The lack of political courage
|Kapil is an advertising strategist based in KL, who likes nothing better than to figure out why people behave the way they do. Naturally this forces him to spend most of his time lounging in coffeeshops and bars. He can be reached at [email protected]|
MAY 18 — Barack Obama has come out in support of gay marriage and that too in an election year. One may have differing views on the merits of the stand, but lack of political courage is not one of them.
In Malaysia though political courage is apparent only through its virtual absence, and both sides of the political divide are equally guilty. From the almost complete abandonment of the New Economic Model (NEM), to the unravelling of the MAS-AirAsia share swap under pressure from the unions, Barisan Nasional (BN) has been leading the way in this regard. Whether it is the Lynas controversy or the many flip-flops on the handling of Bersih 2.0, political expediency is increasingly seen as the hallmark of the current administration when it comes to decision making.
The “soft landing” for PPSMI, the backpedalling on the proposed revision of the pay structure of the civil service, the withdrawal of the Bill amendment on electoral offences, the guessing game on the Sabah illegal immigrants royal commission of inquiry (RCI) or even the glaring contrast between the simultaneous espousal of 1 Malaysia and Perkasa all point to a government that is devoid of a coherent, consistent vision for the future of the country.
On the other hand Pakatan Rakyat (PR) can hardly claim to have been doing better. There is still no word on the fate of the extremely undemocratic enactment in Kedah disallowing any challenge to the fatwa committee. Is PAS’s stand on hudud and an Islamic state also the stand of PR? Will the abolishment of PTPTN be official if PR takes power? Is it consistent on the part of the DAP to punish Tunku Abdul Aziz for expressing his democratic right to dissent? Slogans like Ubah and Asal Bukan Umno (ABU) are hardly an expression of an intelligible, unswerving vision for the future of the country.
A cynic would argue that is almost a character trait of a politician to mimic a chameleon. Having convictions and more importantly the courage of one’s convictions is the trait of statesmen, not power-hungry politicos. Having said that, why do most politicians take great care to come across as principled and having clear, consistent stands on issues of the day?
The answer may lie in the nature of the perceived relationship between principles and integrity. People who have no fixed beliefs are naturally also seen as having no fixed moral compass. Therefore they are more likely to abuse the trust placed in them by the electorate for personal gain, whether financial, sexual or that of the ego.
Voters understand the plethora of temptations that come to people entrusted with managing the affairs of the nation. This is why voters scrutinise the beliefs and convictions of people aspiring to public office in order to determine their suitability. More importantly they do this also because they hold an expectation that the representative will act on their behalf rather than his own, whatever the personal consequences. When enticements are everywhere, only people with the courage of their convictions can deny them and take decisions based on their sense of right and wrong.
Because voters see integrity as an essential trait in political aspirants, politicians go to extreme lengths to portray the same in their professional and personal lives. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle though, how many can survive the endless scrutiny of the media to emerge as morally unimpeachable visionaries who always act in the best interests of the nation? Eventually every politician gets tarred with the same brush and the one who can pander to the short-term interests of the majority wins.
Because of this paradox of voters wanting integrity in their politicians as long as it is not at their cost that politicians thrive in the middle. A cash handout can trump flexible morals every time as long as the former is not seen as a bribe and the latter unproven. Consequently too few politicians are capable of risking it all for the sake of their beliefs.
It is precisely because of the risks involved that Barack Obama’s stance on gay marriage may lose him his re-election but get him to be remembered as a statesman with the courage of his convictions. Are there any Malaysian leaders of the same ilk? Time will tell.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.