Morality play in our unending political struggle

Political events of recent days may be a reflection of how different groups in the country attach varying degrees of importance to public issues and how politicians representing each group try their best to resonate with their audiences. – NSTP/File pic

Foreign and local analysts have gone about painting political manoeuvrings of the past week as a morality play.

Seeing events in stark (and simplistic) black or white may be compelling; it certainly makes great news copy but, as the BBC says, events are never black and white.

The “Ming Court” incident of 1987 that redefined Sarawak politics for a generation is an appropriate parable to illuminate national politics in recent days.

The “vote” of no-confidence in the leadership of then chief minister Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud (made at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur and not in the state assembly in Kuching) was stillborn as Taib dissolved the assembly and triggered a snap election.

It was a nail-bitingly close electoral tussle. Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) saw an opening in the disarray in the main political party then and now, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) as ex-chief minister Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’kub slugged it out with his nephew and successor, Taib.

Taib pulled through with the slimmest of margins, at 14 seats in the newly-elected 48-seat assembly. PBDS gained 15 due to the so-called Dayakism wave. PBB defectors, led by Rahman, gained five seats, denying their partner, PBDS, its chance to lead a new state government.

The Rahman-aligned PBDS’ fatal flaw turned out to be the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP). Despite defections, the Chinese-based SUPP held its own, with 11 seats and, crucially, stuck with Taib. With the Sarawak National Party’s three seats, Taib secured a wafer-thin 28-seat majority.

SUPP’s then leader, the late Tan Sri Dr Wong Soon Kai (a medical-school contemporary of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) no doubt saw the events leading up to 1987 as a clear morality play.

Here was Taib, some five years after being plucked by the uncle from relative obscurity in the federal cabinet to lead Sarawak, unable to move out of Rahman’s shadow.

A major reason why Rahman gave way was grumblings in SUPP over his decade-long leadership.

I had a chance to interview Dr Wong some years after he retired upon losing his assembly seat in the 1996 state election, the second SUPP deputy chief minister to face such personal ignominy. At least both lost with personal and political integrity intact.

Dr Wong cryptically quoted a Chinese proverb during the interview: that unless the main beam of the house is straight, the house will not be sturdy.

I think he perceived that (keeping to the straight path) as his main political contribution.

There were stories that Taib, at least in the initial years after the “Ming Court” incident, showed genuine deference to Dr Wong’s views on state matters.

How ironic that SUPP would later crumble almost into political irrelevance, becoming part of the political problem.

If I read what DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang wrote over the past few days correctly, he (if not his fellow DAP leaders) is aware of the perils of being trapped, like SUPP, through involvement in the governance of the country.

Be prepared to be unpopular, even misunderstood, wrote Lim to his party leaders in government.

Corruption in government is a curse the world over. In democratic societies, it is, of course, the job of every citizen to help fight it. A dilemma confronts politicians and parties in the country, such as DAP and SUPP, in their trying to draw popularity and political strength as torchbearers in the fight against corruption, especially when majority groups regard it as only one of a few other priorities and not the most pressing at that.

Political events of recent days may be a reflection of how different groups in the country attach varying degrees of importance to public issues and how politicians representing each group try their best to resonate with their audiences.

For sure, there is the moral dimension but underlying elements almost always (and everywhere) end up overlaying the moral.

Malaysians battled and won the morality play that was the 14th General Election. Some determined it to be a continuing struggle of foremost priority. Others want a return to what is regarded as equally or more important, unfinished business. That is our unending political struggle.

Will there be a way this Gordian Knot, with its frustratingly complex, hugely polarising and stubbornly entrenched web of deeply-held convictions, ever be undone?

By John Teo.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/02/570235/morality-play-our-unending-political-struggle

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