Wednesday, 16 May 2012

"Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,"

Tunku Aziz - patricians can't last in partisan politics
COMMENT "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

This remark attributed to US president Harry Truman is famously evocative of the pressures a politician must face if his or her mettle is to be deemed strong enough to withstand the rigours of such a life.

NONEBy those standards Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim (right), the DAP vice-chairperson who resigned his post on Monday over issues stemming from his criticism of the Bersih 3.0 protest, has been found wanting.

His decision to quit the party, after a brief four years as a member and coming as it does in the immediate prelude to a general election, will cause a minor dent in the DAP's public image but would provide its adversaries with an expedient weapon with which to beat it.

This weapon will not be as potent as the one the resignation of Lee Lam Thye from the DAP in October 1990 gave the party's adversaries on the eve of another general election at that time.

Then the MP for Kuala Lumpur Bandar (now Bukit Bintang), Lee's leaving the DAP was widely seen by the public as a reflection of the brusque ethos of a party considered inhospitable to politicians of his rounded edges and benign image.

By 1990, Lee was a longstanding and popular MP whose non-confrontational approach was seen as attractive enough to draw Malay support to him individually, if not his party.

That approach was seen as the antithesis of secretary-general Lim Kit Siang's which was considered far too aggressive to win for the DAP broad support across the divides in a racially stratified country.

So when Lee quit the DAP in an tearful announcement that was given front-page play in the BN-controlled mainstream media (this was in the days well before the inception of the Internet), there was no way discerning members of the public could appraise the real motives behind the very public saga of his resignation.

Those motives have not worn well in the intervening years; in fact, it is Kit Siang's image over time that has gained rather than Lam Thye's by reason of the former's adhesion to the ideal of a durable and principled opposition, an ideal now poised on the verge of national vindication by an awakened electorate.

vk lingam judge tape panel report 061107 lee lam thyeThis is a reversal of what obtained in the public arena at the time of Lam Thye's quitting of the DAP more than two decades ago.

Then Lam Thye (right) was seen as a victim who could no longer take his unjust deserts in the party and Kit Siang as seen as an ogre bent on autocratic control, intolerant of internal dissent and alternative styles in opposing the BN.

There was no way in 1990 to see if there were gaps between reality and appearance, and so a public pummeled by BN propaganda had to be satisfied with what the media-fed images of the internecine feuding in the DAP and what it had wrought in respect of its latest casualty.

Fortunately, this is not now the case with the resignation of Tunku Abdul Aziz from the DAP.
The more open, Internet-fed, political atmosphere that obtains these days makes it easier to assess his actions and his motives.

The rise of Tunku Aziz

Tunku Aziz came to public prominence in the interregnum between Dr Mahathir Mohamad's announcement of his intention to retire as prime minister in June 2002 and successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's assumption of the office 16 months later.

During that period, Tunku Aziz was not infrequently in the news as head of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International (TI-M), an NGO focused on promoting greater accountability and transparency in the public and private sectors, particularly in procurement procedures.

mahathir in heart institute ijn 091106 abdullah ahmad badawi pak lahHe used his role as TI-M head to expatiate on the dire need for a corruption-free civil service which gave his emergence in the public arena as an anti-corruption crusader and the early emanations of the themes of an Abdullah (right) premiership - it signaled it would be against graft - a nice symmetry.

Not surprisingly, he was named in December 2003 to the royal commission on the management and conduct of the police force, the first and most striking anti-corruption measure taken by the newly-installed Abdullah administration.

The commission was composed of public figures of vaunted credibility but when nothing was done about the report it published after a 15-month gestation, Tunku Aziz did not suffer any dent to his credibility though he was the source of a story during the period of the commission's sitting that one police officer had accumulated assets worth RM27 million, a vignette that reinforced widespread public perception of the force as graft-ridden.

NONETunku Aziz's public stature continued to rise despite the mothballing of the royal commission's report; the anti-corruption currents loosed in the public arena were strong enough to propel the career of this crusader against graft to heights that transcended domestic, politically-driven, constraints.

He was appointed a special advisor to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan on transparency and public accountability for a year from early 2006.

Not since famed lawyer R Ramani was president of the UN Security Council for a year in the 1960s had a Malaysian been raised to such prominence by the august international body.

After he returned from the UN, Tunku Aziz continued to use public forums and newspaper columns in Malaysia not only to inveigh against corruption but also to hold forth on the state of the national polity.

In July 2008, he uncharacteristically departed from the non-partisan stance he tended to take on public affairs by telling Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to submit his DNA sample to the police for testing in regard to the second case of sodomy that was being preferred against him.

It was a strange call, coming from a man who had sat on a commission that inquired into turpitude in the police force, a panel whose recommendations were stiff-armed by a cabal of senior officers determined to show that bureaucratic will can override political fiat.

Lone ranger stance on Bersih rally

Shortly after his egregious call to Anwar to submit his DNA sample, Tunku Aziz plunged into the partisan political fray by joining the DAP.

The party welcomed him with glee as evidence that it could draw to its ranks prominent Malays, though Tunku Aziz was far too anglophile a personality to be a magnet for Malays to join the DAP. He would later admit that he had failed in the goal of getting more Malays to join the party.

Soon an appointment to the Senate from Penang came, a role which afforded him additional prominence for his broadsides on graft in the public sphere.

PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim pkr fund raising dinner 1However, his blithe indifference to subterranean realities, exhibited in his call to Anwar (right) to submit his DNA sample, soon got him on the controversial side of things when he criticised electoral reform advocacy group, Bersih, for wanting to stage its protest at the Dataran Merdeka.

Publicly chastised by the party, Tunku Aziz remained unfazed by the controversy generated by his lone ranger stance on the Bersih protest.

He went on to criticise Bersih for allegedly pretending to be free of responsibility for the violence that marred the tail end of their April 28 protest.

His term as senator was allowed to lapse and the DAP disciplinary board shaped to take action against him for bringing the party into public disrepute.

But before action could be taken, Tunku Aziz rendered the issue moot yesterday by quitting the party.

"Me thinks the lady doth protest too much," a character in a Shakespeare play remarks about another person's affectations about her virtue.

The remark (with alterations for gender) could be applied to Tunku Aziz in his attempt to take a principled stance on matters where one party makes a pretense of adhering to principle merely to bamboozle its antagonist into submission.

In other words, the rules that apply to fault-fixing in cases involving graft are not easily transposable to the political arena.

A temperament that cares little for these nuances would necessarily be discomfited by the heat of the partisan fray.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.