Tuesday, August 11

Personal integrity and principles — wherefore art thou?

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I FEEL personally insulted and ashamed that recent events in the political arena in Malaysia have resulted in so many detestable and utterly disgusting acts as politicians from both sides of the political divide have shown themselves to be opportunistic, shallow, and without any personal integrity or basic human principles, as they one by one were tempted to cross over from one political party to another just for either personal glory or monetary gains with positions of power and influence.

In the course of such actions they have abandoned their own parties, constituents, and supporters — those who had put their trust in them by electing them to whatever office they were holding. There is merit to the suggestion that in Parliament we should pass a law forbidding such opportunistic crossovers; to invalidate their elected offices the moment they decide to jump and change their political affiliation.

I come from an era where such acts were considered abhorrent, were not common, and despised and hated by one and all. I come from an era where politicians stayed with their chosen political party come hell or high water; and for this I really must take my hat off to, salute, and remember those who had stood by their original parties in the past. I name them here: Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Abdul Rahman Yakub, Ong Kee Hui, Stephen Yong Kuet Tze, Sim Kheng Hong, James Wong Kim Min, Taib Mahmud, Adenan Satem, Abang Johari Tun Openg, Sim Kui Hian; and from the opposing camp Sim Kwang Yang, Chong Chieng Jen, and Violet Yong.

I have personally been interested in politics ever since young, when my uncle Ong Kee Hui fought his first general election in 1969, when I was 19.  The atmosphere in the air in his residence at Jalan Ong Kee Hui (then known as Pearse’s Road) was electric — we stayed right up till the last results came in around 1.30 the next morning. There was celebration and elation with every seat won by his Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), and sadness and tears with every seat lost, some very marginally. It left an impression on me and I have been caught up with and followed politics ever since.

About 24 years ago, in 1996, when Song Swee Guan was the Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, I had approached him (he was a very close friend, being my former boss at Borneo Company) and sounded him out about my joining SUPP. His response shook me — he said the time wasn’t right. He was then one of the very few handful of SUPP leaders who were educated in English (he didn’t know Mandarin then); and he told me that the Chinese speaking clique within the party was too strong and clannish, and I wouldn’t be able to make my presence felt.

Then I remembered that exactly 13 years earlier, in 1983, Stephen Yong had approached me with an interest in mentoring me if I were to join SUPP.  I was 33 and had just started building a business career at NBT Toyota – I said thank you but no thanks, as I had valued my private family life more than any possible ambition for one under the public eye. I had known that in politics your life will no longer be your own, it will belong to your party, your constituents, and the public at large. Everything about you is up there on display.

I never regretted that decision.

In Malaysia and in particular in Sarawak, our history of party politics can only be traced back to 1959, the year that the first political party SUPP was founded by Ong and Yong, and a small group of other compatriots including Yeo Cheng Hoe, Song Thian Cheok, Henry Ong Kee Chuan, Barbara Bay, Chan Siaw Hee, Ee Ghim Yam, Charles Linang, William Hardin, Pemancha Salau, and others.

Therefore our experience and history of party politics is barely 61 years old. During that period too we have had many party upheavals and prominent leaders have broken with the mother party and went their separate ways too many times; no one single party has been spared such debacles — from SUPP to PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu), SNAP (Sarawak National Party), SCA (Sarawak Chinese Association), to PBDS (Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak) etc. Such disagreements from within each party had resulted in changes of state and federal governments of the day.

Leaders join political parties because they believe in the cause, the policies, and the principles that the individual parties stand for — they remain to fight for its ideals through thick and thin, and stand by and protect its mission and defend its honour and its name. If somehow along the way they lose interest and become disenchanted or no longer believe in its fight, they either withdraw, resign, or retire. They are not supposed to change their minds midstream and jump ship to support another opposing party because they were enticed by monetary rewards. That would make them political prostitutes of the highest order, especially if such moves were to topple the government of the day. In many countries those who take part in such unsuccessful coup d’état would face the firing squad. Maybe we should consider doing that here too.

In Sabah on Wednesday night, former chief minister Musa Aman managed to gather together enough state assemblymen from both sides of the political arena to openly challenge the government of Shafie Apdal; who on the rebound had on late Thursday convinced the Sabah TYT to dissolve the state assembly for a new state election to be called as a counter measure to quickly neutralise Musa’s impending coup.

For as long as I have observed Sabah politics, it has always been highly volatile and unpredictable — my friends have termed the state’s political scene as a hellish inferno of a frogs’ paradise since the days of the timber boom of the 1970s, and the heyday of Tun Mustafa and Harris Salleh. On Wednesday night, as the froggies in Sabah held their version of a Sotheby’s auction, figures from between RM10 million to a wild and unimaginable one of RM32 million were bandied about. It seemed to me that the price of betrayal has increased by leaps and bounds since the million or two in James Bond’s briefcases of the 1970s.

Be it RM10 million or RM32 million to buy a political opponent’s change of heart and for him to be termed and regarded as a traitor, a turncoat and a frog for the rest of his life – I just wonder how any such person can live with such a stigma and Damocles’ sword hanging over him from now till his end days. How will it affect his family name, his family members and friends, and how does he sleep at night? Can one’s honour, integrity, and the value of one’s lifework be so easily purchased for any sum of cash or other material gains, as in positions and opportunities? Is this what life is all about? Can one simply not care that he’s still got to go on making a living and going about on his day to day business after the event is over?

I suppose there lies the difference between such people and the rest of us mere mortals.

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” — Nelson Mandela

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