The mirror of leadership

It is time for Malaysian leaders to walk the talk and show by example and through their deeds that we are all responsible for developing and creating a humane society


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We are all sensitive about how others treat us but what about the way we treat others? 

Yes, KK Mart made a mistake, and it has apologised. It is not as if it has repeatedly made such mistakes.

In this season of Ramadan, we should be forgiving, especially when the group concerned has publicly apologised. Nevertheless, we need to know what steps the firm has taken to ensure that such incidents do not recur. Any steps taken by others will only reflect self-righteousness.

How do we treat others? Barisan Nasional leaders should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. No other political party in this country has damaged the standing and respect for Malaysia as has the BN. BN leaders survive because they are part of today’s “unity government”.

The levels of corruption and mismanagement under BN were obvious. Greed stalked the land, and many ruling politicians took advantage. You can single out Umno as the biggest culprit (as it led the government when corruption was flourishing). But you cannot deny that certain leaders of their component parties also benefited, whether it was the MIC or the MCA. This was ‘muhibah’ in action when the code among ‘thieves’ was held collectively together.

Charlatans who championed ‘Malay’ rights were the biggest culprits, as the elite amassed so much wealth. Daily, we read episodes of the massive scale of wealth and theft.

Not only that, our institutions were weakened, governance trampled and compliance ignored. Institutions like the Inland Revenue Board appeared to be beholden to those in power. The mirror reflects the reality.

There is not a jot of contrition from BN leaders or their party. Yet these are the hollow leaders who play the race-and-religion card, wield the keris and exhibit their hypocrisy.

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Don’t tell the people how devout you are. Instead, let them experience the noble values of your faith through your actions. Let them see how far those values have ennobled your life and your actions as reflected in your conduct.

How we deal with other is important. How do we view them? How do we treat others of a different ethnic background, religion, colour or nationality?

Unfortunately, we define ourselves by our prejudices and self-righteousness. Our lack of courage to look at ourselves in the mirror denies us our own sense of self-awareness.

Yet, none of us can deny the humanness in another human being. It is easy to analyse injustice from afar, and the dreadful events in Gaza deeply pains many. The sheer inhumanity that drives people to inflict such horrors on others is so difficult to fathom.

The arrogant, self-righteous mindset of leaders who justify such injustice is evident elsewhere. Unless we address this, we are no better. We need to expect better from our leaders. Silence is not an option. Democracy demands dissent.

It is good to have a Bumiputra Economic Congress. But why doesn’t the government also promote a congress for the minorities? Be honest and look at the failures of the New Economic Policy that are so evident. There is ethnic polarisation at all levels and injustice resulting from promoting positive discrimination policies since the 1970s, this too for a majority ethnic group.

No ethnic group can benefit or improve itself in the long run at the expense of the other. Five decades of experience shows this.

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So, prosper thy neighbour, and develop policies where we come together and collectively drive this nation forward. This requires leadership with guts and the courage to call a spade a spade.

Apartheid – the notion that the other is less than me – devalues life. Such attitudes drove people like Adolf Hitler and now Benjamin Netanyahu. One would have expected more descendants of the Jews, who suffered so much in the past, to be more compassionate today.  

This is what happens when religion is hijacked by exclusive ideologies. Judaism has been largely usurped by Zionism. There are sane Jewish voices, but they are silenced and, like Nazism, Zionism today inflicts such cruelty. 

It is regretful that the West and the US have not read the intentions of Netanyahu. He is the biggest stumbling block to any peaceful alternative. The US and the rest of the West will pay a huge price for their appeasement of Netanyahu. He plays on their guilt, and for his own political survival, he gambles on their hesitancy and pushes them to the limit.

Once Netanyahu is out of power, we will witness the eventual downfall of this dangerous man. Yet he shows up the poodles that US President Joe Biden and Western leaders are.

Netanyahu could not care less about the UN or international law. He shows up the sham commitment in the US and the West through their failure to stand up against genocide and war crimes.

Today, we have to be watchful of leaders who play the communal, ethnic or religious card. These are bankrupt politicians who exploit emotions to secure votes. They play on sentiments and, through popular slogans, exploit the fissures in society. They devalue democratic fairness.

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By themselves, they have little to offer in terms of a better life for the ordinary person. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and autocracy pose a grave danger to that nation’s democracy. Yet the saffron colour and the notion that Hinduism is under threat are swallowed by many.

Focusing on the people’s interests – improving healthcare and education, providing better medical facilities, tackling inflation and corruption – should be the primary goal of elected representatives instead of dwelling on whether people will go to hell or heaven.

Such charlatans walk the road of leadership. Today, we have to be mindful of the ideas that motivate our leaders – in particular, those who push religious and ethnic identity issues.

Their mindsets are dangerous. In totalitarian nations, such leaders cling on to power by extending their term limits or by holding sham elections to remain in power.

Power is a potent drug. We need men and women of character and self-awareness who are able to handle such an addictive force. So term limits are important, as many leaders fail at the very end of their tenure in power. This is a fact of human nature.

While much can be said of totalitarian states, are we in democratic nations much better off? Consider the situations facing countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and even Bangladesh, where people suffer as a result of being manipulated by their leaders.

Qualities of character in leadership are in short supply. It is time for Malaysian leaders to walk the talk and show by example and through their deeds that we are all responsible for developing and creating a humane society.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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K Haridas, an Aliran executive committee member, is the current honorary secretary of the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia, chairperson of the Association For The Promotion Of Higher Education In Malaysia and chairperson of the Malaysian chapter of Initiatives of Change International.
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