Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

In Governance, Partisanship is No Qualification

Written by johnleemk on 11:32:09 am Apr 22, 2008.
Categories: ,

Men like Lee Kah Choon and Khalid Ahmad have been making news recently. Their decision to take up postings in the Penang state government apparatus has caused quite a stir, apparently because while they hail from Barisan Nasional, Penang is governed by Pakatan Rakyat. But why should this ostensible crossing of the floor be an issue?

BN leaders like Najib Tun Razak and apparently (since he has made other statements to a different effect) Abdullah Badawi have said this goes counter to the BN spirit. Maybe that is so, but is this such a bad thing? After all, Barisan Nasional is not Malaysia; maybe what's bad for BN is good for the country.

Indeed, BN leaders have not been able to articulate good reasons for why this is a bad thing. Working with the state government to encourage investment in the state and to promote good governance are hardly bad things.

It's even difficult to see how this hurts BN. Like the ridiculous policy of refusing MPs and state legislators any discretion in casting their votes, all this does is hurt them; refusing to ever cooperate with other political parties means good proposals are rejected out of hand not on their merits, but on the basis of who happened to make them.

Loyalty to the party is one possible issue. However, to say that working for or with the state government is equivalent to betraying the party is to say that federal civil servants who support the opposition should quit, or that BN civil servants in PR-governed states should quit. The latter of course has already happened in some states, with no good reason apparent.

Blind loyalty to the party makes no sense; this nonsensical policy of condemning people who work with "the other side" actually harms BN. As Gerakan has pointed out, that the PR government would recognise the calibre of BN's leadership is a plus point for them, as is the fact that BN members will now be able to help set state policies. I don't see how this is a bad deal for BN, or for the people of the state.

Perhaps the case is that BN fears its own inadequacies will come to the fore if these men can make a real difference in Penang. After all, it will speak volumes if they can spearhead positive reforms under the PR government, when they were completely unable to do so under BN.

The other point, of course, is that BN's claim that this lends it legitimacy as a producer of good leaders becomes rather questionable. Pointing out that PR has invited BN members to participate in governance is no more to the point here than pointing out that thousands of political party members cross the floor everyday as civil servants helping to implement policies set by another party. There are good men from all sides of the political aisle; to not acknowledge this is ridiculous, but for political parties to claim credit for this is equally ridiculous.

It obviously follows that Lee and Khalid are qualified because of their intimate knowledge of the state's affairs; this has nothing to do with which political party they come from. BN probably would rather not have the Malaysian people call them on their bluff here: Gerakan's bluster only makes it sound even more desperate than it already appears.

There are of course complaints from the PR side of things. Why not appoint a PR guy to these positions? I do not see why political partisanship should play a huge role in deciding political appointments. Capable people are capable people, regardless of what political party they join. The only important criterion as far as partisanship goes is whether they are willing to work with the other side. If Lee and Khalid are the most qualified in their respective areas, and are willing to work with the PR government, why object?

It is hardly surprising that so many people would complain about these appointments. The Penang state government's appointments ruffle the feathers of people from both dominant political persuasions. But governance is not partisan politics. Which party you are a member of is not a qualification; whether you are willing to work with others to advance the interests of your country is. The government of Penang has judged Lee and Khalid to be men of such principle; we would do well to wait and see if they can deliver, rather than make groundless complaints before even giving them a chance to work for the rakyat we all claim to love so much.

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