How many times have we heard the statement that if so and so did not exist, certain problems would go away? Specifically, one side would blame UMNO and Barisan Nasional for racial and religious problems in Malaysia, while the other would blame PKR and its allies for the instability in the country.
The truth is that politicians and political parties get too much credit for the various issues the country faces. As controversial issues erupt, the blame game begins in earnest. The usual suspects get apportioned with the blame at the slightest chance by the other side, as if there were quota to fill. The controversy revolving around the use of the term “Allah” is a case in point.
At this juncture, where venom is thrown so easily as to make the atmosphere too toxic for fruitful exchange, the air needs clearing. This can be achieved by recognizing the sources of issues and identifying proxies for what they are.
Granted, politicians and political parties — especially those in government — have disproportionate power to influence politics. There is no doubt that there are cases where the blame clearly belongs to one side.
Yet, the relationship of politicians and political parties with society is not characterized by one-way traffic. It is a two-way street. In many cases involving grander issues like race, religion, democracy or liberty, for instance, the causal flow to the other side is greater than the direction that blame-gamers typical take.
However imperfect our democracy is — condemn it as crass majoritarianism all you want — it is a democracy nonetheless. This means the views of real individuals, with real wants and real needs, along with real hope and real fear — like you and I — get represented in the system. Elected individuals in Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat and others as well, largely represent diverse opinions that exist within Malaysian society.
Even if they are not elected, individuals still have voices of their own. There is no reason to discount these voices as irrelevant when it resonates so well with other individuals.
From this perspective, these individuals are effectively proxies within the issues. To put it another way, they are mere reflections of what the society at large thinks. Without issues — the concerns lingering in our society — these proxies will not exist.
Hence, to accuse these proxies as the sources of our problems is effectively an effort to dismiss real issues that real people care for as merely artificial issues created by special interest groups. Such accusations pretend that the other side does not have real concerns.
That path will essentially result in a misdiagnosis of the problem. Based on that misdiagnosis, any solution provided to address the problem will disproportionately take the proxies into account while disproportionately discounting the issues. In the end, the intended result will likely be unsatisfactory because it will address the proxies and not the issues.
Realize that if these proxies are somehow immediately removed while the issues remain unresolved, different players will take over the proxies’ places to champion those issues. If Barisan Nasional were to be done away with, would racial issues disappear? If Pakatan Rakyat were to removed, would the demand for equality suddenly vanish?
It is naïve to answer in the affirmative.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on January 14 2010.