Tuesday, 15 May 2012

To Toe or Not To Toe

Josh Hong’s article dated 11 May 2012 on Malaysiakini is referred.

Josh’s views on Tunku Abdul Aziz vis-a-vis Bersih 3.0 echo those of the leaders and the majority of the supporters of the rally. They are entitled to hold their views and for that they should be respected. But for those like Tunku Abdul Aziz, who respectfully disagreed, respect must be duly accorded too.

I certainly agree with the basic premise that the authorities should have allowed and facilitated Bersih’s gathering at Dataran Merdeka. That the authorities chose not to however was very much expected. What was less expected was the authorities’ willingness to offer five alternative venues. Thus, like Tunku Abdul Aziz, I too would have preferred Bersih to choose among these alternatives and hold the gathering in a more controlled surrounding. In fact, I would imagine had the leaders of Bersih been a bit more creative, they could have asked for permission to use all five venues! Attracting a crowd to fill-up all the venues would not have been a problem.

Most people agree that they are some serious weaknesses in how elections are conducted in this country. Most people would agree too that the police were overly aggressive in their actions against participants of the rally. I have no doubt too that there were agent provocateurs involved but again, the point that I wish to reiterate, all these were entirely expected. Hence, I personally find Tunku Abdul Aziz stinging view that the organizers of Bersih were partly responsible for the violence that occurred during the rally absolutely justified.

Regretfully, instead of applauding Tunku Abdul Aziz for his independent view, his party the DAP chose to censure him. Joseph Lieberman, a senior United States senator once famously said, “Why should we toe the party line?” Senator Lieberman, although a Democrat, had on numerous occasions expressed opinions and voted against his party’s wishes even on major issues like the war in Iraq and President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform. His independent tendencies even compelled him to openly endorse John McCain of the Republican Party instead of Obama in the last US Presidential Election.

Likewise, when then British Prime Minister Tony Blair was seeking support for Great Britain’s participation to invade Iraq, more than a hundred Members of Parliament from his own Labour Party voted against his motion at the British House of Commons. These rebel MPs openly demanded for more evidence to justify Britain’s participation in the war.

These are examples of how a mature democracy should be. To toe the party line is indeed important but not necessarily mandatory. A party member cannot just simply agree for the sake of agreeing. If the individual cannot bring himself to agree with a stand taken by the party, he should explain why he disagrees. Tunku Abdul Aziz did just that and if indeed that was the reason why his senatorship was not renewed, I feel that the DAP is no better than Barisan Nasional in the way it handles internal dissent. After all, when MIC’s S. Sothinathan was suspended for three months for criticising the government in parliament seven years ago, the DAP and other opposition leaders lamented about how unfair they thought the decision was.

If we really do aspire to be a country with the best democracy, internal dissent should not be considered a crime and the ‘perpetrator’ should never face retribution. Worth emulating is President Obama’s treatment of Senator Lieberman. After soundly defeating John McCain for the US presidency, President Obama, though mindful of Senator Lieberman’s criticism against him throughout the campaign, personally ensured that Senator Lieberman’s seniority and committee chairmanship at the US Senate were not affected. Senator Lieberman, in return continued to work in tandem with the Obama administration on various issues that they both agreed with. That is the level of trust and cooperation that many of us in Malaysia would like to see. If indeed governance and leadership is all about agreeing with the party and its leaders on every single issue, why do we need democracy?

Note: Tunku Abdul Aziz has since resigned from the DAP.