Emotional Politics And The Reasonable Voter

THE political climate in Malaysia is becoming increasingly heated in the one year ahead especially with the Malaysian 14thgeneral election having to be held soon.

Although for some it is still a long way to go, but to the politicians, the remaining time left is a very short span of time especially in making sure that all the political planning are in place towards winning the election.

When the general election is approaching, the people or the rakyat as usual will be the audience who are going to listen and witness all sorts of aggressive political campaigns and persuasions from various political parties involved in the election.

With the advancement of communication technology especially in the social media, political parties try to use all sorts of arguments and rhetoric to convince the rakyat that they are the most suitable parties or fronts to lead the country to a much better, prosperous and just future.

And since politics is “the art of possible”, political parties will definitely become so pragmatic in achieving their political goal. In modern realpolitik, it is not really about what is right or what is the best, rather it is about what you can actually get done with your mission. And of course, many impossible things years ago can be made possible today either for good or bad, thanks to the advancement of modern day technology.

Indeed, throughout history, the most important tool in winning elections is the power of speech and rhetoric. All political parties will try their level best to convince the rakyat through both their power of rhetoric and their rhetoric of power.

Since the target of the politicians is in majority the commoners, arguments that will appeal more to emotion seem to be among the best choice by some politicians. Orators and rhetoricians will be in the front seat to lead the political campaigns.

History has shown us that great orators cum politicians have left great influence in the political decisions of the people such as Hitler of Germany, Sukarno of Indonesia, Martin Luther King Jr. and Winston Churchill of the U.S. Thus, the saying by Prophet Muhammad rings true “Verily there is a magic in a speech (explanation).”

Only with the power of speech can thousands and millions of people be bewildered and influenced toward making a decision including unanticipated major decisions. This can be seen for example in the case of the sitting president of the U.S., Donald Trump’s win in the recent U.S. presidential election that had shocked the world and stunned most political pundits. Similarly is the case of Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum where the unpopular result emerged out of extreme campaign brought by pro-Brexit groups. It shows how unusual result will happen when people are deluded with some aggressive ideas brought by politicians.

Indeed, the context that surrounds the particular issues also played an important role in influencing the unexpected result to take place. But nevertheless, it is also clear that the way the issue is being projected and manipulated through rhetoric and twists and turns of words are also instrumental in determining the result of an election.

But the more pertinent question is that how good is the decision made during the general election to the people at large especially in five years to come after the election and before the coming of the next general election?

To put the question in a more direct way, is the decision made at the period of delusion (by the political rhetoric) equally good especially for the following longer period of sanity and reasonableness?

This is important because the policies that are promised and agreed will be used for a long term period later. There are a lot of examples where policies promised in the election finally could not be implemented because of ambitious overpromises by political parties especially with the expectation only to win the election.

It is therefore very important that the rakyat must be properly educated in the sense that their reason must play a bigger role when listening to political promises and rhetoric. They must be in the position of the wise decision maker, a judge who has the power to give proper judgement after listening to both defenders and prosecutors of a particular case. They cannot on the other hand let themselves be like people who are deluded after being entranced by the charm of a witch.

In democracy, it is the people that decide. The rakyat are the ones who choose who are more qualified to lead them. They are supposed to be the real chooser and not the loser. But this will only take place when their reason and sanity are in proper place, and not easily trapped and deluded by mere rhetoric. It needs a great deal of sobriety for the people to properly assess the issues and planning put forward by political parties.

Ultimately, it is the masses that have to be properly educated. Great political philosophers such as Plato and al-Farabi have proposed a list of virtues that politicians as well as people at large have to possess in order to create a virtuous state. Both sages suggest that virtuous state can only be ultimately founded on the principles of realisation of human excellence through good virtues.

Plato for example placed justice as one of the important virtues of man, not only in politics but in all aspects of life. Nevertheless, the virtue of justice can only be achieved through three other pertinent virtues namely wisdom, courage and moderation. These are the four cardinal virtues which serve as the important ethical foundation for politics.

Man indeed is a microcosmic representation of the political state outside him, or on a bigger scale, the universe at large. If on the bigger scale, it is God who rules the universe with His justice and blessing, on the smaller scale, it is the wise and just ruler who rules the state with justice. And on the smallest scale, it is the reason of man which rules his whole self with the virtue of wisdom and justice. Just as in the case of the universe, God’s rule will create the cosmos and harmony, similarly at the microcosmic level, man’s proper reasoning will create good political and social condition.

According to al-Farabi, a virtuous state can be defined as a state in which human beings come together and cooperate with the aim of becoming virtuous, performing noble activities and attaining happiness. And the attainment of happiness means the perfection of the power of the human soul that is specific to man, i.e his reason.

That is how reason is an important role of reason in politics. Only with proper wisdom possessed by humans, can they really leave an impact in analysing issues and ultimately in deciding the suitable leaders of the country.

Rencana yang disiarkan ini merupakan pandangan peribadi penulis sendiri

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Dr. Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran

Merupakan Pengarah di Pusat Kajian Syariah, Undang-undang & Politik, Institut Kefahaman Islam (IKIM).

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