Let Politics Be a Battle of Ideas and Ideals – KSInsights Apr 2024

Published on 07 May 2024

In the quiet corner of my study, a book caught my eye—a relic from my undergraduate days titled “Political Ideologies: An Introduction” by Andrew Heywood. As I dusted off its cover, a wave of nostalgia swept over me. The book, which I had once pored over studiously, offered a comprehensive tour through the vibrant landscape of political thought—from liberalism and conservatism to socialism and beyond.

Today, the essence of these ideologies seems lost in the cacophony of the Kuala Kubu Bharu by-election, which is currently dominating Malaysia’s news cycle. The contest pits the ruling coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), and Barisan Nasional (BN) against the opposition, Perikatan Nasional (PN). Yet, the discourse at political rallies has degenerated into a spectacle of insults and polemics, a far cry from the substantive debates one might hope for in a democratic society.

It is often stated that politics ought to be a battleground of policies, not personalities—and rightly so. Policies, after all, are manifestations of underlying ideologies. Even politicians who champion pragmatism are guided by some ideological compass. For instance, in a revealing episode of the podcast Keluar Sekejap, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution, who claims political flexibility, displayed conservative tendencies starkly contrasting with his party and PH peers. In the same podcast, Anthony Loke of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) discussed his party’s ideological shift from democratic socialism to social democracy, signifying a pivot towards centrism from its more radical origins.

Ideology should not be seen as a pejorative but as a lens through which political motives and actions can be discerned. UMNO, for example, bases its appeal on Malay nationalism—emphasising race, religion, and nation—which has historically shaped policies like the New Economic Policy (NEP). Conversely, DAP has advocated for a vision of a “Malaysian Malaysia”—a more egalitarian Malaysian society, although its stance has moderated over time.

The so-called “Green Wave” led by PAS under the Perikatan Nasional banner is a form of political Islam aimed at fostering an Islamic ethos in governance, stopping short of establishing an Islamic state. This approach to Islamism is not inherently problematic and is echoed by PAS’s rival, Parti Amanah Negara, which offers a progressive interpretation of Islamism, encapsulated in the concept of “Rahmatan Lil Alamin”—mercy for all.

Government policies often mirror the ideological positions of their proponents. Progressive initiatives like the Progressive Wage Model and Inisiatif Pendapatan Rakyat (IPR) contrast with market-centric strategies such as the New Industrial Master Plan 2030 and the KL20 Action Plan. Although the government’s track record is mixed, the Opposition has notably struggled to articulate how its conservative Malay-Muslim ideology translates into viable policy propositions that would demonstrate its readiness to be the government-in-waiting.

As I returned the book to its shelf, it struck me that political engagement need not be trivial or personality-driven. It should be a robust exchange of ideas and ideals. My own political beliefs—a hybrid of liberalism, conservatism, and socialism—suggest that many of us embody a spectrum of ideologies. It’s essential, then, that we as citizens engage earnestly with our ideological leanings. Let us advocate for a political arena where ideas triumph over insults, and ideologies provide the framework for meaningful policy discourse.


07 May 2024