No surprise in that Tengku Razaleigh has struck many of us as a different class of political leader - one that harks back to the first 2 decades after Merdeka.
That was an era that bore an indelible ethos of high ideals and principles. It was an era where political players and leaders truly believed that participation in politics and public life bore with it a responsibility and a conscience.
It was a time when loyalty was a treasured attribute.
Our sense of that time is reflected in the grainy monotone of photographs and newsreels of suited and smiling personages. But, beyond the facia of smiles, undisputed historical and archival records confirm and affirm that it was indeed a golden age where the harsh reality of the Second World War, the Japanese Occupation and the Communist insurrection was tempered by men and women who believed in a better future for a land that bore many ethnic groups.
So, here we have the ever-serendipitous and genteel Tengku Razaleigh eschewing Zaid Ibrahim's invitation. These are his reasons:
I am not in Umno because I “harbour hope of saving Umno” in its present incarnation. I remain because the cause for which Umno was formed, and the principles which guided its promotion, has not gone away just because we have lost our way 60 years later, and they need to be upheld.
The high principle of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, their devotion to nationbuilding, their incorruptibility, their sense of fair play and their devotion to duty, exemplified for me as a young man the meaning of this cause, and how it could be both Malay and Malaysian, nationalist and cosmopolitan, traditional and contemporary, at one and the same time.
The Malay cause was not premised on an eternal zero sum game between the native and the immigrant. We meant to build a nation united by a prosperous, confident and enlightened Malay community, not a permanent state of divide and rule by political lowlife. We meant to foster Malay leadership worthy of national leadership, and we looked to our common future as Malaysia rather than to our past as people accidentally brought together by colonial history.
So much is ideal. Yet it is important that we hold up ideals in today’s moral chaos. The future of our political system lies in a healthy, competitive democracy. If so, whether or not it looks realistic right now, we shall need a reformed incarnation of this nation’s most important political party. The Umno ideal which I embraced half a century ago has a role to play in the future we hope for.
A second reason I shall not be accepting Zaid’s kind offer is that things have deteriorated to the point that party affiliation is really not the issue anymore. The issue is how we are to save our country.Some may consider his first line of reasoning mildly quixotic. But, if you trouble yourself to understand the context that I have sketched poorly above, you may get an idea of Tengku Razaleigh's values and, his ideals.
Persuasive as the first reason is, to me the key reason may be the second one. The issue is how we are to save our country.
Recall Ooi Kee Beng's biography of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman. The title of the biography was The Reluctant Politician.
pix from here.
Perhaps that title points to the crux of the infection that has spread virally to all levels of the Malaysian political sphere. There are no longer any reluctant politicians, there are only eager politicians. Especially over-eager ones.
Clearly what Malaysia desperately needs are more reluctant politicians.
And, underlying all this must surely be that Tengku Razaleigh is from the category of Malaysians who understand clearly that constitutional and government institutions are built and developed over time based on the principles of integrity and transparency.
When institutions are abused by those who wield temporal power (though they believe it is permanent power), Malaysia as a nation is on a destructive path.
Since 1987 (a sad, sad tragic year), there has been a terrible trend where constitutional and government institutions are regarded as tools of those wielding political power.
The recent actions of the MACC is the nadir of this trend.
The nightmare is that there are new depths being plumbed.