When Dishonourable Men Rule

Posted on September 2, 2014



When the CEO of MRT Corp, Azhar Abdul Hamid resigned over a worksite accident which took the lives of 3 workers, he was hailed as a role model.  He did so almost immediately by his own volition citing that he is taking personal responsibility for the accident. In the midst of the scheming, twisting and blaming drama that is the Selangor Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) crisis, it was like a gust of fresh mountain air blowing through the stench that overhangs not just Selangor but this nation as well.

It was an act of honour, Azhar fell on his sword. As the leader of his organisation he took responsibility for the failure of those under him. How often do we see such acts among our leaders? Honour is a rare commodity among leaders in this country and the Selangor MB crisis became the on-going crisis that it is because men who goes by honorific titles like Yang Berhormat (YB) or Yang Amat Berhormat (YAB) which means The Honourable or The Most Honourable, ironically, behaves most dishonourably.

Oxford Online Dictionary defines the word honour as “The quality of knowing and doing what is morally right”, also as “A person or thing that brings esteem”. Whether a person is deemed honourable or not depends on whether he knew and did what is morally right. One doesn’t become honourable just by being elected or appointed, it has to be tested and proven.

The Dishonourable Actors

Judging by these definitions, the Selangor MB crisis can be defined as the creation of a group of men placed in positions of authority who made decisions motivated not by what is in the best interest of the electors but what is best for themselves and their political parties. As in most imbroglios, the culprits are seldom one but a conspiracy of many with vested interests. But the main actor of this political drama has to be the Menteri Besar himself, The Most Honourable (sic) Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

In our current Parliamentary system which our State Assemblies also follows, the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister is elected from amongst the Members of Parliament or State Assemblypersons who can command the support of the majority. He or she is then appointed by the Ruler. Usually the party or coalition that has the majority will choose this individual, no one else has a say, not even the public.

Khalid Ibrahim has the esteemed post because he was chosen by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition to lead the state of Selangor, not as he and his supporters might like to think, popularly elected by the people or even chosen by the Ruler. The honourable thing for him to do when he first sensed that he has lost the confidence of his party (PKR) would have been to offer his resignation and let the party nominate and the coalition confirmed the nominee as his replacement, allowing for a smooth transition.

Alas, that was not to be and it opened up a Pandora’s Box of political manoeuverings that exposes the weaknesses of men when tempted by power. This act of stubbornness, of clinging on to the post, and disloyalty to his party has placed his own party and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition at the risk of breaking apart, betraying the trust and hopes of 60% of Selangorians who voted PR and despairing the 51% of Malaysian voters who placed so much hope in a coalition that promised wide-ranging reformation to the nation. Whatever credit and honour he has accumulated over the years of his leadership has vanished.

To just accuse Khalid of dishonour would be unjust for the other actors in this political play have to share the blame as well.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) the party that Khalid belonged to before his sacking has to take responsibility for this situation. The much touted Kajang Move which was initiated to replace Khalid with Anwar Ibrahim, the party’s de facto leader was snookered by their opponent, the Barisan Nasional, a much under-estimated foe. At the height of the MB crisis, PKR released a dossier of Khalid Ibrahim’s alleged wrongdoings to justify the need to replace him. The question is, if there is substance behind these accusations, why didn’t they take Khalid to task and subject him to the party’s due process of discipline much earlier instead of sacking him at the eleventh hour? Why hold him up as a model of efficiency and integrity up to the point of releasing the dossier?

PKR has to learn a big lesson from this. If there are real issues of corruption, mismanagement and of insubordination, it should have been nipped at the bud and exposed to the light. Attempting to sweep it under the proverbial carpet of convenience and face-saving is dishonest and ultimately dishonourable.  If there is still any honour left in the party, someone should “fall on his sword” and take responsibility for this fiasco.

This crisis would not have become a crisis if one of the three coalition partners has honoured their role by endorsing the nominee of PKR, Dr. Wan Azizah, the party’s president. PAS, the Islamic party in the coalition, holding about one-third of the seats in the coalition decided against giving full and unequivocal support for Wan Azizah, which prompted UMNO, the single opposition to do their dishonourable act of giving full support to the stubborn Khalid, adding fuel to the fire. Though holding only 12 seats in the 56 seats Selangor assembly and keeping its largely “staying in the background” stance thus far, this former ruling state government’s role cannot be discounted and its fingerprints can be traced all over some of the actors.

Coming back to PAS. The delay in endorsing Wan Azizah and subsequent acknowledgement of secret meetings between its president, Hadi Awang with the palace, Khalid, Azmin Ali (PKR’s deputy president) and then the submission of two nominees to the palace has earned itself the badge of dishonour. By pushing the decision of choosing the MB to the Palace, placing the Palace in an awkward place is cowardly and very likely unconstitutional. Going against the coalition’s compact that Selangor is PKR’s state to rule, they have jeopardized their partnership and stand to lose everything they have gained politically and more importantly, the trust of the people. Whatever the outcome of this crisis, PAS will have an uphill task to restore its image as a trustworthy party in the eyes of voters and partner in the coalition. Should a snap election be called for Selangor, PAS is likely to lose most of its seats to UMNO. Such is the price of being dishonourable.

Lessons To Be Learnt

What lessons can we take away from the Selangor MB crisis?  If we do not learn from this, we are doomed to have repeats and the loser will always be the citizens who can only watch haplessly as dishonourable men fought over prized positions and neglect their duties to the citizens.

To hope that more honourable men and women be elected may be a Utopian dream in a society where such concepts are abstract and rare. Benjamin Disraeli, the British statesmen, remarked, “There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour”.

This crisis shows up weaknesses in our current system of governance. There are many questions that needed to be asked and answers found. Chief among them would be the question of how an MB or PM should be removed where he/she does not have the ability to cling on to power and wreak havoc?  The current system we inherited from the British depended too much on men to act honourably and where elected officials are given the title Yang (Amat) Berhormat because we expected them to be. If Pakatan Rakyat were to emerge from this unscathed, retaining their two-third majority in the State Assembly, they must bring about amendments to the State Constitution that permits the removal of the Menteri Besar in an open, fair and transparent manner.

Another big question is the power vested in the Menteri Besar. It is alarming to us that if the alleged wrongdoings of Khalid as listed in the dossier are true, too much authority is vested in the office of the Menteri Besar, where he could single-handedly sign multi-billion ringgit agreements and make decision on land sales. Most companies and organizations dealing with a fraction of what a State does has at least two signatures to sign a cheque and levels of decision-making process to ensure proper checks and balances.

All State governments, be it Pakatan or BN-controlled, ought to learn from this crisis and review the way they do business. If the system is weak, it will be exploited as long as there is little honour in men.

The bane of our nation is that many a dishonourable men rule over us. Acts of corruption, wastages, plundering, failures, deceptions, abuses of power and injustices goes unchallenged, covered-up and continues to flourish.  As citizens we deserve better and we must demand that our politicians begin to take responsibility for the state we are in. We demand not only during elections but on every occasion that arises. Perhaps the time has come for citizens to organize themselves more cohesively to monitor the performance of our politicians and propose reforms to the system.  For if we don’t, we have only ourselves to blame and it would be dishonourable for us to blame anyone else.