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Whither Political Integrity? - Shahnon Salleh

IntegrityIt is often said that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Being a former student of communication, I have also learnt another important element of propaganda that, "if you can't convince them, confuse them". And in the context of modern political communication, perhaps the more proper and widely used terms are "damage control" and "spin".

Now let's bring that into the context of political reality. Let's not even talk about our democratic integrity yet, but about the quality of our elected representatives. Where do our politicians stand in terms of integrity and credibility? Look around us; surely we can recall the many shameful incidents in the past few years. The Perak frogs' fiasco, the resignation of former Penang Deputy Chief Minister I, Fairus Khairuddin, and more recently the resignation of Bayan Baru MP, Datuk Zahrain Hashim, just to name a few.

If the performance of a salesperson is judged by his or her number of sales, likewise politicians are judged by what they speak and write. With the help of Google and Youtube, it is not hard for the public to see for themselves and make their own judgement. In the old days, once certain news appears on television, there's no way you can watch it for a second time, unless of course you taped it. Today, politicians can no longer lie. The public can view them repeatedly over the Internet until the connection goes down.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang is one good example. If I were a diehard supporter of Pakatan Rakyat, I would doubt this man's loyalty to the opposition coalition. Let's take a look at his previous statements. Prior to Anwar Ibrahim's failed "September 16 mission", he said that PAS would not hesitate to leave the opposition coalition if there are more non-Muslim MPs in the opposition, of which he was referring to the then possible crossover by Sabah and Sarawak MPs - which we know by now nothing happen.

Last December, a day after Pakatan Rakyat's first ever convention, Hadi made another "un-Pakatan" statement when he was reported by the alternative media, mind you, not just the mainstream papers that "we do not want to act in a hurry to register Pakatan", which implies his evasive and non-committal response to the opposition coalition. However, in a fairly recent interview with Klik4Malaysia, DAP MP Tony Pua explained that he has watched the video and discovered that Hadi's statement was in fact misunderstood by the journalist who asked the question. But even so, what if Hadi really meant what he said?

And recently, a day after Pakatan Rakyat MPs unanimously passed a statement in support of the 50 Australian MPs in relating to Anwar's sodomy charge, Hadi caused another stir when he remarked that it was not necessary for foreigners to meddle in the internal affairs of a sovereign country like Malaysia. Of course, later on, his political secretary Dr. Shamsuri Mokhtar clarified that Hadi did not criticise the actions by the Australian MPs, but "stressed that there are indeed shortcomings in our judicial and legal system which have led to the protests from external parties." Is this a case of: if you can't convince them, confuse them?

Now, this brings us to another question. If ever Hadi did indeed utter such statement, what is wrong for him to share similar views with his political opponent? Similarly, Tengku Razaleigh is an UMNO MP, but of late, he has been attacking the ruling party in almost every issue; like the court case of the rightful Perak Menteri Besar, the Anwar's sodomy trial and latest, the Kelantan oil royalty issue.

Furthermore, speaking of integrity, we have seen how some political leaders - whether from the government or the opposition - expects and demands that their members "toe to party line" or ship out. Admittedly, some form of discipline is needed, but where is the line between public and party interest? How does one balance between individual integrity and party loyalty?

The opposition have always urged Barisan Nasional MPs to not always blindly follow the party whip. For the record, BN's MP for Hulu Rajang, Billy Abit Joo once supported the opposition's anti-Internal Security Act petition, in late 2008. But then again, imagine what would the reaction be if one of their own Members of Parliament opts to support a government's motion or decide to vote against the opposition's motion?

Another example is the Prime Minister's 1Malaysia slogan. Whether he likes it or not, the integrity and the credibility of Najib and his 1Malaysia concept have been somewhat affected by his former aide's racist remark. All it takes is just one bad apple to ruin everything. Damage has been done, dozens of police reports have been lodged and there is little 'damage control' or 'spin' can be done. The people are beginning to question the government's sincerity on 1Malaysia. Najib may be sincere, but what about his own staff?

Again, we shall ask our politicians, what is the meaning of integrity to them? More importantly, are they willing to compromise integrity for the sake of gaining political mileage and power? By the look of it, it seems as though, political integrity means toeing to party line and never have an independent mind, and if your political opponent agrees on something, you must not agree, and vice versa.

For our democracy and democratic system to mature, we must ensure that we have mature and responsible politicians in the first place. If the results of the 12th General Election were interpreted as a vote of protest to the Barisan Nasional government who was seen as being too arrogant and not listening to the people's voices; let's hope in the next General Election, the people will vote out unprincipled and unethical politicians, regardless of what political party they belong.

This article was first published at Klik4Malaysia.com's 'Daily Bites' section

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