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.


AMK PJ said...

Bro, Tunku Aziz smlm dah buat statement kata kena sokong najib. Hang nak cakap pe skrg? Care to revise your opinion?

Zaki Samsudin said...


Read Tunku's statement. Was really surprised he said that. I hope he was misquoted :)

My stand on DAP's treatment of Tunku remains but I do hope he does not turn into another Chandra Muzaffar. Would be really sad if that happens.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with Chandra Muzafar?

Zaki Samsudin said...

About Chandra Muzaffar... I've been a reader of a magazine called Aliran Monthly since I was 10. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, most of the main articles in Aliran were written by Chandra Muzaffar. His criticism of the govt then were fierce and aggressive. But he had a soft spot for Anwar Ibrahim, whom he often described as a brilliant politician. Thus it wasn't a big surprise that he was one of the first to arrive at Anwar's DPM residence on the very day the latter was sacked by Mahathir on Sept 1998. Subsequently he became Deputy President of Parti Keadilan. Then, some time around early 2002, Chandra left Keadilan in staggeringly acrimonious circumstances.

People change views and I have no problems with that. What I find difficult to understand is how a person can change so much from almost complete adulation to complete hatred toward someone (Anwar). What was more strange is for someone who for decades was extremely critical of BN, Umno, & Dr. Mahathir, suddenly began to shower praises to them all as if all things said and written before were completely meaningless and forgotten. And now Chandra Muzaffar is one of the leading figures of Yayasan 1Malaysia, showering praises to PM Najib and his 'transformations'. And while doing so, does not seem to be able to see anything wrong with issues like the murder of Altantuya, the Scorpene submarine scandal, NFC, auditor-general's report, PKFZ, Felda, KTM land in Singapore etc. And along the way, he has brought up some old issues like the BN-Umno takeover of Sabah in 1994 and the Hindu-Muslim clashes in Penang in 1998 deliberately in support of his current view about what a bad person Anwar Ibrahim was and still is.

No doubt Chandra Muzaffar now hates Anwar, hates him to the core. Again, I don't have a problem with that. If a person is really an independent critic he must be able to objectively analyze and criticise both sides of the political divide. But to me and for many others out there, for the past few years, he has been anything but.

To get a more fascinating view of all this, do read the wonderful exchanges between Chandra Muzaffar and his former colleague Lim Teck Ghee (all the letters can be accessed at english.cpiasia.com

If you are not familiar with Prof Chandra's writing in the past, you may be persuaded to believe his justification for his current political view. But for someone like me who read and heard him speak all those years prior to 2002, we remain, as Dr. Lim aptly described, bewildered!