March 23, 2016
Politics, Idealism and Duty
by Chris Lee Chun Kit
An MBPP councillor hits back at Dr Kua Kia Soong of Suaram in an open letter in defence of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
COMMENT: This is in response to Dr Kua Kia Soong’s commentary titled: Time for Guan Eng to outgrow blame frame mentality.
On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China declared the People’s Republic of China, a successor of both the Qing Dynasty State as well as the Nationalist-led Republic of China. The Chinese people had supported the Communists in the Civil War and believed in Mao’s interpretation of a Utopian society under his brand of communism.
Mao had many theories on his brand of socialism. His quotations were compiled in a small book (nicknamed the little red book) and all citizens carried it with them. His “Great Leap Forward” and many of his other programmes ended in disaster although Mao was considered a good military leader and theorist but not a good governmental leader. His governance based on theory was driving his country towards poverty and millions suffered. It was only until the rise of Deng Xiaoping, who came out with his own brand of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” that implemented free market policies in an amalgamation with socialism, that China started to recover. Quotations did not save China, pragmatic policies did.
Today the People’s Republic of China is the fastest rising economic power and second only to the United States of America of which it will most likely surpass in the near future. This was only made possible due to the pragmatic policies of Deng Xiaoping.
I read Dr Kua’s commentary with an open mind but at the same time I drew parallels with the above story as I went along. It is easy to say “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” when one is not in a position to make difficult decisions in government, not to mention governance of a state led by a federal opposition party. It seems that everyone has an expectation of what an ideal leader should behave like, however, every person is different and will respond to situations in different ways.
Politics versus idealism
Dr Michael Lim Mah Hui
If politics is the art of the possible, idealism is the art of the impossible. In an ideal world, there would be no need for political parties, after all, all it takes is for the Prime Minister to be appointed as the Member of Parliament who commands the confidence of the majority in the house. Why then do we have political parties? Because the reality is that all MPs would want the position of Prime Minister for themselves and a form of hierarchy is needed in order to have a leader of the winning party be the leader of the government as well.
A political party is the pragmatic way of democratically electing a government without constant politicking that might lead to a breakdown of law and order. The Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920s was so unstable due to constant infighting of elected members of the Reichstag that the government constantly dissolved itself and that allowed Adolf Hitler to seize power – we all know what happened after that.
Defending Dr Lim Mah Hui, Dr Kua mentioned in his commentary: “As if he did not know the role of a city councillor, the combative Chief Minister had also challenged Dr Lim to ‘take over and oversee’ the towing of cars in the council. Dr Lim of course declined and said his role as a councillor is to advise and it was the job of the city council’s personnel to enforce the council’s regulations.”
I thought to myself, Dr Kua is part of Suaram (Suara Anak Malaysia) who spent many years advocating the third vote and the return of local government elections. Dr Kua ought to understand that Malaysia follows the British Westminster Parliamentary system which means that the executive is chosen from the legislative, therefore a legislator can become the executive.
The Chief Minister was prepared to make the legislator a part of the executive and he had every right to do so, to insinuate that a local councillor’s role is purely legislative is an insult to every local councillor out there who genuinely works hard for the community in which he or she is appointed to serve.
Yes, I am a local councillor myself, and while I admit I am learning how to perform my job better every day, I also realise that when you want something done, you take charge and do it and not just leave it to the civil service to sort out. As there are still no local government elections (the State Government has fought hard in the Federal Court to bring it back), there are no government and opposition councillors.
Every councillor is empowered to carry out his or her goals and are equally empowered to do so. As a councillor, my role is far beyond the legislative, but also leadership and execution of changes that need to be made. Like theoretical idealists, it is easy to criticise, but only when one takes charge can one start seeing changes happen in society.
Right to defend one’s good name
As far as Dr Kua’s allegations of the Chief Minister of Penang having not gotten over the “blame frame mentality”, isn’t it the right of the sitting leader of the government to defend himself and his administration when faced with allegations of wrongdoings? Is it not better to have an active Chief Minister who can voice out on issues than to have one who is constantly quiet and bullied by his superiors in the federal government such as the previous Barisan Nasional state government of Penang?
When Tasek Gelugor MP Shabudin Yahaya made his allegations, was it not the right of the CM to challenge him to a one-on-one meeting to clear his name? Or does Dr Kua think that hiding is a better option? The Chief Minister was confident enough of his innocence that he was ready to meet Shabudin in front of the press where every word could be quoted and published. After 18 years of Dr Koh Tsu Koon’s administration, I would expect that Dr Kua would prefer a Chief Minister who owns up in front of the media for the world to see. And that’s not even mentioning that some media are BN friendly to begin with.
As for the allegations involving the CM and PAS, I would like to say that what Dr Kua said about DAP having “token Malays” is an insult to the party’s Malay leaders who had to battle through social norms crafted by Umno in the 60-year rule of Malaysia to begin with. Them being with the DAP itself is a sacrifice and they have all worked hard with the similar goal of making Malaysia a better country for all citizens, Dr Kua should know this as he had been fighting for the same cause for so many years. As for PAS, was Dr Kua there when then Pakatan Rakyat had its meetings? Does he not know that much was done for the preservation of the coalition that millions of Malaysians had placed their hopes on for real change in the country?
The Pakatan Rakyat only dissolved because the leaders of PAS (dominated by only one faction after their recent party elections) had their own agenda led by President Abdul Hadi Awang which did not include continuous cooperation through mutual trust. The breakdown of trust and breaking of promises by the PAS President led to the sad demise of Pakatan Rakyat. Of course, the CM and everyone else was angry at the PAS President and made it very clear through their words. What would Dr Kua have done otherwise? Continue working with someone who has no intention of keeping his word with you?
In his commentary Dr Kua also said: “Leaders who claim to aspire to ‘the Malaysian dream’ are expected to practice what they preach and to behave responsibly. Nothing less than transparent, principled, democratic behaviour will do. And what does such democratic behaviour in meetings look like and sound like?
“Well for a start, it is inclusive, everybody has the right to be heard and collectively agree on the rules by which dialogue takes place and how decisions will be made. There will be respectful exchanges in which feedback about the issues and facts is given without fear or favour. Of course if the collective rules are broken there is a basis for next steps, and even then responsible leaders do not resort to personal attack.”
What does Dr Kua consider a “personal attack”? Democracy allows criticism of leaders and therefore shouldn’t leaders be allowed to criticise as well? Remember, if you believe in free speech and the right to criticise, you must also be ready to be criticised in return which is the right of all citizens of this country that we all love.
And no matter what we say about dialogues and the right for all to be heard, as the leader, the ultimate decision falls upon him or her. Advice, ideas and suggestions are free, but as the ultimate decision maker, the responsibility of potential failure will also be on him or her. One can easily say “it should work” but can one own up if it does not?
It is very easy to dream of an ideal leader or an ideal democracy, but reality is the Barisan Nasional is never going to listen to any of us. Let us then try to make our alternative system work better for all. The question is, are you going to be realistic and pragmatic? Or continue to wait in the world of theories and “should’ve, could’ve and would’ve.”
Chris Lee Chun Kit is a Councillor in the City Council of Penang Island (MBPP).