"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." - Paulo Freire

COMMENT Not much apparently. I was a tad disappointed in Josh Hong's piece entitled 'False neutrality'.

Besides, the last place one can claim "neutrality" is here in Malaysia because Umno has made it impossible for a certain section of the voting public to view the current ruling coalition as anything but power hungry plutocrats bent on retaining power at any cost.

I realise that it is impossible to remain neutral on a moving train and if I came across anyone advocating such nonsense, I would be the first in line to fire off a few salvos, but after 55 years of BN rule and a real shot at changing government, we seem to be stuck in the rut of holding political parties beyond criticism of any kind.

I have no idea who these ‘elites' are that Hong refers to since the only link in his article points to a student pursuing her education in the US writing a nuance perspective on oppositional politics under arather dodgy title that totally misrepresents her stand.

NONEThe most important point in the linked piece which people have either missed or chosen to ignore is this one: "For these reasons, I don't support the opposition blindly. But that does not mean I support the government either. I support the best party, which happens to be the opposition at this particular time. And for that reason, I would be more than happy to give them my support now."

This seems to me an entirely reasonable proposition. However I would add that "now" is possibly for a very long time.

The BN had 55 years to mould the country and the thinking of its citizenry and seeing as how the opposition operates and the partisan nature of its supporters, I don't have much faith that when in power, the new regime would have the political will to carry out the radical changes that its supposed principles dictates or that they will be held accountable for the promises they make.

Incremental changes would be greeted as paradigm shifting and no doubt countless years would be spent unearthing the "corruption" of the alliance before it.

Sceptical of PAS

As a long-time PAS watcher, I am sceptical of its ever changing theocratic agenda.

The big question of the role of Islam (which has never made the distinction between the public and private spheres) will have dramatic consequences in this country and PAS has shown no real commitment to the idea of a (wink, wink) "secular" state beyond agreeing to disagree and pursuing the corruption narrative all the while subtlety propagating the idea that hudud could be a possible solution for the Umno malfeasances that plagues this Islamic country.

A long-time former Umno stalwart now Anwar supporter always takes me to task for being hard on the opposition, specifically Anwar and the reform agenda. "What do you mean we are playing the same race game?" he keeps berating me in his usual friendly manner.

anwar ibrahim jelajah merdeka bus tour in serembanNever mind that I have defended Anwar numerous times and heaped scorn on the current regime but here's what Anwar has said ('Pakatan jamin bela hak Melayu dan kaum lain') regarding Pakatan policy (oil subsidies, car prices, etc) if they ever came into power:

"Semua golongan akan mendapat keuntungan daripada tawaran tersebut, terutama rakyat miskin dan kebanyakannya Melayu."

Beliau turut menyangkal tohmahan sesetengah pihak mengatakan nasib orang Melayu tidak akan terbela di bawah pentadbiran Pakatan.

Menurutnya, Keadilan, PAS dan DAP bersetuju memberi jaminan untuk terus membela Melayu dan pada masa sama hak kaum lain sebagai warganegara yang sah.

"(Ini kerana) Malaysia tidak akan selamat kalau orang Melayu (sebagai kaum majoriti) tersisih dan tidak kuat," kata Anwar lagi. 

Jelasnya, orang Melayu tidak mendapat pembelaan sebenar di bawah pemerintahan Umno-BN yang hanya mengkayakan keluarga dan kroni.

This is exactly what I have been saying for some time now. Same race game only played "fairly" (sic).

The problem some critics of the opposition face (even though they don't support BN) is the accusations of so-called false neutrality and aping the BN script.

Hong warns, "But one must be cautious enough to not condemn blind loyalty to the opposition to the extent that existing abuses, transgressions and excesses by the powers-that-be are overlooked or made to seem as secondary" but mocks the writer of the letter who made it very clear that the transgressions of the present regime should not be overlooked but neither should the hijacking of groups such as Bersih by the opposition.

Of course, BN was invited by the Bersih steering committee but the reality is Bersih was never a non-political organisation even though it made claims to such. I have no problem with this and the only problem I have is with groups who claim non-partisanship but in reality aren't.

Desire for bi-partisanship
And yes, after years of Umno wrecking the credibility of every public institution, I would like to see NGOs not affiliated with any political parties acting as watchdogs and acting as bi-partisan bridges to a two-party system. Perhaps in this way, issues could be discussed without the toxic partisan battles and appeals to emotion.

The mainstream media has always been hypocritical and partisan, which is why any claims of neutrality they make should be ignored, but what is more important is the way how as consumers we use the alternative media.

hulu selangor by-election nomination 170410 pakatan supportersAs it is, the alternative media has become one big echo chamber dealing mostly in confirmation bias which is fine, but the problem is that any dissent or opposing voices are silenced when what the Umno years have demonstrated is that blind and selfish unquestioning allegiance to a political party is what got us into this mess in the first place.

What we need is more scepticism and less chest thumping with regards to our preferred political parties and that's not going to happen if we don't start looking at these parties as our servants rather than out saviours. After all, I keep seeing this boast from Pakatan supporters that if Pakatan disappoints, then BN will be recalled from the bench.

I don't believe that for one second, but it would be nice if the discourse was not muddied by accusations of false neutrality when at the end of the day what we should be aiming for if a two-party system is what is desired, is bi-partisanship.

The sooner we get into the habit of thinking this way, the sooner political parties would attempt to comply with our agendas.