Why social democracy?

By Wan Hamidi Hamid, Editor in Chief of The Rocket

Why social democracy?

DAP’s ideology is social democracy. Although it’s a recent adoption, the original democratic socialism accepted in 1966 when the party was formed was in a way quite similar to social democracy. Yet it has its differences too.

But what is social democracy? In fact, what is ideology? Perhaps most people have some idea about them. But does ideology has any meaning in today’s world? Some people believe ideology is out of date. Some people think it is better to be pragmatic. Some people think “ism” is not practical or realistic.

Yet in our everyday life, we have our dreams, hopes, goals, ambitions and so on. Why do we even have them? Isn’t it pragmatic to live life for today and forget about any future aims? So there. Ideology is basically a set of goals. Some say it’s like a compass or a GPS, some sort of guidelines.

So as in ordinary life, political life needs goals too. So we call it ideology. There are many types of ideologies. Many of us have heard of socialism, communism, fascism, capitalism, anarchism, racism and many other -isms.

DAP chose democratic socialism when it was formed almost half a century ago. In fact the chosen ideology was a product of its time. During the 1960s the whole world was trapped in a Cold War – the global tension from 1945 until 1989. It was the time when the world was divided between communism and capitalism.

So DAP’s choice for democratic socialism was stress the fact that although it’s a party of socialism, it didn’t support communism; and although it accepted market economy, it is against unfettered capitalism.

It’s only natural that 40 years later DAP’s ideology evolved into social democracy; which basically put freedom, social justice, equal opportunity and solidarity as its main tenets. Perhaps it’s to suit the need of the 21st century.

But that doesn’t mean DAP members are all social democrats. There are still many socialists in the party although there are a lot of liberal democrats too. And there those in DAP who still think that an ideology is not important.

Whatever an individual member believes in, she or he knows that when you’re with DAP,  you’re always part of a social democratic movement.


A social democratic movement is a global phenomenon. Since the inception and expansion of the ideology in the late 19th century, it has been accepted in many parts of the world.

In fact, social democracy seems to be the preferred choice of most government – whether it is led by a left or centrist party. The reason is simple; whether a party is on the left or centre (but not necessarily on the right, as there some right wing parties that are actually fascist in nature), it has to appease to many groups of people in a particular state or country.

Hence, social democracy offers a middle path – not too left and not too right – and economically it means accepting the market system but ensuring government’s intervention to ensure the market does not discriminate workers or bully consumers.

But even before a social democratic party, such as DAP can form a government – either on its own (which is almost impossible in Malaysia) or together with a like-minded parties in a coalition – it has to prove its worth to the people.

As part of a global social democratic movement, DAP in a way has successful displayed its ideological belief in the forms of actions. In Penang where DAP is the main party with Lim Guan Eng as the Chief Minister, the DAP-led Pakatan Rakyat state government has managed to balance itself to ensure both the business sector and the people are in a win-win situation. In Selangor where DAP is a major partner for a PKR-led state government, its representatives have been playing their role in assisting Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim in implementing a welfare-state style governance that is also favourable to the business sector.

However, appeasing the business sector can be dangerous, as capitalists have the tendency to seek favour from the government – usually in the form of “you help me, I help you” situation. Whereas the people in general have less access to the leaders of any particular state or country.

Therefore, a social democratic party or a social democratic government has to put more emphasis on the people – hence the word “social” refers to the well-being of the rakyat. In this way, the needs of the people will always be on top of the interest of the capitalists.

In the process of taming capitalism to ensure the people can enjoy the benefits of the government’s programmes, it is imperative that DAP, as part of the regional as well as global social democratic movement, to share experiences of governance from sister parties all over the world. This will enable DAP and supporters of social democracy in Malaysia to avoid repeating mistakes and blunders of their counterparts in other region.

Of course, social democracy is neither a perfect solution nor a complete, comprehensive ideology. It is merely a form of ideology as a guiding light for many of us who believe that all human beings are equal; it is a form of solidarity building. And it does not promote the idea that some people are more equal than others because of the colour of their skin or their religion.

Racism and religious fanaticism

There are racists in this country who believe their race is the master of the land. There are racists who think they have the right to trample on other people’s faiths and religions. Yet they are not the majority representing any particular race.

Despite that fact, the “others” who are targeted by those racists began to develop a flawed belief that ALL members of the community that the minority racist groups belong to are racists too. This is a wrong, perverted view. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

We have seen in Malaysia how religion is being used and misused over and over again. Yet when Malaysians are offered a non-religious alternative such as secularism, the religious people usually become upset with the idea. Some even accused secularism as being anti-religion. This too is a wrong, perverted view.

Being secular simply means separation of state and religion, i.e. the state can’t use religion as its weapon and religious group/class can’t use state power as its weapon. It also ensures that all religions and faiths are treated equally; and that’s fairness and justice, according to all religious beliefs.

European Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan in his book “What I Believe” explains that a secular tradition provides a neutral space where people are allowed to discuss anything including religious issues. This means being secular is being fair to all religions, as well as to people who choose not to believe in religion. It is not about attacking or destroying any religion.

Hence, social democracy can provide the alternative to the problem of religious misunderstanding and fear mongering that we are facing today. How? Because the main values of social democracy – freedom, social justice and solidarity – are the major components that can ensure fairness, justice and equality for all.

 Of course it’s not a magical solution but it could be the first step towards recognising that a secular way of handling our fragile society through social democracy might be a better alternative than surrendering ourselves to the dictate of racists and religious fanatics.      

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