Friday, July 24, 2009

Ku Li and echoes of Adlai Stevenson

I feel compelled to delve a little deeper into the motivations of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in the context of the current swirl of political and institutional turmoil in Malaysia. The political turmoil is obvious to all.

Less so, is the institutional turmoil.

Who will guard the guards themselves?
Before 1987 (a year I seem to re-visit constantly as the zeroth point from which the timeline of Malaysia's current political and institutional turmoil commences), the no-brainer principle was that Malaysia's Federal Constitution contained (I say it in the past tense in light of recent mind-numbing judicial pronouncements from the Federal Court) features of the separation of powers doctrine where the Executive branch of government would be audited by the Legislature and, if there is any legal action, by the Judiciary.

Tunku Abdul Rahman accepted this as did Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn. All three gentlemen read law in England (not that the jurisdiction nor geography is of any relevance in the context of this point but, that the knowledge and skills acquired are).

Their successors have taken a different view. Whether knowledge and understanding of the law should have any bearing on this attitudinal shift is moot. I just like to highlight this.

The issue of institutional turmoil is very real. The MACC's handling of Teoh Beng Hock is the most recent and, glaring example.

So, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?

If the Legislature can no longer audit the Executive and, if there is scepticism whether the Judiciary has the necessary independence on issues involving Executive action, then, what is left in the context of orderly constitutional government?

It is no wonder that new Malaysian political leaders have exhibited less and less respect for Malaysia's constitutional institutions in the past two decades.

Where do we go from here?

This is the issue that haunts Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. It is an issue that haunts me. It is an issue that should haunt all Malaysians.

Trying to understand Ku Li
I have never met Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. But, I believe his actions in forming Semangat '46; his subsequent return to UMNO; and, his refusal to accept Zaid Ibrahim's invitation, can be considered in other ways.

Many Malaysians, particularly those that are partisan with Pakatan Rakyat are exasperated with Tengku Razaleigh's decision to rebuff Zaid's invitation. Many have said that Tengku Razaleigh is not relevant anyway or, that he, too, carries political baggage. That, with the greatest of respect, is nonsense and, an unfair trivialisation of Tengku Razaleigh's continued importance within Malaysia's polity.

In the hotchpot of Malaysia the citizenry practises a Babel-like habit of talking at cross-purposes. This is not so much due to multi-lingualism but, more to do with endless politicking and political spin.

In such a milieu, many of us are thankful when a respected personage in the form of a Sultan, a political leader or, eminent Malaysian, makes a timely public statement that is sensible and wise and, has the effect of soothing ruffled feathers and, injecting a dose of wise perspective on a issue that threatens to tear the socio-political fabric.

For me, Tengku Razaleigh is one such person.

His political stance is always principled. But his motivations can be exasperatingly enigmatic to many.

After writing the previous post my mind wandered back to Adlai Stevenson whose political position in the raucous American political process, in this case the Democratic Presidential Primary of 1959, was at issue.

The Adlai Stevenson parallel
Stevenson was the Democratic Presidential Candidate in 1952 and 1956. In both attempts he lost to the Republican Party's Dwight Eisenhower.

http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/AdlaiStevenson.jpg.

Despite two debilitating defeats, Stevenson was a much-respected and popular leader within the Democratic Party. It also helped tremendously that the grande dame of the Democrats, Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was an overt supporter of Stevenson's. This was the case in 1959, when the Democratic Primaries was in full swing and approaching its climax in the Los Angeles Democratic Convention.

Stevenson had hardly campaigned throughout the Primaries. But, party rules permitted members to draft a candidate who would be eligible for contention as a candidate of the party without having to undergo the bruising battles in the Primaries.

To borrow the phrase from my previous post, the eager politician in this story was John F Kennedy. Stevenson was the reluctant politician.

Kennedy's political machine was understandably alarmed at the prospect of a last-minute draft candidate in the form of Stevenson that threatened to undo and destroy more than four years of tremendous groundwork.

Everyone knows that Kennedy took the Democratic nomination and went on to defeat Richard Nixon in what was the slimmest majority ever for a presidential contest...until Bush versus Gore in 2000.

Where I'm leading to after the necessary contextual digression, is this insightful passage in a seminal book on American politics, The Making of the President 1960 by one of the best biographical-journalist-author that I have come across, Theodore H. White. White's passage describes the mindset of Stevenson in the context of American public life and its politics:

If this happy and placid man gave political calculators an impression of total schizophrenia, the reason was a simple one - Adlai Stevenson was and, I believe, remains torn in attitude to the two great systems of power that mesh in the unity of the American Presidency. Stevenson's attitude to public affairs approaches a nobility rarely encountered in the political system of any country; but his attitude to politics - the grubby, rooty politics of noise and deals and cruelties and chicaneries - is one of contempt. Yet public affairs and politics are linked as are love and sex. Stevenson's attitude to politics has always seemed that of a man who believes love is the most ennobling of human emotions while the mechanics of sex are dirty and squalid.

This seemed to be the quality of his reflections. "Deep down," said his closest friend during the winter months of 1959-1960, "he wants it. But he wants the Convention to come to him, he doesn't want to go to the Convention."

2 comments:

Antares said...

One of the most quotable politicians ever to emerge from America, Adlai Stevenson was truly a great man and a true patriot (although, ironically, I once heard a joke that his name spelt backwards sounds suspiciously Russian, as in Nosnevets Ialda :-)

I agree with you that Ku Li's political gentility is somewhat of an anachronism in Mahathir's Umno Baru (hastily slapped together after Justice Harun Hashim declared the original Umno illegal in February 1988).

de minimis said...

Bro

Interesting input. It was obviously a piece of McCarthyite mischief. Good to hear from you, bro.