A Gramscian reflection on the Sabah State Elections

A Gramscian reflection on the Sabah State Elections

“Sono pessimista con l’intelligenza, ma ottimista per la volontà.”

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”


These were the words written by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian socialist philosopher, who was imprisoned by the then fascist regime. These remarks were written in his ‘prison notebooks’ where he reflected upon his position of utter hopelessness.


For trying to cure an already doomed fascist world in his view through political action, he was sentenced to five year in confinement to ‘stop his brain from functioning’, and 20 years jail where his already bad health deteriorated further.


He posits from that very standpoint, that by analysing with pure intellect, the conditions faced by society, there is no valid prognosis to give other than a pessimistic one. But even in the bleakest situation, there is hope. The dynamism and volatility of human society and human nature leaves room for mass intervention. The will and actions of a people can be summoned to affect a mass intervention, which is his cause for optimism.


Closer to home, the outcome of the Sabah State general elections devastated many of us, even non Sabahans (read: Malayans). What was meant to be the launchpad for a grander movement of a higher purpose for Malaysia was put to an abrupt end before it even started. Is there any room for Gramsci’s optimism of will in Malaysia’s struggle for democratisation moving forward? Many, especially the intelligent are pessimistic for good reason.


Some of those who betrayed their voters in the last elections by defecting, causing the near fall of the Warisan+ Sabah government, were re-elected. Is hopelessness the only possible diagnosis for our nation’s current democratic condition? With “incentivised defections” that have been systematically and strategically engineered from within by trojan horses causing the Federal and State governments to fall, one wonders what the point is to vote in elections anymore.


For the coming weeks, waves of power struggle among those left out of the power patronage downstream will continue to surface. Analyses and punditry will dominate portals and social media for weeks to come. Barrages of finger pointing and “I told you so”s will come from all directions. Most will miss the key point.


My own observations boiled down to this. The results came out indicating that doing good and doing right by your voters won us some battles, but doing tactically expedient things won them the war. Tactics are driven by the hunger for victory, and our struggle for the betterment of the nation is driven by upholding values and ideals.


All democracy loving Malaysians had high expectations for the Sabah State Elections. It wasn’t just about the future of Sabah, but the impetus it would provide towards the national political landscape. It was also a focal point and an indicator for whether or not there was still hope to undo the democratic rollback that has been in full swing since the Sheraton Move.


Many saw Sabah as the last bastion of Hope for Malaysia’s grand democratic comeback. It was meant to be the moment when the force of good, the embattled underdog rise again to fight to a victorious ending of the war against the force of evil.


The key and core message of Unity that drove the Sabah State General Elections campaign captured the imagination of many Malaysians. It fed the hunger of many Malaysians who have been desperate for a non-racial, unifying voice of reason. Even more so, when it came from a leader in his bid for the highest office that is under contestation. If it failed to garner victory in one State, is it even worth considering to have it scaled to a national level?


An oft quoted aphorism credited to German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, popularised by Kelly Clarkson, Kanye West and Batman, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has never been more relevant than now for democracy loving Malaysians.


Whilst everything indicates the worst, most pessimistic outlook for our democracy, but now is not the time for us to retreat or give up. Another aphorism comes to mind; When you are at rock bottom, the only way is up. As an unnamed Chinese philosopher once said,” Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.


Perhaps Unity, or Pisompuruan in Kadazan, or Pasisimpungan in Murut is a compelling idea which time is yet to come, but no amount of pessimistic intellect can deny its place in national identity, but all nation building is a struggle and all nations are works in progress. However short lived it may have been, the fruition of May 9th 2018 was an impossibility that defied all odds, through sheer brute will of optimism of the Malaysian people.

We must ensure that we conjure up all the optimistic will we can to ensure we don’t get killed by our own intelligent pessimism. From there, we must summon all the strength gathered from past and present trials, to march on.

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