Conservatism is a belief or more accurately a principle that upholds traditional and classic values. As stated in the Collins English Dictionary, Conservatism is the unwillingness to accept new changes and ideas. Conservatism is normally found utilized in institutions especially government institutions. For example, a powerful country like the United States of America has two major political parties that run the country which are the Democrats and Republicans. Here the Republicans are the more conservative party compared to their liberal counterparts which are the Democrats.
In Malaysia’s political spectrum, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) are the conservative ones as they hold traditional Islamic and Malay principles but are however more progressive in their policies since Malaysia is very diverse in terms of race and religion.
Historically, the idea of conservatism came from the late Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke on 1st November 1790. In his political pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France, he condemned the infamous French Revolution for destroying “a good fabric society and traditional institutions of the state”. We can see how he formulates an ideology that is influential towards modern conservatism in governments.
The ideology of conservatism is essential for homogeneous regions or where the majority of citizens are of the same race and religion. In a democratic country that has mostly one race with one belief, it is important for the government to formulate policies to adhere to their beliefs to avoid major issues. It’s not saying the conservatives are backdated, but the policy that is established must not entirely destroy the root values that woven the fabrics of their society.
For example, a country that has one major race will have policies that benefit more to that particular race in comparison with others. In the Middle East, western cultures like public couple affections or women wearing shorts are banned in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. This proves how the religion of Islam influences governmental policies due to the majority Muslim population. The article here is to discuss problems which results in the rise of right-wing politics in some countries and why these nations diverge towards the right end of the political spectrum.
One of the results of the rise of conservatism can be seen by the actions of the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union (EU). A referendum was held in June 2016 which saw a total of 17.4 million people opted to leave the EU. The people that held the motion on leaving the EU comprises 52% of the total population and it subsequently led to the resignation of then Prime Minister, David Cameron. Now, multiple reasons can be derived to justify the departure of the UK from the EU but the crux of the matter lies on the shoulders of Euroscepticism. Euroscepticism, based on the Oxford Dictionary of Politics and International Relations, is a person, a political party, or a group of people who are skeptical of the European Union and European integration.
Generally, hard Eurosceptics believe Europeans are elitist and lack democratic legitimacy. The United Kingdom, being an old and staunch believer of democracy based on their constitutional conventions, stated that the European Union does not adhere to traditional democratic principles that fabricates British society which in this case destroys their legitimate sovereignty. In 2016, UK Secretary of Justice and Tory politician Michael Gove criticized the administration of the EU by stating that “Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out”. Another primary argument by Eurosceptics is the issue of EU migrants.
EU law gives the rights to EU citizens to move and work at any EU member states without permission. This, unfortunately, led to the influx of migrants into the UK increasing from one million to three million from the year 2004 to 2015 which mostly came from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. The high migration and freedom of movement leads to increasing anxieties amongst UK citizens especially the recent 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris which involves EU migrants. This heavily contributes towards the perception of citizens to tip more towards the right compared to the left.
Another prime example is the United States of America. In American politics, there has always been a battle between the conservatives and the liberals over the government. However, the recent election sees Republican candidate Donald Trump winning over Democrat ticket Hillary Clinton which signals the reign of America’s right-wing. The election also sees Donald Trump win over ’Swing States’ which are Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that is considered crucial in winning the election and were formerly held by Democratic President Barack Obama.
One problem that led to Republican win might be due to Obama’s social incorporation method through the inclusivity of LGBT groups, women’s rights, racial and inclusive capitalism which have led to the deterrence of traditional white Catholic Christian values. As stated by Donna Ladkin, a professor of humanities from Plymouth University in his academic article on the 2016 American elections, the surprising win by the administration of Donald Trump is mainly because of his relationship with the ‘Rust-belt’ white American citizens which mostly came from the ‘Swing States’.
Professor Ladkin claimed that there was an unabridged canyon between urban elites that thrived on the globalized economy and millions of Americans who are living in its wreckage”. Donald Trump managed to influence these millions of American citizens through his attractive policies on unemployment, economics and illegal immigration.
Steve Bannon, former Chief Strategists for Trump’s America is considered a hero for the far-right believers and is also a white supremacist. Bannon’s views and perceptions influenced Donald Trump’s policies especially on immigrations where Executive Order 13780 restricts Muslim populated countries such as Iran, Libya, Syria and Yemen from entering the States and also certain non-Muslim countries like North Korea and Venezuela. The infamous ‘Muslim Ban’ stems from the ideology of Steve Bannon himself whom have always despised the religion of Islam as he claimed Islam to be the barbaric enemies of the Western Civilization. His extreme views however correlates with the citizen’s anxiety over immigrants from Muslim nations.
Especially due to the rise of terrorism amongst hard-right radical Muslim freedom fighters, Americans sees Trump as an opportunity to hinder and eradicate these dangerous people from destroying the foundations of America. President Donald Trump’s administration also ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that protects illegal undocumented children immigrants that was introduced by President Obama that also contributes to high influx of outsiders. Basically, the Obama administration’s take on immigration has cost the government 2.7 billion $ in federal budget which are against the principles of Conservatives of having budget cuts.
Another example is Malaysia, a small country within the region of South East Asia that have majority Muslim-Malay citizens. On 9th of May 2018 saw an unprecedented win for the Pakatan Harapan coalition over Barisan Nasional during the nation’s 14th general election. The win sees the more liberal Pakatan Harapan toppling the more conservative Barisan Nasional that has ruled Malaysia’s government since 1955. However, the rule of Pakatan Harapan did not last very long and well, as on 21st February 2020 sees the government undergo a political crisis that has caused the coalition to crumble. Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), which is part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition and alongside a few Parti Keadilan Rakyat leaders left the coalition to form Pakatan Nasional with Malay centric party United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and far-right Islamic party the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). Multiple questions arise due to the establishment of this new ‘backdoor government’ on its motives and intentions.
Some say it is an internal rivalry between Parti Keadilan Rakyat President Anwar Ibrahim and Deputy Azmin Ali. Some also say it is to form a more Malay centric government as before during the reign of Barisan Nasional. The former Pakatan Harapan government’s new agenda is more towards liberalization which is to have more inclusive policies for all races and religion but is proved to be unpopular. In 2018, the Pakatan Harapan government’s intention to ratify the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) was heavily rejected by the Malays due to the fact that it can potentially destroy Article 153 of the Federal Constitution which surrounds on matters of Malay privileges.
Another case study that potentially led to the internal crisis is the political domination of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) where they have a major influence over the Malaysian political landscape. Another relevant example is the Kongres Maruah Melayu that is attended by multiple Malay political leaders and also heads of educational institutions that emphasize on Malay ideologies. We can see the chronology of events stems from misunderstandings between the Malays and non-Malays. It proves that Malaysians are still resistant towards a political reform where the former government has been holding the country for 60 years. These constant conflicts led to Conservatism to maintain its grasp on the Malaysian political spectrum.
This article here is not a comprehensive research study on Conservatism. It is basically a personal observation and perspective on how political landscapes in certain countries operate the way they are and why they decide to operate that way. Based on the aforementioned readings, the people of these nations decided to diverge more to the ‘right’ primarily because of economic promises by their government, the rising concerns of citizens towards the high influx of immigrants or maybe just because people are still not used to globalization.
This is where conservative politicians take the golden opportunity to utilize those needs and fears and turn it into their ‘trump’ card in taking over the government. With the new Covid-19 pandemic on the rise due to the influx of tourists and migrants, will countries all over the world become more ‘conservative’ in its future endeavors?
Daniel Qayyim bin Hasdi,
Mahasiswa Fakulti Undang-undang,
UiTM Shah Alam.