely by a change of government or the old guard. The deep underlying culture of feudal authoritarian governance that has perverted the key institutions of justice, allowing the powerful to have the upper hand, must go. The use of draconian laws, the instigation of ethno-religious fears, the protection of prominent elites from charges of corruption, and the perverted use of money in elections are some of the means used by the ruling coalition to stay in power.
Such a context only fosters a partisan attitude among the educated because a win-or-lose battle seems to be the only way of survival. Political rivals are described in a degrading manner – something that has become the norm in Malaysian politics. Survival-at-all-costs is the root of political partisanship. Even though the current sitting Prime minister has initiated some ‘reforms’, the underlying attitude of staying in power at all cost, using the means mentioned above, is still very much alive.
The solution to this attitude of extreme political partisanship may be found in creating a political culture in which the ideas and moral virtues of governance – to promote the common good and to uphold human dignity – can be debated in the political realm. Issues of unfounded irrational ethnic and religious sentiments, personal attacks, and degrading sex politics should be replaced with issues of citizenship that bind Malaysian citizens together.
All of us must accept the importance of a level playing field for the ruling coalition and the opposition. Such a playing field would not discriminate in terms of resources. Honest politicians and civil society groups should initiate a dialogue to encourage a system that would provide checks and balances on each party for the good of the nation. This would help in reducing the level of partisanship among the educated which has reached a worrying point.
Ronald Benjamin, an Aliran member, is a human resources practitioner based in Ipoh