Why Everything Is Political

There is a tendency for people to complain in loud groans how everything is oh-so-political these days. The fact is that, yes, everything is in fact political. Especially so in a country like Malaysia where decision-making is highly centralised and ultimately concentrated on the few that make up the Cabinet within the Federal Government.

Sure, in an ideal world, there ought to be more than one way to bring about change. We envision a situation in which the media, civil society and labour unions have equal power in lobbying for policy reform, and although efforts are being made to strengthen these institutions, the sad reality is we are far from achieving this in Malaysia.

So, although one might be disgusted by underhanded tactics employed by political parties and individuals, one must equally understand that nothing can change unless it goes through the political route given the current climate. Everything is ultimately political and we shall see why.

At a Student Leaders’ Conference I spoke at recently at Universiti Malaya, the question was posed to all panelists as to how we would define “politics”. One fellow speaker answered that politics was the process of standing up for the rights one deserves; another that politics is the process through which power is obtained, which in turn is used for administering public good.

I gave examples of how gathering a group of people together under any setting would then undergo a political process of nominating and electing a leader. There would also be the dynamics involved; identifying people who are influencers, taking positions and sides on issues of concern, debating these matters, and so on. This can be observed even within the setting of a family, classroom, students’ union, labour union, and of course at the larger scale of the nation.

Malaysians are eager to talk about public issues these days. Countless forums, conferences, talks are being organised almost weekly, clogging up halls over weekends. This is a positive sign that we are wanting to engage instead of sweeping things under the carpet, but at the end of every forum the question always remains the same: What can be done? My answer would be, again, that because of the nature of our system, one has to go through the political route. Some examples are given below.

Scandals: There are scores of these one can recall in an instance, flooding our online newsfeeds as if a Pandora’s Box has just been opened. Let’s just take the Port Klang Free Zone incident. After theSun exposed correspondences and the fact that letters of guarantee were issued to PKFZ to raise bonds, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) then summoned officials to answer questions on the project. A series of events followed, including a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, and finally a series of charges and arrests took place. Although there are individuals who have certainly gone unpunished, without political pressure from the opposition, the PAC would not have sprung into action.

Addressing poverty: In addressing poverty issues, the Federal government a long time ago introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) which contained affirmative action policies that benefited the Bumiputera community, but have been severely abused and misused. Pakatan Rakyat in its economic proposals is proposing an alternative economic policy that is needs-based, thereby allowing all those from various races in need to benefit from it. It was only following the criticisms to the abuse of the NEP (by academics, think tanks, Opposition, civil society) that the government in fact later proposed liberalisation measures in its New Economic Model (NEM), largely similar to the Opposition’s proposals. For national wealth to trickle down effectively to appropriate poor communities, again it is those making decisions at political institutions who need to be lobbied.

Quality of education: Probably one of the greatest concerns of parents these days is the quality of education, thereby determining the schools that their children attend. Low salaries already make the teaching profession an undesirable career, hence the poor quality of teachers – added to this is the poor selection of textbook material, bias towards Islamic education within national syllabus and the lack of representation of non-Malays contributing to the country’s history. These are all obviously politically motivated and again, one must resort to political pressure to influence change within the Education Ministry and Teachers’ Training Colleges.

These are just samples of the numerous problems our country is faced with today. Other pressing issues include crime and security, corruption, wages, inflation, and economic growth.

The point I am making is that precisely because these are everyday issues that will invariably affect the lives of you and those around you, we should simply stop demonising politics as it were. As those sitting in the cushy middle space between the presently polarised political forces, there is a tendency for us to follow political news keenly – sometimes even leave comments on articles we are interested in – but otherwise laugh mockingly at the actual players in the game because all that is quite beneath us.

But the truth of the matter is that whichever pet peeve we have of the circumstances surrounding us, we will continue to heavily depend on the political forces that be to institute the change we desperately need. Whether this takes place through the official routes of government committees, ministries, political parties, or non-governmental associations (which in turn have close links with political parties, and which is natural as they require lobbying, and this happens all over the world).

Until the day we achieve a robust and independent media, civil society, labour union and student body, (all of which we should continue to promote), let us accept the fact that everything is political. And then we can do something about it, either by actually participating in the process or then influencing for change with the right parameters in mind.

This post was first published in the Selangor Times.

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Tricia Yeoh is currently attached to a local Market Research Consultancy, Dynamic Search. She was formerly Research Officer to the Selangor Menteri Besar and Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies. She is columnist at The Sun, the Penang Economic Monthly, and Selangor Times. She is Editor of the book "The Road to Reform: Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor" and its Malay translation, "Liku-liku Reformasi: Pakatan Rakyat di Selangor".

Posted on 24 August 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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2 Responses to Why Everything Is Political

  1. Richard Loh

    This has been in my mind a very long time ago "everything is political' within your home, leaving your home to work or run errand right till you are back home. Electricity, water, telephone, tv channels all monopolised and by whom? The car that you drive, local or foreign, you are paying through your nose and who gain? You step into any government offices, what do you see, majority the same skin color and what does that mean? All these are supposed to be non political but if you connect the dots they are all link to politics one way or another. There are many more supposing to be non political but are political behind the scene and as Tricia wrote "There is a tendency for people to complain in loud groans how everything is oh-so-political these days." These are the people who have yet to wake up and are just comfy with their present living.