Politics & government Society

[2929] Malaysian democracy dies and we forgot to mourn it

In 2017, political scientist Thomas Pepinsky claimed that life in authoritarian states was mostly boring and tolerable (that is tolerated by the people). He cited Malaysia where life was quite normal, despite it being an undemocratic country and mildly authoritarian. But his audience were not Malaysians, but Americans, many of whom found themselves in opposition to Trump and his illiberalism.

Pepinsky argued authoritarian states did not necessarily mean “jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus.”

He was not defending authoritarianism. Instead he was warning that authoritarianism arrived more subtly that most people realized. It does not come with a bang. He wrote:

It is possible to read what I’ve written here as a defense of authoritarianism, or as a dismissal of democracy. But my message is the exact opposite. The fantasy of authoritarianism distracts Americans from the mundane ways in which the mechanisms of political competition and checks and balances can erode. Democracy has not survived because the alternatives are acutely horrible, and if it ends, it will not end in a bang. [Thomas Pepinsky. Life in authoritarian states is mostly boring and tolerable. Vox. January 9 2017]

Forward 4 years later, Malaysia has lost its democracy and we are now ruled by a dictator.

When Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his allies in 2020 wrested power from the victors of the 2018 Malaysian General Election without going through any election, his action arguably was still done within the gray ambit of democratic practices. Gray because of the 2009 mistake that began in Perak legitimizes an obscure process of selecting a government over the usual transparent process of letting the contenders prove their support in the Dewan Rakyat. The same untransparent process contributes to or exacerbates the political instability that we suffer today.

Muhyiddin’s government was never stable from the get-go. Now when it became clear he did not have the majority needed to remain in government, he carried out a self-coup through the declaration of emergency. The excuse was the COVID-19 pandemic but we know he was just pulling the wool over our eyes. As if giving more power to a government that mismanaged the pandemic was a good idea. More will die sadly. In a better situation, we would be replacing this incompetent Cabinet with one of better caliber.

That self-coup has firmly placed this government into the realm of authoritarianism. The Prime Minister is the Dictator of Malaysia. There is no democratic mandate to speak of anymore. There is only the will of the Dictator Muhyiddin Yassin.

And that happens without loud protestation.

The pandemic is to blame no doubt. Perhaps the economic devastation worsened by this government’s complete incompetency is sapping energy away from the population. Perhaps they are tired of the failure of the Pakatan Harapan and their allies in opposition to do what was right back in November during the tabling of the 2021 Budget. The failure and disillusion breed ambivalence. Everybody is tired of the national political chaos.

All that leads to us tolerating authoritarianism. This is more so when the Dictator defends his self-coup by stating life will go on as normal, however disingenuous that sounds. The Dictator is telling us authoritarianism is tolerable.

Such a disappointment.

Politics & government

[2291] Of Chavez’s socialism

Socialism’s end in theory is admirable but what is true in theory is not necessarily true in practice. In practice, socialism always requires authoritarian power to make it work. A system of public ownership needs everybody to surrender their individual sovereignty to a central planner, voluntarily or otherwise.

And so, it is unsurprising to have Hugo Chavez assumes dictatorial power so that he can continue to forward his socialist agenda. He is the central planner in Venezuela but some Venezuelans disagree with him. That disagreement comes in form of an election. After seeing a democratic result unfavorable to his socialist government, he convinced the outgoing Chavez-friendly legislature to allow him to rule by decree for the next 18 months.[1]

The socialist agenda is bigger than democracy, so it seems. Always be careful about giving any socialist too much power, or any for that matter.

Maybe one should be more sympathetic to socialism. Maybe one should argue instead that it is Chavez the dictator who is corrupting the system while hiding behind socialist facade.


Yet, having socialists all around defending Chavez makes that separation as real as socialist dream. And a socialist dream is a pipe dream.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — CARACAS, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Venezuela’s parliament gave President Hugo Chavez decree powers for 18 months on Friday, outraging opposition parties that accused him of turning South America’s biggest oil producer into a dictatorship.

The move consolidated the firebrand socialist leader’s hold on power after nearly 12 years in office, and raised the prospect of a fresh wave of nationalizations as the former paratrooper seeks to entrench his self-styled “revolution.” [Venezuela assembly gives Chavez decree powers. Jack Frank Daniel. Reuters. December 17 2010]

Liberty Mudslinging

[2210] Of re:liberalism and authoritarian feminism

Dear Ms. Alicia,

In replying to your letter, I will probably admit to only this: perhaps I accidentally casted my net too widely by not using enough qualification when I criticized Farrelly some days ago.[1] I qualified my statement at the beginning but later, I did away with it. I tend to do this because I typically define something early and then, purely for the sake of convenience, use concise term with the expectation that my readers will understand its meaning. For instance, when I write liberal, I refer to classical liberal and not just general liberals who may or may not adhere to the tenets of classical liberalism. Such method usually works. After reading your letter, I discover that that expectation of mine fails in this instance. I should have tirelessly used the qualification until the very end. I may have been sloppy in that sense but I am not guilty of laziness or other accusations of yours.

When I referred to authoritarian feminism with respect to the burqa controversy several days ago, it was not my intention to paint feminism as authoritarian as a whole. I am merely referring to a strain of feminism that is authoritarian. Feminism as advocated by Farrelly clearly belongs to a strain of authoritarian. The litmus test for this is simply her call to use state power to ban the wearing of burqa.

You are right how a political belief such as feminism, or any political belief for that matter, is diverse and complex. Contrary to your assertion, I am well aware of that. The presence of diversity however does not negate the fact that the call for the ban of burqa has been based on feminism, whatever strain that is. It is exactly due to diversity that this can happen.

Neither is this illiberal opinion is a fringe one within feminism. Current development suggests that it is well-subscribed. Not standard — I do not claim so; I merely asked — maybe but popular nonetheless. Unless this illiberal opinion is somehow being overly represented in the media, its popularity is a proof enough that it is a major opinion within feminism. The fact that the debate is being played out in the open is another proof. Such debate suggests that this illiberal fraction within feminism exists. If it did not exist, there would not have been a debate.

I certainly did not base my thoughts on only two articles. You appear to be well aware of the burqa debates within feminism, and perhaps, the larger debate surrounding the burqa. I believe you yourselves are well aware of how popular the call to ban the burqa is among feminists. It is easy to find feminists who disagree and agree with the ban.

I am picking on illiberal feminism and feminists who are supporting the ban. It is this illiberal strain of feminism as advocated by Farrelly that I call authoritarian. If you do not belong to this authoritarian feminism, then good for you.

As a side point, just because one does not have the power to coerce others does not mean authoritarian thoughts do not exist. Authoritarian thoughts and actions can exist independently of each other. Being a fringe also does not mean one does not have the ability to wield the “weapon of authoritarianism.” It is a fallacy to think otherwise. History has shown how minority groups can be authoritarian. But I am digressing. Before there is any misunderstanding, I definitely am not pointing out feminism in this specific case within the confined of this specific paragraph. I am merely proving a point, and a secondary point at that for the purpose of this reply.

So, what if Farrelly exhibits authoritarian tendency? Farrelly is not a spokesperson for feminism, as you have argued.

True. But this argument is quite irrelevant. If it were relevant, it would raise a question: are you a spokesperson for feminism? What right do you have to speak on behalf of any kind of feminism then? The use of ”˜we’ by you would be certainly questionable, if we apply the logic of she-is-not-a-spokesperson without being unfairly selective about it.

My point is that this illiberal tendency within feminism exists and Farrelly is only an agent of it. Perhaps you are a liberal manifestation of feminism. It is unproductive to dismiss Farrelly so easily, given the popularity of the illiberal view. On top of that, Farrelly, after all, writes for an influential mainstream newspaper in Australia. Whatever right you claim, it is claimable by Farrelly as well. It is both a strength and a weakness of diversity within feminism.

After all that, I think since both of us disagree with the ban, I feel there is little to discuss. Indeed, I think there is little room for harsh words. The unkind words scented with personal attack early in your letter are quite unnecessary. Disagreement can be addressed in a civil manner.

Now that the issue of burqa is out of the way, there is one last order of business. It involves reverse discrimination — or positive discrimination or affirmative action, depending which term one prefers — for women. I have made my position clear earlier and my opposition is largely due to my concern for tokenism. For your benefit, allow me to provide a brief explanation with the hope that this disagreement will evaporate in my favor.

If any woman, and indeed, anybody, suffers from endowment effect that necessarily means that she or he does not start at the same starting line and indeed behind, they need to be empowered through skills. Train them. Educate them. A more refined approach is required to address historical accident.

Merely putting them in a position because of affirmative action is counterproductive. Such tokenism will adversely affect society through incompetence, disfranchise the capable and ultimately create unfair generalization of women as a whole.

Reverse discrimination in this manner is what referred to when I wrote beyond tokenism. I despise sentences that go “[a]nd what is this fear of the demands that women may make beyond tokenism that you speak of? A dystopian future of emasculated men?” It is clearly out of context. But I guess, effective rhetoric demands so. It is the cherry on top I suppose.

Let merit be the major determination of who holds what. If women everywhere are more capable than any man anywhere is, then let all positions be dominated by women. I have no problem with that. What I have problem is tokenism brought upon by reverse discrimination.

If a capable woman is prevented from rightly reaching the top due to male chauvinists, then by all mean prosecute the chauvinists under some anti-discrimination laws. If a man is prevented from rightly reaching the top because of some tokenistic system, then you can see me actively dismantling that system. Equal representation is one that demands equality of outcome. As a libertarian, all I want is equality of negative individual rights. I want equality of opportunity as radiated from equal rights.

Oh, just because I do not believe in affirmative action for women does not mean that I have underdeveloped thoughts about gender discrimination. If you supposedly have developed advanced thoughts on the matter, then do share. I would very much like to find out how your argument will be different to those I have listened in the past, either in terms of gender, ethnicity or even business.

Until then, if you demand equality of outcome, then I am proud not to sit on the same side as you. I have raised my voice against demands for equality of outcome in terms of race and ethnicity. I will be a hypocrite if I do not raise my voice against equality of outcome in terms of gender. Merit is the only fair result to an outcome in most, if not all, situations.

With that, I believe I have my say for now.

Thank you for your letter. It gives me an opportunity to clarify my earlier thoughts with measured fashion.

Kind regards.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — Show me authoritarian feminism, and I’ll show you some poorly researched tosh: A letter to Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Alicia Izharuddin. Cycads. May 17 2010