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Published: Sunday March 18, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday May 25, 2013 MYT 5:54:53 PM

Politician Idol

Do you have what it takes to lead Malaysia? TI-Malaysia and young Malaysians throw a challenge to our prospective election candidates.

IMAGINE getting treatment from a doctor who flunked out of medical school. Or travelling on an airplane flown by a pilot who has not earned his wings or putting your life savings into the hands of a financial planner with money problems.

Heck, just try to imagine having dinner prepared by a cook who does not believe in personal hygiene!

Everyone is particular about who they trust on matters concerning their well-being. Some things are just not acceptable, or even conceivable. When it comes to choosing who should represent us in Parliament or at the State Assembly, however, we often let ability and ethical values take a backseat.

Still, what makes a good leader is a human behaviour mystery that social scientists, psychologists and most definitely election campaign managers and the politician wannabes have been, and are still, cracking their heads to understand and solve.

To Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) president Datuk Paul Low, the answer is simple.

The candidate must be one with good conscience, knows that he or she is there to serve the country well and able to make good laws, he stresses.

Most importantly, he adds, it must be somebody who upholds integrity. Political affiliation is secondary.

Hardly earth-shaking theories, perhaps, but Low feels strongly that a majority of Malaysians still do not demand enough of their political leaders, especially at the polls.

Hence, in a bid to raise public awareness on how to choose wisely and promote a better political culture TI-M yesterday launched the Election Integrity Pledge. (see page 27)

It is a voluntary social contract where candidates who will be standing in the upcoming General Election pledge their commitment to ethical standards in public life.

“We need to hold all the elected representatives both at the state and parliamentary level accountable for good governance and integrity, individually as well as collectively.

“People, especially the young, must say I can't be bought' and uphold these principles,” he reiterates.

Low would be glad to know that many young people are already demanding more of their political leaders. As they told Sunday Star, integrity and capability to steer the country to a better future will be the main qualities they look for when they make their decision at the ballot box.

Young but not clueless

Commitment to serve the people is a given, say the young.

The ideal politician is someone who has no reason to go into politics except to serve the people, lawyer Joachim Leong who is in his late 20s describes.

Ideally, it should be someone who has already made money outside of politics, Leong adds.

Ultimately, the candidate has to be accountable and principled. “If they make a mistake, they need to own up and make amends. In Malaysia, we have seen a great reluctance to do so and even when we do, too little too late,” he notes.

Entertainer and budding entrepreneur, Razif Hashim, 29, agrees, stressing that a leader needs to be able to handle himself or herself well under pressure.

“He or she also needs to be sensitive to the rakyat's needs while daring to try new things and advocate it to the end,” he asserts.

Like many young people who want to see Malaysia become a key global player, Razif believes strongly that a political leader should also be someone visionary and innovative.

“He or she must be able to see the trends of what needs to be done in the country and work towards what is lacking and help local businesses build for international excellence. He must be driven to make the economic abundance but in a way through dedicating policies which will make businesses successful,” says the 8TV's Best in the World presenter.

And in this day and age, personality is key for public figures.

“Personality wise it would be nice to see someone capable of public speaking and definitely charismatic at the helm,” Razif quips, giving his vote to Khairy Jamaluddin as the “closest candidate with all these qualities” in his generation today.

For final year law student Karl Rafiq Nadzarin, 23, ability to inspire is as important as the ability to effectively carry out his duties as a leader, a guardian and a thinker.

“The ideal leader is someone who is highly intelligent, principled, open-minded, has a good sense of justice and fairness, willing to listen, able to accept criticism and courageous enough to go against the grain to do what is right rather than what will be liked,” he opines.

This is also of utmost importance to graduate student Meng Yoe Tan, 29, from Monash Universiti Malaysia.

As he puts it: “The ideal politician is one who demonstrates integrity; is teachable, humble, and willing to admit his or her mistakes and strives to improve the quality of his/her work and the lives of others. If this sounds too idealistic, doesn't that mean we have strayed from it too much for it to become merely an ideal?”

It is something that 30-something human rights activist Abby de Vries has been pondering on.

“I sometimes feel that my ideal and probably what is ideal in the real world' of politics may not be the same thing,” she muses.

“In my world, the ideal politician would have integrity, humility, respect for diversity and equality, clearly stated values and ideologies and the courage to stick to these even if they are politically unpopular, and is willing to uphold and express these values not just in policy making, but in his or her daily life,” she says.

Her politician idol is someone who would not only truly value democracy but also champion it.

“The ideal politician should, one would assume, strive to put these ideals into practice in his or her daily life no matter how difficult it may be and, more importantly, know when to step down!” she notes.

Former student leader Woon King Chai, 23, has a personal criterion.

While integrity and humility are the main qualities he would look for in a politician, he believes strongly that they need to lead by example.

“Personally, I look for a politician who shares the same principles and expectations of a good society as me, especially one who contributes actively to the needs and development of the community. I look for honesty, integrity, humility and leadership by example as qualities in an ideal politician,” shares Woon who is currently a Special Officer to the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports.

A good grasp of the law is a priority for conservationist Sharyn Lisa Shufiyan, 26.

“Ideally, (it is) someone who is well-versed with the law and deposits the utmost respect towards our laws and the Constitution,” she says.

She strongly believes that the ideal politician for Malaysia is someone who is exposed to and supports liberal ideals, and is balanced, secular and forward-thinking.

Crucially, he or she needs to be independent in thought.

“There are a lot of intelligent politicians but I think what limits them is that they don't often stick by their own opinions or standpoint but are easily pressured by the overall party or by a minority group,” Sharyn stresses.

The Star Ipad columnist believes that selflessness is another important quality.

“Politicians need to understand that they act on the interest of the larger population or citizen and not just on their own whims and fancies. They need to have the understanding that power is not absolute and they need to let go of power when the time comes. I think we have to move beyond the cult of persona and really look at the qualities of a person before we choose to support him,” she says.

As Smita Elena Sharma, 26, puts it, the ideal politician is someone who is upright, a person of integrity, someone who believes in public service and who is passionate about helping to create a just, equal, sustainable, peaceful, and flourishing country.

Says Smita: “She or he should be adept at policymaking, hardworking, conscientious, and a good communicator. That last bit is important because people like me should know what our elected representatives are up to. They need to keep us updated and as far as possible let us give feedback on decisions. Communication is a key part of accountability.”

Related Stories: Calling for more political integrity

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