Defections within our legislatures, whatever the motive, is one of the less savoury aspects of Malaysian politics. Since 1961 when defections brought down a democratically elected government in Trengganu, there have been various other episodes which reveal that ugly side of our face. Legislators have been locked in and locked out; enticed and abducted; bribed and bullied, in the power game.
It is because this type of politics sullies the image of the nation in the eyes of both citizens and non-citizens that we should go all out to curb its practice. One of the measures that has been proposed is a law to check defections. There are a number of countries which have introduced anti-defection legislation such as India, South Africa and the Fijis.
However, more than legislation, it is the good example of leaders in both government and
opposition, the determination of civil society actors to adhere to the principle of integrity, and continuous, systematic public education that will help isolate and marginalise unscrupulous political practices.
Unfortunately, this will not happen as long as a significant segment of our society adopts a biased, one- sided attitude towards issues of ethics and integrity in politics and public life. Thus, defections are alright as long as they benefit one's side. It is not just politicians who are guilty of such blatant biases. Civil society groups, professional bodies and individuals who project themselves as the conscience of the nation were either silent or supportive of the Machiavellian manoeuvres of a Pakatan Rakyat(PR) leader to engineer the fall of the Barisan Nasional government at the federal level last year through massive defections to the PR Opposition. And yet they were livid with rage when the BN succeeded in enticing PR Assembly members in Perak to cross over to the BN and oust PR from office.
Double standards and selective condemnation pervade public life. The lack of accountability on the part of the group that one supports is downplayed or even ignored altogether. When one's opponent exhibits the same trait in a similar situation, it becomes a major moral issue. If one's own side resorts to violence, it is forgiven. If the other side retaliates, it is denounced as "barbarism".
It is the same mentality that hails a judicial decision in favour of one's group "as a great judgment" reflecting "the independence of the judiciary" and the next day assails another decision by some other judicial panel which may not be in its interest as proof that the Judiciary is subservient to the Executive. People with such biases forget that the worth and value of a judgment is not whether it benefits a particular party or not. What really matters is whether the judgment inclines towards truth and justice.
It appears that a lot of educated Malaysians are no longer capable of evaluating important political issues in a just and fair manner. Their political biases have become so pronounced that anything that party X does is good and everything that party Y does is bad. To a large extent this bias is reflected in their support for, and opposition to, the BN and PR.
Polarization in attitudes and positions centering around party politics on such a vast scale is a new phenomenon in Malaysian society. It subordinates truth and justice to partisan politics and undermines the ethical fabric of the nation.
Perhaps one of the ways of narrowing the chasm that divides our people today is a unifying vision that transcends political party loyalties.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar.
13 May 2009.
13 May 2009.