17 April 2015

What’s happened to the spirit of democracy?

We once had leaders who stuck to the morals of democratic leadership.

tunku rahman hussein on
By Aspan Alias

We are sometimes too ready to claim that we are a democratic nation, forgetting that democracy comes with a spirit and a set of ethics. Without its spirit and morals, democracy is incomplete. If a person gains power through democratic elections, but then shamelessly clings to that power at all costs even if the voters don’t want him anymore, then the democracy he claims to be practising is deficient.
Normally, a leader elected through the democratic process takes the populist route to maintain the mandate given to him by the electorate. But popularity is an ephemeral thing. It’s tough to maintain. In most cases, it will gradually dip even if the elected leader is blameless. Of course, if he abuses his power or is perceived to be doing so, he will see a sharp decline in his popularity. The more he continues to commit wrongdoings, the steeper the decline will be.
There inevitably will come a time when such a leader will be tested on his morality and dignity as a democratic leader. If he is a man of morals, dignity and decorum, he will resign in order to save his nation from tribulation.
Unfortunately, not all democratically elected leaders are that honourable and upright. It is an immoral and undignified leader who, after realising that his popularity has dwindled, still desires to remain in power. Often enough, such a leader would start becoming autocratic, enacting unjust laws to tighten the defence of the position he is in love with.
From this point on, the voice of his conscience will become more and more inaudible and it will be hard for him to make decisions that are morally correct. He will start corrupting the people around him with wealth and position in order to ensure their continued support.
We don’t have to go too far back in history to find Malaysian leaders who practised democracy by its letter and spirit. Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn were leaders of high morals and dignity when it came to the issue of democratic leadership.
The Tunku left the Prime Minister’s office when he realised that his popularity had dwindled and led to a massive loss of seats for his Alliance government in the 1969 general election.
As for Hussein, when Sulaiman Palestin revolted against him by contesting for the Umno presidency in 1978, he knew that he no longer enjoyed solid support from party members. He did secure overwhelming support in the voting, but the 250 votes for Sulaiman were enough to convince him that he needed to resign in the interest of democracy. He cherished the spirit and morals of democracy exceedingly.
Democracy, if we take it by its letter, didn’t demand Hussein’s resignation and he could have continued in his leadership role for many more years. But he was cognisant of the spirit of democracy and decided to announce his resignation from all positions in the government and the party at the Umno general assembly in 1981. What mattered to Hussein was the continued fortification of Umno as Malaysia’s ruling party.
Leaders of those days were close to having what we would call a First World mentality. They placed the future and destiny of the nation above everything else. Hussein never took positions in Umno and the government for personal magnification but as his duty to the country. That was why when he decided to leave he ensured that nobody came out to demonstrate in his support or to call for his continued tenure as Umno President and Prime Minister.
His wife Tun Suhaila, like the wives of previous prime ministers, was never an ambitious social climber, and she never tried to influence her husband in government and party matters. These grand ladies were born into aristocratic families and did not need to complement their status through extravagant means.
It is indeed a great tragedy to have leaders of low integrity. What Malaysians need is a leader with the morals, integrity and firmness to mend our distorted and rotting nation. And we need him or her right now.

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