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Of election, hopes and starting anew
Published on: Sunday, April 29, 2018

By Datuk Stan Yee
The possible end of an era and the beginning of another always evoke new resolves, new hopes, a desire to start afresh and do things right.

For many people, it is also that moment when certain thoughts and idealistic yearnings lying dormant deep in their minds begin to stir.

As I write this on nomination day, talking about a new era is perhaps a little premature and raising the sight unrealistically high, not that there is any doubt in my mind of the people’s pent-up desire for change.

But things are not as straight forward as sizing up the relative strengths of popular votes on either side of the political divide after an election. And, as was the case in the 2013 election, getting a majority of popular votes didn’t spell victory.

Right now there are more urgent concerns to occupy the mind, including some that should not be a worry in a country supposedly practising democracy.

What’s going to happen on the night of 9th May 2018? Will there be a repeat of the outrageous happening at the Istana on 22 April 1985?

Perhaps a similar precaution should be taken at Istana Negara as well.

No doubt many people must be wondering what one political leader meant when he publicly said that if BN couldn’t win this election, no other party could.

In this country, other than in a few states like Selangor, Penang and Perak (briefly) and Sabah, the administration has not had much of an experience in coping with a change of government or a hung parliament situation.

But if there is ever an impasse, it is hoped that the civil service and the Police will be professional and keep the machinery of government running effectively.

In Sabah the administrative machinery and the Police had proven their worth when there was chaos following the 1985/86 elections.

Should there be a similar turmoil on the night of 9th May and thereafter they will once again be expected to ‘hold the fort’ and be up to the challenge.

There is no doubt that many in this country have given a lot of thought about good leadership, and there has been much talk about ethics, accountability and good behaviour in the people’s elected representatives in Parliament and in the state assemblies.

The high expectations of our leaders are of course a good sign, but it should also be remembered that a leader’s behaviour is largely a function of the social-cultural mores of the society of which he/she is a member.

We often hear people say that we deserve the leaders we get. If the community wishes its leaders to be clean, efficient and trustworthy it must itself possess a value system that puts a premium on these qualities, and a corresponding distaste for dishonesty, greed and corrupt tendencies.

Society itself must spawn these qualities and provide the right environment for them to grow and develop.

We have laws to catch errant leaders if and when those in power are serious about enforcing these laws, and have the moral high ground to stand on. If we condemn corrupt practices we must equally condemn the congenial climate that society provides in which corruption thrives.

We do not remember much in the way of regime change, except those that happen elsewhere.

I recall there was a new sense of expectancy when Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad stood down as PM after being at the country’s helm for 22 years, and Pak Lah took over control.

The newspapers were full of talk about ethics, about performance index, the declaration of assets and more accountability by public officials. I thought things were really going in the right direction.

But Pak Lah soon faltered and did not last long. When DS Najib took over, the nation soon found that there were other preoccupations.

Alexander Hopes says hope springs eternal in the human breast.

The GE14 that is upon us now has rekindled the hope for change and the nation is placing much hope on the shoulders of the men and women nominated to be election candidates.

Many people may not know all of them. That in itself may indicate that they have not collected any “baggage” to be well known, to use a local expression. But generally speaking, public opinion about some public figures has not always been positive.

Even so oftentimes many have been regarded as role models in their respective communities.

For better or worse, their conduct, their behavior and their work habits have tended to set an example and standard that others follow.

If they are tardy in carrying out their duties and earn big salaries for doing very little, the ordinary workers below them feel no sense of guilt in taking things easy too. High officials, including Cabinet Ministers, have a profound influence on public attitudes, ethics and morality and ultimately on the cultural mores and value system of society.

If there is a regime change there are a few things the new government should set in motion to carry out, and do so without delay.

Tun Mahathir has already indicated a few to be carried out within 100 days of taking office as Prime Minister.

Let him do what he feels he must do.

But high on my wish list is to see Sabah’s rights and status restored, and to limit the tenure of office of the PM and other top political functionaries to no more than two terms.

The process for the latter involves a constitutional amendment, and it should, somehow, be put in the works before the incumbents become too comfortable and set in their habits, and before the new lot of ‘macais’ establish an extensive network around the power structure, like barnacles that cling to the hull of a ship.

In this country some political parties exempt their top leaders from party elections ostensibly to preserve unity.

This is strange. A mature party should be able to select its top leadership constitutionally without breaking up.

I may be wrong, and Mahatma Gandhi may be wrong too, for he said, “Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.”

In Umno’s political tradition the crown jewel of the coalition is the party’s sole right to provide the country’s Prime Minister.

The non-Malays have long conceded that the PM should be ethnic Malay.

Even the PH grouping agreed among themselves that a Malay should hold the PM’s position if the opposition coalition won the election.

However, this does not mean that there are no rueful wishes in the non-Malay part of the nation to see a little more democracy in the selection of Umno’s (or PKR’s or Pribumi’s) party president who will (or may) end up being the Prime Minister of all Malaysians.

Traditionally, the top two Umno leadership positions appear to be sacrosanct and above challenge.

The tradition denies the non-Malays even the little satisfaction of seeing that their PM and Deputy PM have been democratically elected through the collective will and wisdom of all the Umno delegates at their triennial assemblies.

Of course, not having to fight for his party position sets the stage for the PM to remain in office for as long as he wishes.

Tun Mahathir Mohamad was Prime Minister of Malaysia for 22 years before he voluntarily stepped down, a decision that has obviously agonised him to this day. Looking at the tears and sorrow at his farewell, real or feigned, he could have stayed on indefinitely if he had so wished.

There were occasional murmurs in recent years to limit the PM’s appointment to no more than two terms.

But the proposal was never pursued, probably because no one really dared to raise such an issue.

If a regime change occurs 10 days from now and as the man earmarked to be PM has indicated that he would only want to be in the post for two years, it will cause no embarrassment to put a permanent stop to the life-long tenure that the system allows. Such a step will cure a lot of this country’s ills.

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