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Monday, March 2, 2009

Too late to unite?

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s impassioned plea for a “government of unity” on his blog last Saturday gives us hope that not all politicians have succumbed to the destructive and self-perpetuating logic of political opportunism that has gripped the country since March 8 last year.

Standing at the precipice of a devastating economic crisis, with the respectability of our institutions deeply in question, and with the threat of social decay growing daily around us, “we need to do more than coast down to a failure that we can already foresee”, he said.

in agreement: Tengku Razaleigh (left) supports Hadi's call for a government of unity to take us out of the mess we are in

Few Malaysians will disagree with his sentiments, but few also will agree on what precisely must be done. Our politicians are daily engaged in vicious but ultimately trivial battles that appear designed not so much to better the lot of the people, but to score points in an increasingly unscrupulous race to power — and unfortunately these battles are what shape the political mainstream today and command and divide loyalties around the country.

Furthermore, before we rush too quickly either to accept or reject the new scenario, we must remember that the alternative is equally unpalatable: Are our leaders and elected representatives so far removed from the will of the people as to be blind to fears of an economy in jeopardy and a society beset by a widespread deterioration of principle?

Tengku Razaleigh’s proposal to support Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s call for a unity government may be the last remaining path out of this mess, but perhaps it is already too late for any such government to succeed in a climate long defined by political selfishness and institutionalised corruption.

Many now fear that the protracted political stalemate in Perak will degenerate further into an instability that will lead inevitably to violent social disorder; and regardless of whether these fears are reasonable or unfounded, the fear itself remains palpable and true.

Radical changes are required to prevent an even worse political crisis: We must decouple business interests from politics, and make government a thankless task so distasteful to those seeking financial reward or glittering fame that only true public servants will seek high office — and the higher the office, the greater the burden.

We must also acknowledge that the political system of racial power-sharing works well only when all ultimately yield to the visionary and benevolent leadership of a single individual; and that such a system, regardless of the benefits it may bring in the short term, will ultimately result in the destruction of institutional — and individual — independence that is crucial to the survival of a modern nation state.

We must cease to depend on “leaders” for guidance and start accepting responsibility ourselves for the state of our nation. We must remember that the political demagogues we slavishly worship should in reality be our servants and that we owe them no more consideration than we do those who willingly choose to do our bidding.

It is also time that we dissociate ideas from the personalities who utter them: A good idea remains so regardless of who thinks of it first, or who says it, just as a bad idea remains bad even in the mouths of the most cherished hero.

We must put an end to the ceaseless second-guessing and speculation about motives and evaluate proposals for what they are; for our prejudice against (or bias for) a particular champion has often in the past made us blind to the merit, or lack, of their arguments.

Tengku Razaleigh’s government of unity may buy us some time to realise our deeper need for social change, but any such time is limited and may come at a terrible price. We must remember that it is only through change that we can hope for salvation, and we must be prepared to meet this challenge without care for fame or fortune. Are we equal to this task?


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