Sunday May 27, 2012
By DZOF AZMI
The country needs men of integrity at the helm and it is up to voters to make the right choices.
TUNKU Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim’s resignation from DAP, coming soon after he had publicly criticised his party’s stand on certain policies, made headlines.
My impression was that most people who were neutral were sympathetic that a politician who tried to stand for his own ideals even when they ran against the party line, had been forced out of his position. This begs the question: Is it possible to have principles in politics if they are solely your own?
There is a perception that many people enter politics in order to make money. Although I have seen no data that supports or contradicts this hypothesis, I think many think that MPs lead a luxurious lifestyle that cannot be accounted for by their low basic salary (RM6,508.59 a month, before allowances).
Since Tunku Aziz very publicly rejected the offer of a reasonably-paid senior fellowship at the Penang Institute, does this mean he was not in the political game for money? Is he a politician with integrity?
To answer this adequately, I would like to turn to what I believe has been the best presentation on this topic in Malaysia: The Uniten inaugural integrity lecture series given in February by former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad.
(A copy of the speech, which cites sources such as fellow former Chief Justices, the Quran and Madonna, can be found at uniten.edu.my/rudy/awards/TunHamidSpeech.pdf.)
Tun Abdul Hamid defined integrity in a deceptively simple way: “To know what is right and what is wrong, and to always do the right thing. My contention is that for some people the line between right and wrong is so blurred that it’s hard to see which is which.”
He gave the example of merchants in Mecca who are not reluctant to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists by quoting higher prices than they normally do. He then compares this to an experience he had in the Netherlands, where a shopkeeper pointed out a very slight damage on a pair of shoes advertised with a 25% discount, saying that he would give him 50% instead.
Were both merchants men of integrity? My answer would be: “Yes, unless the one in Mecca was aware of any Syariah Law that says you must not overcharge your customers.” In other words, if you are ignorant, you can practise corrupt behaviour as a man of integrity.
I personally believe this is where we are in Malaysian politics at the moment. Those involved, both the politicians and supporters, have decided what the rules of the game are, and these come with a large dose of hypocrisy.
So, they may point out that the Federal Constitution gives people the right to assemble peacefully, but ignore the sub-paragraph that says Parliament may impose restrictions. Or, criticise party hoppers as men with no integrity – unless the hopper was recruited as one of their own. This comes from a profession that spends so much time telling us how important integrity is, that we begin to believe that perhaps its members are protesting too much.
Yet, Malaysia is a democracy, so in theory we have the power in our hands to always make a change for the better. And if anybody is to blame if our elected representatives are not up to par, it is ourselves.
This was touched upon in a recent debate in Parliament when Datuk Seri Utama Shahrir Abdul Samad (MP for Johor Baru) interrupted a debate about whether the EC should take all the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Steering Committee.
Sharir pointed out the following: “Saya rasa kalau kita dah mengambil bahagian dalam pilihan raya ... hari ini kita pula juga hendak sama-sama campurkan diri dan libatkan diri dalam menghentam SPR, kita dah dapat manfaat.
“Serah jugalah kepada rakyat di atas kebijaksanaan mereka dan janganlah selalu sangat kita hendak mencari ‘bogeyman’ kita, hendak lanyak sini, lanyak situ kerana akhirnya yang menentukan itu ialah hati manusia yang juga boleh melihat hati kita.”
(“I feel that if we have taken part in elections ... and now we want to get involved and criticise the Electoral Commission, we are taking advantage of the system. Let the people in their wisdom decide and let us not look for a bogeyman to blame, criticising all those around us, for at the end of the day, people will decide from their hearts, and look into ours as well.”)
Do we decide by looking into the hearts of those we elect? Do we care about the integrity of the candidates? At least, in the case of Shahrir, that might have been the case at one point.
In 1988, when Umno was split into two camps, Shahrir decided to resign his parliamentary seat and contest as an independent. Despite no longer enjoying the support of any party, he won back his seat in Johor Baru.
On the other hand, I have also heard so much about bribery and corruption, both within political parties and in the wider elections, that I don’t know if voters always make the right choice.
Even Tun Abdul Hamid in his speech said: “My worry is that we have reached a stage where voters are ‘offering their votes for sale’ to the highest bidder purely for short-term personal gains and the political parties have no choice but to keep bidding, disregarding its effects on the country and nation.” It is a vicious cycle, one in which we, the voter, have been complicit.
I do not know Tunku Aziz personally, but from what I can see, he is somebody who chose what he thought was the right thing to do, even when others told him otherwise.
At the end of the day, he says he will no longer be involved in politics. It is a shame, because the country needs men of integrity to lead it. Because I do believe it is possible for people with integrity to also be politicians, as long as we the people support them (and by extension, reject the rest) – regardless of which party they represent.
Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.