The current issues related to poor governance in Malaysia today has its roots in a top-down authoritarian feudal culture, observes Ronald Benjamin.
The spat between the followers of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and those of Prime Minister Najib Razak reinforces a pattern in Malaysian politics that is elite-based.
A clash among leaders automatically turns into a loyalty drama in which issues of substance are only presented or given prominence when it has political or loyalty value. This nature of politics has besieged Malaysia over the years and the voice of reason is sometimes perceived to be buried in the land.
The current issues related to poor governance in Malaysia today has its roots in a top-down authoritarian feudal culture in which ordinary members of political parties believe that their leaders will not go wrong.
This has also crept into the opposition parties: there is silence among the grassroots on issues such as nepotism, factionalism and manipulation of religion. There has never been a grassroots people movement from mainstream political parties working towards building a foundation of Clean Government that is principles-based, transparent and meets the common good of its citizens.
It is all about Cabinet post, projects, financial allocations that makes the grassroots happy, and business rent-seeking using ethnic identity as a leverage. If there is some form of political stability over the years, it has more to do with the foundation built by honest leaders of the past rather than the efforts of the grassroots party members.
Scandals during the Mahathir era and now those besieging Prime Minister Najib have their roots in the failure of party members to hold their leaders accountable to certain principles of just governance because of blind ethno-centric loyalty and reciprocity that is liable to manipulation and deception.
This type of blind loyalty is far more dangerous because it fails to uncover the truth when it is required. For example, a former top cop who kept silent during the investigative process and trial of the murder of a Mongolian model has suddenly asked to reopen the case only to backtrack later. Was this due to his loyalty and admiration of a particular leader or is he honestly seeking the truth? Why was he not concerned before?
I have yet to see Umno delegates speaking at the Umno general assembly about the concerted effort needed to fight corruption. Is it because this would offend their leaders?
The authoritarian top-down feudal culture that serves leaders has to go if Malaysia is to move forward in building a bottom-up culture in which leaders are held accountable for upholding a clean and vibrant government.
It is vital that concerned Malaysians of all political leanings are aware of the disease of personality-based politics and blind loyalty. They should work towards creating grassroots movements that are based on issues and principles. This would curtail the deception brought about by certain self-seeking politicians on both sides of the political divide whose understanding of truth is base on political lloyalty and expediency.
The way forward is to create principles-based grassroots movements that hold leaders accountable to shared principles for the common good.