Pejuang rakyat or peju-wang diri sendiri?

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In the light of recent defections, political parties must apply new criteria when selecting election candidates, says Anil Netto. The number one consideration should be, does the person have a serious track record of selflessly serving and articulating the rakyat’s interests?

The defections of PKR elected reps are a blow for democracy in Malaysia, but in the long-run they will provide timely lessons for all concerned.

At the last general election, many Malaysians chose to express their disgust with the BN over pervasive corruption, human rights abuses, economic hardship and the politics of divide-and-rule.

No doubt people voted for the party rather than the person, based on certain principles.

It may not be wrong in a parliamentary democracy for an elected representative to defect to another party – provided such defections are based on conscience over a matter of principle and in the people’s interests. But if defections are based on enticements or inducements or expectations of personal reward, then that is surely wrong and unethical.

To ensure that a serious decision to defect reflects the will of the constituents and will better serve the people’s interests, the elected rep should canvas public opinion before defecting. Has that been done?

Judging from the defectors’ statements to the press, there is little evidence that they are leaving because their conscience has pricked them and there are fundamental principles at stake. Instead, their statements seem to go along the lines of “I have lost confidence in so-and-so’s ability to lead” or “I didn’t get enough allocations for my constituency”.

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Whatever happened to party ideology? Do you join a party because you are enamoured by certain leaders or do you believe in the principles the party is striving for? Are you now defecting because the party has strayed from those principles and if so, how? which principles? Do you really need to party-hop to serve the people’s interest? How will becoming an independent or “BN -friendly independent” serve to further those principles that you subscribed to when you first joined PKR? For instance, do you support the ISA now – when you opposed it as a PKR rep?

Pakatan parties, for their part, have some serious lessons to learn from all this. Much has been said about the need for tighter screening of future candidates.

But what criteria do you use in selecting candidates? It is far better to choose people that have a selfless track record of serving the people’s interests. You cannot just look at academic or professional qualifications and experience. That alone does not guarantee that the person will not betray the rakyat’s trust.

Neither should a successful corporate background be the over-riding criterion. In fact, such a background could even be a serious disadvantage if the candidate later goes on to support policies that benefit large corporations (such as GST and private health care) instead of the ordinary rakyat.

The number one consideration should be, does the person have a serious track record of selflessly serving and articulating the rakyat’s interests against vested interests? In other words, is the prospective candidate a pejuang rakyat or a peju-wang diri sendiri/peju-wang nilai-nilai korporat?

Anil Netto is hon treasurer of Aliran and a freelance writer.

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