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Sliding towards oligarchy

 | October 7, 2013

The view that people decide who they vote for is convenient and comforting but totally fictitious, claims the writer.


Democracy as it is generally understood sits uncomfortably in Malaysia. True democrats believe that dissent is an essential part of democracy, and that the country would only be enriched by debate and discussion, even by agitation if that became necessary.

In Malaysia, democracy is linked to feelings of “unease” even as politics and economy slide towards oligarchy.

In the past we had true statesmen such as Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Hussein Onn, John Aloysius Thivy, Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Tun Fuad Donald Stephens, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, Peter Mojuntin, Tun Mustapha, O K K Sedomon and Ahmad Boestaman who led or were with political parties committed to democracy.

In which case what has since happened to the parties and institutions that these stalwarts built and nurtured?

One facile answer is that political arguments got stronger and power shifts from one group to another when elections are held.

In other words, the people decide who will have the responsibility to manage the state, removing those whom they consider incapable and bringing in those they think can do the job.

This is very convenient and comforting but unfortunately totally fictitious.

The fiction lies in the belief that the “people” remove those who do not perform and bring in those who they think can perform.

‘People’ don’t decide, strategies do

Let’s look at this belief.

First, the concept of “people” is simplistic. The vast numbers of individuals in the country are an infinitely complex entity consisting of a vast number of groups and sub-groups.

This enormous mass of individuals do not come together and decide anything.

What actually happens is that a strategy is “formed” aimed at finding acceptance with a “focused” group of individuals and that this plan be better than the rival’s.

In the 2008 general election, the Third Front strategy did not work. Most individuals did not trust it.

In a muddle of strategies, five states fell to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat but this was as a result of a plan.

Pakatan had tried to win the federal government, but its plans were wide off the mark. When it won five states and 82 parliamentary seats it was a surprise to them as to others.

Today, both at national and state levels, the structure of democracy is being subjected to forces that may well change it completely over time.

Today the democratic process – at least in Malaysia – is not representing the “people’s” will.

Democracy process today is about control and power.

Politics, economy sliding towards oligarchy

Our so-called democracy is defined not by the existence of dissent and opposition activity but by the nature of the power wielded.

It is monarchical and meant to secure the interests, political and economic, of the ruling group, whichever it is.

And this is done by ensuring that power remains with an elite group – preferably the family, but also those who are close to it and share the same backgrounds.

This strategy is visible in today’s politics in the country.

The ‘First Family’ in Umno Baru, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is clearly grooming his son, Mukhriz, to be the next prime minister.

And they are by no means the only family. Look at the number of sons and daughters and son-in-law now who are inducted into the corridors of power:

Najib Tun Razak, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein Onn, Khairy Jamaluddin, even Mukhriz in Kedah who is where he is because he is Dr Mahathir’s son. And there are a host of others whom the media naively call the Young Turks.

The original Young Turks were not just young; they had come to prominence because of their abilities, not because of who their father, mother or father-in-law was.

Inevitably, the elements of power are being chivied towards specific families, which will then determine who will stand for elections for their parties, and thus consolidating their own positions and securing it for their generations to follow.

Increasingly, their contact with the people has become more and more distant. The rakyat will be maneuvered by race, religion, money and promises to support this agenda.

Mind you this is not a phenomenon confined to the Umno party. It is as evident in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat parties such as the DAP, PKR and PAS.

Unease is creeping is the elite take over politics and economy.

Incidentally all the big corporate giants are busy grooming their sons and daughters to take their place among the power elite and Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary is only one example.

Vincent Tan has already inducted his son into his Berjaya empire, so has Kuok Brothers and Ananda Krishnan.

Selvarajah Somiah is a geologist and freelance writer. He blogs at selvarajasomiah.wordpress.com


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