Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Malaysia, "an increasingly polarised society"?

Last Monday, His Royal Highness the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah delivered a public speech for The Razak Lecture Series at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the Razak School of Government.

His Highness's speech centred on the issue of governance, specifically the topic of 'Challenges of Governance in Contemporary Malaysia.'

In brief, His Highness said that despite Malaysia's diversity, the country could count on the people to unite and face problems together in many trying times. However, national unity have regressed in recent years.

This led to His Highness view on the difficulty of governing "an increasingly polarised society" as the first challenge of Governance in contemporary Malaysia. The second challenge is for policymaker to be more decisive and not shy from making corrective measures, particularly to get Malaysia advance to the next level of economy and out of the middle income trap.

This second challenge on governance did not get much media coverage and was only given scant coverage in the News Straits Times. In times when cutting subsidies may cost the ruling party it's chances in the general election, the paper may wish deal with the issue after the general election.

It was His Highness comments on "an increasingly polarised society' that draw the most attention and getting much coverage and discussion in the mainstream and alternative media. The question that begs to be asked: Is Malaysia really "an increasingly polarised society"?

Or is it merely the initial reactions and growing pains of a more open society facing increasing public demand for accountability, transparency and good governance?

Increasing Polarisation

In the discussion on Malaysia's increasing polarisation, His Highness Raja Nazrin viewed that Malaysian society has regressed and lost it's civility, graciousness and moderation. Views become hardened, less accomodating for others, and only 'take and take' unlike the willingness in the earlier days for give and take. There was also strong statements against civil society and Internet.

Few extracts from media coverage to Raja Nazrin's comment. The Star below:


Malaysian leaders now face the challenge of managing an increasingly polarised society, said Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah.

"We seem to have lost a sense of graciousness and civility in public life. This is not just in Malaysia but a worldwide phenomenon," he said ...


The extract from Malaysiakini below:


Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah says Malaysians are increasingly polarised and blames civil society groups for contributing to this scenerio.

In an apparent reference to the Bersih 3.0 rally, which was organised by a coalition of NGOs, Raja Nazrin (right) urged Malaysians to exercise moderation.

“Civil society is rapidly becoming uncivil, and the spirit of give and take is being replaced with the spirit of take and take,” said he said.

One of the main challenges of governance, he said, is to manage an increasingly polarised society and that moderation should prevail over extremism.


Extract from The Malaysian Insider, below:


He noted that another challenge facing Malaysia is managing an “increasingly polarised society” in a climate of weakened national unity.

He said “opposing points of view have hardened and become more entrenched”, and lacked the “spirit of accommodation”.

“Demands have become more vocal... framed in ever more aggressive and confrontational terms, and sometimes even accompanied by acts of violence.”


The extract from Bernama's report, where Internet is criticised, below


Malaysians need to be discerning enough not to fall prey to religious or ethic posturing, or be swayed by loose promises and ill-founded stories, the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said.

He said there appeared to be a tendency among some quarters to criticise and condemn without sufficient basis, to exaggerate and falsify information, and to deliberately undermine the credibility of institutions.

"The Internet is a favourite highway for this activity and the gullible and the disenchanted become easy prey," he said ...


Growing Pains?

The reactions to the perceived polarisation in society differs.

Of late, a certain quarter of society talks of returning back to the past to the so-called glory days of Tunku Abdul Rahman or Tun Abdul Razak. Isn't Tunku Abdul Rahman era the time racial clash of May 13, 1969 occurred?

Forget Dr Kua Kia Soong and SUARAM's attempt to claim it as a conspiracy by Razak as excuse to implement NEP based on western accounts of the event. It was Tun Razak that had to deal with the mess from the simpleton royal mind of Tunku. Much as Tunku's diplomatic ability is acknowledge, he was a simple anak raja with limited ideas to resolve the complex problems of society except for seeking status quo.

Thus the claim by the NGO that racism did not exist during Tunku era and not a problem in past society is merely romantic. So is the struggle by a newly formed multiracial political party that is seemingly similar to that of the newly formed NGO and a former political party to return to the so-called true and original struggle of UMNO.

Linked to the same group is the possibility of convening a pre-independence like meeting to renegotiate another Social Contract dubbed a National Correction Program.

Whether these are political ideas of substance or romantic dreams of those that have passed their due date, history waits for no man and will keep on going. Societel changes is unlike a clock that can be rewound and reset.

Gone are the days where bringing disunity in society is frown upon and divisiveness can be sternly dealt with. The culture of openness is here to stay and reverting back could be more a political disadvantage than advantage.

Once open, it is difficult to close back. Diversity is here to stay. The evils from the openned Pandora Box is much at large too.

Another view on polarisation is from this Singaporean blog, groundnotes.

Polarisation is not a bad word, the blog claimed. It is part of multiculturalism and diversity. And forms part and parcel of the process of maturing society. An extract from the blog below:


First of all, polarisation is not a bad word. It is a natural state of affairs in any culturally mature society where different ideologies, religions, and lifestyle practices have set in. A multicultural society is, by definition, a polarised society. It only means people hold beliefs and values different from others. In fact, polarisation may be a good thing. Polarisation demands equal time for dissenting views which many conservatives do not have time or inclination for. Acknowledging polarisation will allow marginal voices to be heard and this is expecially important in a country where the space for public discourse is monopolised by the state.

Not only is polarisation a natural state of affairs, it is necessary for the evolution of society. A society that does not argue with itself, does not debate itself, or does not question itself, is a society that is in arrested development. It will be a Panglossian society where everything is believed to be hunky-dory; until something major comes along and then we realise that we do not have the intellectual track-record to address complexity. Sure, a polarised society is a messy society but this is not always a bad thing.

If so, then why has polarisation has become a bad word with Singapore media and politicians?

The illusion that Singapore is a cohesive unit makes it easier to rule and administer. If we believe that everyone thinks like us and shares the same values as us, then we are less likely to rock the boat, which makes it easier for us to be governed. Polarisation also exudes fear, fear of everything that we’ve achieved suddenly falling apart.


Dealing with Polarisation

By hoping that today's society be more moderate, accomodating and practise give and take, His Highness Raja Nazrin is caught in the same romantic ideals as that same quarter of society that believes the clock can be rewind back to the days of the past.

Perhaps it is not practical for His Highness to expect on society to reverse the clock. Unless an event of catastrophic proportion and implication, it won't happen.

However, His Highness did touched on some long term actions essentials in dealing with increasing polarisation.

Among others, His Highness suggested upon society to be more discerning on information and be more factual before making or accepting criticism against Government.

The extract from The Malaysian Insiders, below:


The public must be careful when encountering criticisms against government institutions that may be false or lack sufficient evidence, Perak Crown Prince Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said today.

“The challenge for ordinary Malaysians is to be discerning enough to not fall prey to religious or ethnic posturing, or be swayed by loose promises and ill-founded stories,” said Raja Nazrin ...

He acknowledged that public scrutiny is needed to help ensure good governance, but said some criticisms appeared intended to discredit government institutions.


His Highness stressed on “restraints on the arbitrary exercise” of powers to ensure that their “positions of trust and responsibility are not used for private gain and that the national interest, and not special interests, is always served.”

Clean and good governance will lessen the politicising of governance and steer political discussion to higher plane of discussion.

“The importance of transparency and a zero tolerance towards corruption cannot be emphasised enough” and it quite relevant for a society increasingly demanding for good governance.

In the News Straits Times, His Highness reportedly mentioned the need for law and order to change with the times, below:


"It is very important that our laws and institutions of governance evolve in line with the aspirations and expectations of ordinary Malaysians, particularly the younger generation.

"The government, to its credit, has also responded by instituting a number of reforms to repeal and amend laws that were more attuned to the more challenging security environment of an earlier era to suit the changing times."


It is all but part of the maturing democrasy of society. However, the problem of misinformation in public debates in our highly partisan society needs urgent address.

Before politicking becomes a deterrent for participative democrasy by the public, there is an urgent need for a credible and impartial party able to stem such unsavory practices and right the wrongs.

In more mature democrasy, that is the role of free media.

His Highness highlighted the role of monarchy as stabiliser or the fourth pillar of Government in the doctrine of separation of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary.


Raja Nazrin said the monarchy had a far more overarching influence, one of which was to ensure the functioning of a sound and healthy democracy.

"Our Constitution places the monarchy above the political fray and extends to it the role as the guardian of justice, the arbiter in times of conflict and an overseer of the pillars of state.

"The special position of the rulers also enables them to voice their concern on issues plaguing the public and possess the ability to persuade in a way that few can."


Expectedly His Highness did draw some flak from an online commentator [read TMI here] for the monarchy's role in the Perak crisis that end up swaying to one side, Barisan Nasional over the others.

In a polarised society, a decision in favour one side will naturally be met with a negative reaction from the other side. A decision, be it from the monarchy or court, does not mean a finality to an issue but lingers on.

Taking account the need to improve good governance, corrupt free, keep law and order up-to-date with the times, maturing democrasy, discerning on facts in public debate, free media, role of monarchy, etc, how then do one deals with such polarisation?

Social polarisation will remain because man as social animal will have natural differences in views. The important thing is for society to accept that differences in stride with the changing times and lessen antagonism that arise from differing view.

Another point is to ensure the differing views are well substantiated with facts and sound arguments instead of manipulative spins, false accusation and cheap propaganda.

That requires education and maturity but on the part of Government and politicians, there must acquire communication skills, learn to appreciate alternative form of media, and be more aware of the function of public relations professionals.

According to Wikipedia's description here, "social polarization is associated with the segregation within a society that may emerge from income inequality, real-estate fluctuations, economic displacements etc. and result in such differentiation that would consist of various social groups, from high-income to low-income."

Such social polarisation can be dealt with using economic policies and measures. But not when it comes to social polarisation of another kind. . here described it as "one which has extreme disagreements on at least one important issue.

We could say that the US is polarized on the issue of abortion, for example. Many people think that abortion is a monstrous crime which should never be allowed, while many others think that it is absolutely necessary for women to be able to obtain abortions. This is also known as the "pro-life vs. pro-choice" argument."

Ultimately, when there is no more resolution to the differences, one falls back to the political process where voters vote on candidate's inclination to pro-life or pro-choice position.

A significant number of voters believes that the resolution to the Perak crisis is the ballot box. The one at the losing end calls for the people to decide. The question many would also ask is: if they lose again, will they forever hold their peace?


BaitiBadarudin said...

As-salam sdr ABOTW,
Syabas atas ulasan syarahan Raja Nazrin yang panjang lebar.
Tentang 'dissenting viewpoints', seperti anak-anak muda sekarang (Gen X/Y), saya juga sehingga 2008 berpendapat bahawa suara-suara yang terpinggir perlu diketengahkan untuk menyeimbangkan 'penerangan sehala' daripada pihak berkuasa.
Walau bagaimanapun, setelah melibatkan diri secara dekat dengan kumpulan-kumpulan yang berbeza pandangan dan matlamat tentang kepentingan dan hak warga negara, saya dapati ramai yang terlalu taksub dengan ideologi dan pendapat mereka sehingga tidak dapat menghormati, apa lagi menerima, pandangan yang bertentangan.
Malah, mereka menjadi 'so self-righteous' dan menganggap hanya pandangan mereka (sungguhpun bias dan 'buta' matahati) sahaja yang betul. Sesiapa yang berpegang kepada ideologi atau kepercayaan yang berbeza dikutuk habis-habisan.
Inilah yang dikatakan sebagai 'tyranny of the majority' apabila ramai yang dapat dipengaruhi dengan pandangan populis, meskipun perisiannya tidak berdasarkan fakta atau kebenaran.

A Voice said...

Perhaps you wish to refer it as 'tyranny of the minority'. . . :-)

Seriously, as far as your experiance is concern, maybe it is an issue of personal character?

As we see, the problem of public debate is the lack of an agenda or a set of criteria to determine the acceptable view and argument for society to embrace.

The nation building agenda may seemed old school but remains relevant with new recent targets.

While the agenda of social justice and human rights like freedom for freedom sake is destructive to society.

Our problem is our intellectual is not playing enough role and giving sufficient input but are by standing observer commenting of events as it happens rather than determining the course and direction.

Most have turned partisan and become the same type of politicians we abhored.

BaitiBadarudin said...

As salam ABOTW,
Tyranny of the Minority can turn into Tyranny of the Majority if and when it succeeds in setting off a chain of emotional, viral hold on the society's mindscape (e.g. blind hatred of enforcement institutions).
I agree that personal characteristics may be a factor in so-called 'citizen groups'. However, if shared by a sufficiently large and influential group, they may gel into a distinct ideological/racial stance (as evident in some news portals which claim to be 'fair/unbiased').
Hence, the concealed agenda may seem rational but the 'debates' are not.
True, nationalism as a modernist concept may appear outdated in a world that is post-modern and globalised. Nonetheless, it may still be relevant as a unifying tool.
The problem with intellectuals or academics as by-standers or mere observers is primarily tied to considerations of promotions, rewards and recognitions. There are indeed real risks in asserting independent viewpoints.

A Voice said...

Itulah Baiti

Banyak intellectual kita tak cukup berani bersuara. Dulu tak berani tegur kerajaan dan ada pengampu ugut kalau tegur kerajaan.

Sekarang boleh tegur kerajaan, takut pulak nak tegur pembangkang kerana begitu banyak salahlaku kerajaan PR, masih juga akademik membisu kerana agenda pribadi.

Mungkin ramai akademik tidak layak dipanggil intelektual. Akibatnya timbul yang mengarut macam Dr Goggle dan Prof Aziz Bari.

BaitiBadarudin said...

Salam juma'at mubarak A Voice,
Tepat sekali.
Ramai cendiakawan/sarjana/pendeta kini yang lebih memikirkan periuk nasi daripada memperjuangkan kebenaran (haq).
Bukan sahaja 'kangkong', tapi 'lalang' yang melentok mengikut arah angin politik.
Yang sedihnya, kedua-dua Wong Chin Huat dan Dr Goggle adalah bekas pelajar saya.
Harap-harap bukan silap guru mengajar :))

Anonymous said...

Knowing a vert many Kelantan people after having worked in Kb and elsewhere I just dont understand the Kelantan people., the Malay kelantan mind.They hate all things that are foreign ..foreign people foreign race, the Chinese esp. but when they cohoot with the Chinese DAP..then I just dont understand the Kelantan Malay people

My Say