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How the ‘Sheraton Move’ exposed politicians’ character traits

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To get Malaysia moving as a progressive nation, we need people who stand by clear moral standards in their personal lives, writes K Haridas.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

In recent days we have seen and heard from several of our political peacocks parading their virtues before us. This gives us an opportunity to comment on their character as they have chosen to be in the public space.

All of them parade their good intentions for us to savour. Yes, Azmin Ali read the situation as a plot by Pakatan Harapan to usurp power from Dr Mahathir Mohamad and so, with his renegade group, made a move. He joined forces with Muhyiddin Yassin, and they had a pact with Umno and Pas to challenge for power through the back door. They ’knifed’ Mahathir, and Azmin’s group gathered with like-minded forces arraigned against Pakatan Harapan.

What were the elements of character exhibited here? Azmin needed to survive politically and joined other desperados in Umno and Pas as well as Bersatu to engineer this plot. He realised that he had no future within PKR. It was all about them and their interests and had nothing to do with the interests of the people at large or the reform agenda.

It was about personal rivalry and power. Azmin never even had the personal character to defend himself after that infamous video was circulated. Silence to him was a better option. At least Anwar Ibrahim defended himself.

As for the other desperate groups, they longed to return to power, several of them possibly to ease off the pressure of potential corruption probes or lengthy jail terms.

For some, perhaps Umno and Pas represented groups that had financial or other resources that could be useful in the long run.

For Muhyiddin, this was his last chance for the prime minister’s post, so he might have thought, why not risk it and go for broke, knowing that he had personal medical issues to contend with. After all, he had been in Umno for a long time and was attuned to the culture of greed and power. So his self-interest was perhaps stronger than his commitment to reform.

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Power is an aphrodisiac, and like all drugs can blind many to take actions that are not rational and moral. When they resort to such actions, then the only route is justification, and this often takes the form of blame, jealously, greed and even hatred. These negative elements blind them, yet these individuals develop a capacity to wrap these up with good intentions. Often blinded, they are unable to appreciate the capacity of others to see though the gaping holes of their cover. Beware, the electorate are not so stupid!

Then we have Mahathir who styles himself as the only ‘leader’ we have. Knowing and realising he was backstabbed, he refused to attend the jubilation dinner. The very next day he resigned as prime minister and Bersatu chair. Muhyiddin saw in this an opportunity to elevate himself to the vacant position. Together with Azmin, they tried to corner Mahathir and usurp power.

Mahathir, perhaps through resignation, sought an opportunity for sympathy and must have felt elevated when many soon pledged their support for him. He accepted the position of “interim prime minister”. At no time did it ever cross his mind that perhaps this was his opportunity to hand over the baton to his promised successor. He let the situation unfold and then offered himself as a candidate for a ‘unity government’ he would helm.

Under such a scenario, Mahathir would decide the cabinet ministers and determine the agenda. This is reminiscent of his old autocratic ways; we had seen and experienced this reality for 22 years until 2003.

Mahathir’s latest move would throw into the rubbish bin the Pakatan Harapan manifesto and all the promises made to the people. What an opportunity, he must have thought. We have seen and experienced enough of him to know his ways.

Mahathir did not even turn up for the PH presidential council meeting. He had founded a party, Bersatu, which espoused race and religion, exposing what a small-minded man he is in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation. Here was the architect of Vision 2020, inconsistent again and unable to be the big man for the nation. Despite this, we the people gave him a chance.

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All this says a lot about Mahathir’s character. We have to move away from adoration and kissing of hands to holding our political leaders accountable for the promises they make to the people. His ‘unity government’ is also a back-door way of usurping power. Do we trust Mahathir with this when he cannot even keep his promise to hand over power within two years to his named successor? He could have just stated a date, but did not do so because of his arrogance. This could have brought so much clarity and saved the nation from these trials.

A unity government will not subscribe to the PH reform agenda. He is ready to break his promise made to the Rakyat. So much for his values and convictions, and unless you see Mahathir for himself and his interests, you will never read him correctly. He has the capacity to express good intentions that mask selfish interests.

The writer Jonathan Swift once said, “Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.” I can appreciate this coming from people who are committed to the notion that the ends justify the means, but not from people who believe in God and profess a faith. We parade in this nation the idea of “Belief in God”. But beliefs do not change anything unless there is an inner moral conviction to go with it.

That is why we have so much hypocrisy in this nation. Just evaluate the years under Umno-Barisan Nasional rule at the centre and Pas in Kelantan. So many believers, so much piousness – and yet the levels of kleptocracy and bad governance only reveal their lack of capacity to inspire people. There is so much bigotry and misrepresentation of Islam.

Everything is seen through the lens of race. It is ”rezeki” when you get the money whatever the means and ”fate“ only if you are caught. This is the culture in practice, so everyone helps themselves.

To get Malaysia moving as a progressive nation, we need people who stand by clear moral standards in their personal lives – people who can thus develop the capacity to be ethical in all their undertakings. So many good Umno leaders knew what was happening but kept silent because they enjoyed the fruit they were getting. Intelligent and highly educated individuals sold their souls for money and enrichment. We lack ethical leadership.

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It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It would be good for all these leaders to have a good look at the mirror and at themselves. In addition to prayer, some quiet time spent in listening and self-reflection would add great value and meaning as they may then see themselves as others also see them.

Look at the lives of Rosmah Mansor, Najib Razak or even Zahid Hamidi, and we can see greed beyond bounds. Such lavish lifestyles were open for all to see, and soon the philosophy ”It’s okay, everyone does it” became the new norm.

Racial considerations too became the norm, and many were excused, their misdeeds overlooked.

The rich elites have grabbed more; you can see this from the enormous salaries that many CEOs in government-lined companies earned. Some were getting millions a year.

Last year, the Inland Revenue Board sued Najib’s son for uncollected tax going back to 2011. How could this be?

The late JJ’s family was involved in a legal tussle over RM1bn in assets. How did they end up with such a huge estate and how much in tax did he pay?

Race can never replace honesty and integrity. This is the tragedy befalling a string of government-linked companies eg Malaysia Airlines, Felda or even Tabung Haji. These were all exploited by the elites, who were never held accountable.

This is where we need to call out our politicians. Politicians, do not expose yourself in public as the people know your game better. And in this era of social media and NGOs ready to pounce,  beware of what you say and do – for many who stand for truth in the face of power will call you out.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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K Haridas, an Aliran executive committee member, is the current honorary secretary of the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia, chairperson of the Association For The Promotion Of Higher Education In Malaysia and chairperson of the Malaysian chapter of Initiatives of Change International.
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