Loyalty and politics

THE 40th United States' President, Ronald Reagan, coined one of the most memorable quotes on loyalty in politics. He coined the rule he called the Eleventh Commandment during his 1966 campaign for Governor of California. It reads: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

In his book Frankly Speaking, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Musa Hitam also gave a glimpse in the kind of loyalty expected by Malaysia's fourth prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and I quote, "As prime minister, Mahathir demanded absolute loyalty. Moreover it was loyalty of a personal nature and not at all like the loyalty I believed in. I saw loyalty as being specific to the party, to the position, to the nation, and ultimately, to the rakyat … Dr Mahathir demanded absolute loyalty, insisting that it was the price of good government. He expected one to stay loyal to him, even if he himself acted wrongly. And if his loyal supporters acted wrongly, they would also be forgiven and protected … With Dr Mahathir, loyalty was an obsession - loyalty over performance, loyalty over ability, and loyalty to him as party chief."

Of course, it would be unwise to compel anyone to be loyal to a fault and without any form of constructive criticism.

When Tun Abdullah Badawi took over as prime minister in October 2003, the space for dissent was enlarged and this allowed for more divergent views to be expressed. Dr Mahathir was known to a very limited tolerance for dissent. However the net result was that many years of pent-up frustration with the political system led to a crescendo of noises, some constructive and some not so constructive.

When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak assumed the reins of power in April 2009, he declared openly that the age of Government knows best is over.

Najib enlarged the inter-party and intra-party democratic space allowing Barisan Nasional component parties to take views that diverged at times because he believed that the free-market of ideas and thoughts must flourish after the Dr Mahathir years.

However, Najib's kindness was constantly abused especially by his detractors who obviously were less interested in national interests and more concerned about personal desires. These new-found freedoms were also abused by Barisan's political opponents. Social media became a platform to maim and shame and not advance constructive and legitimate arguments.

I even find myself at odds with friends and family on my political views but I must count my blessings as almost all of them have been courteous and respectful in their differences.

Hence, I find myself grappling with the concept of loyalty and ensuring that political parties continue to speak with one voice.

I accept and even uphold the concept that unity is crucial in any political organisation. If a political party is not united then its push to unite the people at large will be severely compromised.

Political parties are also subject to hierarchies. The leader of the party sets policy and direction after listening to all voices and reaches a decision that is forged via consensus. But once a decision has been made by the leader, it is the duty of the party member to implement it and defend it. There is no use being part of an organisation when one cannot defend it.

I always say that the perfect must not be the enemy of the good. What I mean is that compromise must not be seen as a dirty word and in search of that elusive perfect solution that is often very lopsided given that people like things their way, we find ourselves at odds with what is a good decision that works and is forged by compelling all the competing forces to coalesce around a compromise.

I personally have always shared my views privately with my party colleagues but when a decision is made is must be defended by all because the compromise ensures that we all get something we want but not everything that we want.

Now, in the past couple of months, there has been a degree of turbulence for all political parties because leaders have taken public their grievances and in the process harmed the party as a whole.

Some have been sacked like Tan Sri Muhyuddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir.

Supporting the leadership of the party and also defending the decisions taken by the party and by extension the government is a fundamental concept of good governance.

One cannot govern if there is no singular voice. The people do not like to see their leaders warring constantly and sniping one another.

Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the Labour Party in England is openly at war with his parliamentary party and the result is Labour is fast losing the support of the electorate.

In Malaysia, all party leaders, save a few, are democratically elected. When is a leader wins fair and square that the onus in on the losing side to support the leadership that is elected and for the winning side to accommodate the losing side.

And if one is serving in government that the precept of collective responsibility is fundamental as all decisions in a cabinet style of government is taken collectively and must be defended by all parties concerned.

If anyone finds it hard to digest or defend the decisions taken then the honourably thing to do is to quit like Musa did 30 years ago when he could no longer agree with Mahathir.

Personally, I too have had reservations over decisions taken but I have always remain steadfast as I have been mentored to do so. The collective interest of government and the party supersedes personal preferences or interests.

So, as we seek to unite the people, politicians must first learn to unite themselves.

>The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.


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