Friday, 11 March 2011

Power, Fear & Anger

How do the emotions anger and fear tip the balance between peace and conflict? When fear is used by government leaders on their own people, they use it to 'persuade' them to submit to their rules. "Obey me, or else..."

Fear is all about intimidation. It isn't nice, unethical even but most often, it works. If not, how else dictators and authoritarian leaders past and present managed to cling on to power despite their reckless cruelty, greed and unfair treatment of others?

Fear works tremendously in environments previously rampant with strife and clashes between groups of people. Anarchy exists in the absence of a strong authority to control warring factions. A strong authoritarian leader, a dictator, is needed to control those in dire thirst for enemy blood. The leader must be respected and feared to the extent that he is able to force such people to submission. Only then can order be restored.

Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Husni Mubarak of Egypt were dictators, no doubt. But Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore? According to a few academic-operational definitions, they probably are. But the 'd' word is also probably too strong and too harsh a word to be used on them. After all, both of them did resign from their respective government positions. And their actions while in power were certainly not in the same 'class' as those committed by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, or even Suharto of Indonesia.

Both Mahathir and LKY however were definitely not gentlemen politicians. In response to an interview question critical of Singapore’s political culture, LKY once said: "it is not in the business of the present government to make it easy for the opposition party to overthrow us."

That short statement pretty much sums up LKY's view on democracy. Basically, for both him and Mahathir, elections are fine but they need not necessarily be free and fair. The government of the day controls the media, civil service and security forces. Use them to the maximum to secure victory. Who cares about ethics and fair play!

Here in Malaysia , the modus operandi of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition remains the same. Fear is used to intimidate in such a way that many can’t even imagine political parties other than BN ruling this country. The fear is, if indeed others were to rule, the country will collapse. For many Malays particularly, the thought of a Chinese 'kiasu' party like the DAP (Democratic Action Party) in federal government is their greatest nightmare. We Malays are certainly not afraid of Hantu Kak Limah or Zombie Kampung Pisang, but we are afraid of Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang. They may look human but are actually more scary and evil than the most devilish of devils! So it seems.

Any person with a more rational and practical mind would realize how foolish such a fear is. DAP has never contested more than 35% of parliamentary seats in any general election. That alone is enough to tell us that they can’t form the government on their own. They can only do so in a coalition with the Islamic Party (PAS) and the National Justice Party (PKR). And both PAS and PKR are led by Malay-Muslim leaders. To say that these people can so easily be bullied by DAP to abandon their stand on Malay rights and Islam is just naive and insulting.

If (a very big 'if') Pakatan Rakyat were to form the federal government after the next general election, the only people who would be overwhelmed with genuine fear are those who have unfairly benefited from their connections with the Barisan Nasional government. Businessmen, civil servants and all others who had used political connections for personal gains indeed have a real cause for concern. But for most of us who have never been part of that culture, there is nothing to fear. Life goes on. Work in the office continues.

If people find that hard to imagine, look back at what happened when the opposition took over the state governments of Selangor, Penang, Perak and Kedah after the 2008 General Election? Did the people in these states experienced armageddon? Were the Malays in these states particularly in Penang and Selangor chased away from their homes? Were they any masjids or suraus destroyed or confiscated?

Leaders in Pakatan Rakyat are not immune from mistakes, no doubt, but they certainly are not devils in human form who would condemn the people in this country to a state of abject destitution. Nor are they complete morons who have no skills and intelligence whatsoever to run this country. Likewise, for ardent supporters of Pakatan, they shouldn't be thinking that everything that is associated with UMNO and Barisan Nasional is bad. Give credit when credit is due. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has certainly done a number of good things since he took over from Abdullah Badawi.

I believe, above all, what many of us want to see is a fair fight. Let us see more debates between leaders and personalities from both sides. Let it be a battle of ideas, not a battle which revolves around someone's anus and undergarment. This is unfortunately what the current government is utterly incapable of doing. For now, fear remains strong, especially amongst the Malays. PM Najib thus should be reasonably confident that BN will win convincingly in the next general election.

There isn't enough anger amongst Malaysians that would convince many of us to commit to the kind of actions recently seen in Tunisia and Egypt. Many indeed are angry about the rising prices of oil and other essential goods, the lack of transparency in the government and the continued perception of rampant corruption. But no one wants to see chaos in the streets. We do hope though that those in power, today and tomorrow, will realize the fact that real power is in the hands of the people. Leaders who continue to abuse their positions for their own interest will, sooner-or-later, face the wrath of the people. No matter how rich and powerful you are, you will always be haunted by fear.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that when someone is in power, it is not only that he holds power. He too, capable of holding the bravery and the wisdom of his people through medium of information distribution.

As we are now open to many channels of information, what other explanation can be put forth to explain why these so-called leaders still able to control the mind and the heart of the people when they are still in power. Fear maybe one of it.