Saturday, September 13, 2008

Justifying the morality of defection

COMMENTARY by political editor Wan Hamidi Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 ~ Three people were detained under the Internal Security Act - a blogger who expresses his freedom of speech, a journalist who reports what she heard and a hardworking wakil wakyat who is probably the victim of slander.

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Detaining without trial Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamarudin, Sin Chew Daily senior reporter Tan Hoon Cheng and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok is seen as the wrong signal sent by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government. Malaysians, even those who want the ISA abolished, are wondering about those who are really trying to inflame racial tension.

In the art of who gets what, when and how, politics is all about power. And that's what Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is doing. And with the latest development, time is on his side.

The detention of the three people-serving citizens while Anwar's trying to get BN MPs to his side will probably will hasten the pace.

"Invoking the ISA just days before Sept 16 is clearly an attempt to engineer an atmosphere of fear and instability that would justify the government's heavy-handed tactics against those aligned with the political opposition," said the PKR de facto leader.

Even his allies Pas and DAP who are principally opposed to party hopping, have now come up with justifications for accepting BN MPs.

Pas' revered religious scholar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has this to say:

"If you allow Umno to continue ruling the country, the honour of the country is at stake. If you talk of party hopping, Umno in the days of Datuk Asri Muda (the former Pas leader in the 1970s) has been trying to buy over Pas leaders.

"Umno is the teacher of party hopping. They taught people to be dishonourable."

The Kelantan menteri besar who is also the party's spiritual leader reiterated that party hopping would be tantamount to betraying the people's trust but explained that it was acceptable if the intention was to free the country from a corrupt Umno and BN.

Whether his remark is based on religious convictions, Nik Aziz has shown his political acumen to justify realpolitik, a skill usually underestimated by his detractors.

After the March 8 general election, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi held a series of secret meetings with top Pas leaders under the pretext of Malay unity which among other things offered the Islamist party to cooperate with Umno.

At the same time, Perak and Selangor Umno also offered their Pas and PKR counterparts opportunities to cross over to BN.

Nik Aziz's strong supporter, Selangor Pas deputy commissioner Khalid Samad, offered his view on democracy and the morality of crossing over.

"Is it democratic and moral for the BN to go into the 12th general election last March using the full weight of the state apparatus behind them? The media, government agencies, the budget, the police, with the postal votes securing them victories in various seats, the indelible ink issue, the doctored voters registration, etc,etc?

"The crossover is said to be due to money changing hands, i.e. loyalties being bought! The only ones buying loyalty is the BN," he wrote in his blog recently.

In 1973, opposition parties Gerakan, People's Progressive Party and Pas, as well as Sabah and Sarawak parties, crossed over to the newly-formed BN in 1973.

In 1990 the ruling Parti Bersatu Sabah left BN to join up with the then Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's Semangat 46. Over the next two state elections, BN bought over a number of PBS assemblymen as well as helped some of them to form new parties. In 2002, PBS rejoined BN.

For DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, it is all right if the BN MPs are motivated by noble principles of saving the country from further drift and loss of direction of the BN government and for the political, economic and national betterment of the people.

He believed that if that was the case, the BN MPs' honourable and principled action to leave BN would gain the sympathy, support and respect of all Malaysians.

"DAP and I had maintained since the 1970s that elected representative should resign if they want to defect, return the mandate to the voters to seek their approval in a by-election on a question of principle.

"(This) will banish the disgraceful political spectacle of money politics where MPs and state legislators could be bought and sold in the market place and end unprincipled, unethical and dishonourable politics.

"This honourable option for an MP to resign and cause a by-election to seek a new mandate from the electorate to endorse his resignation or defection was closed in 1990 when the Constitution was amended to bar any MP who resigns from his seat from standing for election for five years," he said.

He also said more Malaysians had come around to the view a change of government was not only timely but has become an imperative national agenda, adding that this was also the view of many BN MPs.

It is now beyond justification.

Ten days ago the prime minister who said that the media must not be afraid of honest reporting while upholding truth and justice has again backtracked on his promise when his administration arrested the journalist, the blogger and the politician yesterday.

For DAP publicity chief Tony Pua, the government has lost all moral authority to rule the nation.

Just a few hours before she herself was detained, Selangor executive councillor Kok who is also DAP national organising secretary in her press statement said: "If the government wishes Malaysians to continue supporting it as a legitimate democratic government, it should immediately and unconditionally release Raja Petra and rescind the 'show cause' orders issued to the three dailies (The Sun, Sin Chew Daily and Suara Keadilan)."

Opposition leader Anwar knew the political game well when he said, "The dastardly act of detention without trial will do nothing to abate the current government's declining credibility, and in fact will likely hasten its eventual collapse."

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