On Post-partisanship

Raymond Woo appeals to the practice of politics beyond party lines.

What is post-partisanship?

According to American political theorist Mark Satin, it is an approach to dispute resolution between political factions in which collaboration and compromise are emphasized over party discipline and ideology. However, unlike bipartisanship which Canadian health policy expert Neil Seeman described as “horse-trading”, where patchwork legislation is crafted to allow all sides to feel satisfied that some thread of their vision or ideological essence found its way into law, post-partisanship is a solution-based approach to complex public policy problems in which the input of all sides are considered and utilised based on agreed-upon principles.

In the aftermath of the highly-divisive and emotional Malaysian 13th General Elections (GE), it is clear from the poll results that there are fundamentally two Malaysias — not necessarily Chinese and Malay, but urban and rural, or West Malaysia and East Malaysia. All sides have made their stance quite clearly, where urbanites of all races have cast their lots with Pakatan Rakyat, while the mostly-Malay rural heartland stuck to the symbol of the status quo, Barisan Nasional. The accumulated anger and distrust between the symbols of the two Malaysias have been laid bare.

And yet, the governance of Malaysia must not be allowed to remain stuck in May 5, 2013 forever. Somehow, solutions to mundane local and national problems must continue to be found.

It is known that Malaysia faces a lot of ills — a deteriorating national education system, rising national debt and inflation, corruption and abuse of power, increasing socio-economic policy and a disunited nationhood. These are the true concerns of most urban Malaysians regardless of race and religion, and patronage and communitarian identity are not as important to urbanites as they are to the rural folk. I believe it was the lack of attention and the will to address those national concerns that has led to the decimation of urban support for BN.

Yet, I believe that Malaysians who love their country from both sides of the political divide believe that these problems must be solved to prevent Malaysia from being labelled as the “sick man of Asia”. But the question is, of course, how?

Perhaps, post-partisanship may be useful. This approach does not necessitate the avowal of political neutrality amongst warring parties; rather, broad but clear objectives can form the basis of technical cooperation to achieve common outcomes. Compared to other countries, Malaysia is already fortunate in that we do have many rules of the game that mainstream parties agree upon and would not violate — a democratic and representative system of government, an equitable capitalist economic system, constitutional monarchy, and the need to take care of the welfare of all communities in Malaysia.

Post-partisanship in Malaysia involves building upon those agreed-upon rules and principles to pursue technical solutions for technical policy problems. Intermediate issues that are seen to be politically intractable and not directly related to the policy problem should be left alone, to be settled another day.

One method that can be used is the multicriteria decision analysis, where different parties are allowed to select weighted-solution criteria, and enables a neutral and independent body with assigned legislative powers to identify and remove partisan biases in any final policy solution. An example of this would be the bi-partisan Congressional committees on various policy issues in the US.

As an example of a policy issue, take the case of improving Malaysia’s competitiveness in our national education system. How do we judge an education system’s competitiveness? Usually, we rely on international math or reading scores, and this is where Malaysia has declined dramatically in the past few years. Now, who do we engage in a dialogue on this? Education policy experts, of course, from both sides of the political divide, such as PR’s Dr Ong Kian Ming and Tony Pua, apart from the Minister of Education and its senior civil servants. Then, we can sit down and plan how to improve math and English skills of our students, and how to give more autonomy and incentive to our public universities to improve their faculties and student bodies, and so on. Maintaining or abolishing vernacular school systems or UiTM is an intractable political problem that should be left for another day. Yet, increasing the education quality at these schools without abolishing any of them can also be done to improve general national competitiveness, as the pursuance of national unity may not be directly related to educational excellence.

Or take the issue of health policy, which has even less “political hot potatoes”. The current shortage of drugs and high prices in public hospitals may be due to the lack of suppliers, which are heavily regulated and subscribed by the Ministry of Health. Incidentally, pharmaceutical supply is subject to the Bumiputera quota rule. Sensibly, we should increase the quality and quantity of the suppliers to resolve the problem of drug shortage. If the sacred cow of Bumiputera quota has to go, it has to be done, as affirmative action may not be a necessity to the general public’s access to medicine and healthcare. Again, we can get healthy policy experts from both sides of the political divide to concretise the problems and solutions.

Once emotions from the GE have died down and heads become cooler, I hope Malaysians of all stripes can put aside their political beliefs and convictions and aim to resolve some of the pressing issues that eventually affect every single citizen in a methodical and results-based manner.


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Posts by Raymond Woo

Raymond Weng Pong Woo is an economic and public policy consultant with a global consulting firm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was a Fulbright Scholar at Cornell University, where he pursued a Master of Public Administration and concentrated on International Development Studies (Law and Development). He holds a Bachelor of Law from Osaka University, Japan, where he specialized in Public International Law. He has years of experience in legal and policy research, journalism and education at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), Osaka University and the United Nations Headquarters. All comments and articles in this blog are entirely the author's own views.

Posted on 29 May 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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