February 10th, 2009 by Hafiz Noor Shams
A theater nearby is closing late today. Business is brisk, tickets sold out and the hall is filled. The operator has an outstanding comedy to thank for. The audience may laugh but at the end of the day, there is one important lesson to take home: to UMNO and Parti Keadilan Rakyat as well as their supporters, political defection is a matter of convenience and not morality.
So much has been said about political defection ever since Anwar Ibrahim first shared his ambition with the public last year. The confidence exhibited by him and his supporters was extraordinary. It rallied his base and made those on the other side terribly apprehensive. The drama even went across the South China Sea to Taiwan in humorous fashion.
Those threatened by Anwar Ibrahim’s move questioned its morality. They accused that a government formed through defection is undemocratic and unethical. Never mind that freedom of association itself is a democratic right, political defection was forwarded as a maneuver that disrespects the mandate given by the people through the March 8 2008 general election.
BN, fearing defections might actually take place, cried for anti-hopping law. Yet, when Parti Bersatu Sabah suffered political defection much to the benefit of BN, the same demand for such law was not heard.
This is one simple sign that the morality of defection is not about conviction but rather, convenience.
Another sign is when Anwar Ibrahim and PKR itself suffered from political defection. Suddenly, political defection is bad word for PKR. Anwar Ibrahim went as far as saying “BN is trying to form the state government by hook or by crook – more by crook”. He said that without even a hint of guilt. Just days earlier, he was full of praise for freedom of association after he successfully fished in an UMNO state representative into PKR.
UMNO of course suffers from contradiction too when it comes to words and actions. It is clear that UMNO is for anti-hopping law, except when they are the beneficiaries of a supposedly immoral act.
Amid chameleons lacking sincerity undeserving of trust, there are a few notable heroes. Among them are Karpal Singh, Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim and Nik Aziz Nik Mat. While their opposition to the idea of free association is disagreeable, at least they are honest as proven by the consistency. It is to these individuals that matters revolving around freedom of association are truly a question of morality.
These are the ones our society should give backing more frequently to and not some politicians who change their positions when it is convenient to do so, and too often at that. These are the ones that have real principles and take effort to live up to them even when they face challenging obstacles.
If freedom of association is ever immoral and an unethical idea, then the purposeful convenient inconsistency of positions is an even graver immorality. It is immoral and unethical because it shifts the goal post whereas a fair game demands for the post to be fixed. It is because of this that those that stick to their positions out of convictions are far better than fickle minded, opportunistic, unprincipled individuals.
For UMNO, PKR and their respective supporters that drabble themselves with the shameful paths of convenience, the next moral step to rectify their immoral act is clear: do away with the pretension of morality with regards to liberty. They need to be honest with their position about political defection: that they really do not care.
Any effort at honestly requires for both to cease assaulting the democratic right of a person to exercise his or her freedom of association. Equally important, both sides should realize that they have no moral authority at all to question such freedom anymore for their words are as worthless as dirt.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on February 8 2009.