Talking points for your coffee chats

Don’t be fooled to thinking a democracy is decided only by general elections. General elections are very important, they are pivotal to all our futures, but democracy is a 7-Eleven. It shuts down when you stop talking.

by Praba Ganesan, The Malaysian Insider

There is no getting around it. Malaysians are talking about government, leaders and alternative futures. They really are. I do come across many deadlocks in the many discussions, especially in my “by-the-road-they-sit” gang in Bangsar Utama. 

Therefore, it might be useful to examine some of the key premises from which the deadlocks form in their own degrees of discomfort. There is every chance these will crop up in your coffee session soon.

You are welcome to disagree, that’s part of a vibrant democracy.

The previous government was worse, so stick with this one

A monarchy or feudal state is structured around the acquiring of power and to sustain that power. There are power transfers around an elite community, with the odd cousin twice removed from Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen coming over to marry your sister, so that a lineage is maintained — and progenies with lengthy names and lengthier titles inundate coastal resorts during summer. 

Citizens are incidentals, not central to the state, in that thinking.

But in the nation-state, individuals are tied with the state — they are the basis of the state. Despite the varying ideologies and thinking into the size of government or that government’s reach, there is no debate that government is the collective property of the individuals.

As a citizen, you own the country. There are no qualifiers or amendments which can alter that basic contention.

A bad government — in your own estimate, not mine — is a bad deal. There is no way to excuse them because of some perverse relative analysis. Akin to saying the new school bully is fine because he only slaps you on Wednesdays and cries when he reads romance novels.

You must reject a bad government if by your own evaluation it is. That is the obligation of those who reside in a nation-state, so that your interests are forwarded by a government which is not bad.

There is nothing complicated about this.

The other guys are not ready

That depends on what is meant by “ready”?

If “ready” means having the manpower, experience and ability to seamlessly replace those in power now, then the answer is no.

Since there has been only one group ruling since independence, obviously those out of government have not governed before.

But politicians do not run the country, civil servants do.

The question would be better, more reasonable, if posed as such: is the Pakatan Rakyat team ready to formulate policies and work with civil servants to oversee their implementation?

There is every chance they may, factoring obviously teething problems.

For new players you have to look at potential performance not actual performance, since the latter is non-existent, as far as running a federal government goes.

Both Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg have not been in government, although one of the party’s predecessors — Liberal Party — was the government in Britain a long time ago. The Liberal Democrats had to show potential to ascend to power. 

The system has not collapsed, so why the hurry?

A country does not have to systemically falter in every facet in order for citizens to vote the other way.

A small boat can change course after a few strokes of the oar. An oil tanker requires reasonable lead time to evade an ecological disaster. If you think the distinction between a boat and an oil tanker is telling, that sometimes the tanker can’t stop itself from capsizing if navigational decisions are late, then when is it too late for a country?

An oil tanker is nothing compared to a nation, and therefore a lackadaisical attitude today to the structural flaws today, because they are not biting in the present, will come back to chomp us in the near future.

And it will be a long drawn slide into decay as everyone sees the iceberg, and just waits for the eventual crash.

Getting up from that eventual sucker punch will take some doing. Would you want to risk that?

The PM is sincere, it’s them damn warlords and right-wingers

It may be kind to imagine Najib Razak as this angel of change walking through a damaged field filled with strewn carcases of innocent souls, resilient and courageous in trying to give everyone a better future. And in this imagining, his passage hindered by two boulders — the good-life-seeking strongmen of his party and the right-wingers wanting his race party to be a bit more racist. And a weary Najib trudging along and alone.

Summed up, feeling that Najib on his own would do things differently.

That may be entirely true, but that is not the job of the electorate to justify the prime minister’s limitations.

The factions and dogmas associated with his party are key reasons why his party has been in power and allowed him to rise to the top. He can’t bite the hand that fed it, fine, but that is his choice and he must then pay the price for his choice.

Reforms have a price. Gorbachev lost control of the bloc controlling half the world over his liberalisation, and decades before the US Democrats lost their fixed-deposit states in the south over civil rights legislations.

Coffee and TV

Continue those conversations, and there is no need for your conversations to meet some arbitrary standard. Any conversation about the country among citizens makes the country only better.

It is important to know what is bad government; to weigh the untested fairly; to determine the extent of the hull damage to our national psyche; and to answer in the binary if the PM is a good lad presented with a bad hand in a grand poker game or not.

But all that would not matter if the one key part of a democracy now seen more and more in Malaysia does not continue to thrive, people talking about their democracy.

Don’t be fooled to thinking a democracy is decided only by general elections. General elections are very important, they are pivotal to all our futures, but democracy is a 7-Eleven. It shuts down when you stop talking.