Let’s show a little political graciousness. Perhaps it’s time to stop attacking a ‘fallen’ Shahrizat

By Paul Sir

“THAT Bloody Woman” was possibly one of the most hurtful, demeaning and unforgettable terms ever slapped at the face of  Margaret Thatcher.

That was purportedly retorted by Edward Heath, her erstwhile opponent and sworn enemy in the Conservative Party, who led a bruising campaign to force Thatcher to step down as Prime Minister of Britain in 1990.

“That bloody woman must be out by Christmas.” Heath’s wish was granted following a successful party revolt. Thatcher stepped down in November that year, a month before Christmas.

Why was there this long running feud and deep, entrenched animosity between Heath and Thatcher? It was all about political rivalry. Fifteen years earlier, Thatcher had defeated Heath in a bruising battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party. She went on to lead the Tories to defeat the Labour government under James Callaghan in 1979 and made history by becoming Britain’s first woman prime minister.

In November 1990, with her anointed successor, John Major, firmly at the helm of Britain, Thatcher slipped quietly into the backbench of the House of Commons until her retirement from public office. So did Heath. The feud stopped there and then.

This was Britain. Over in Australia, we recently witnessed another bitter man-woman rivalry within the same ruling party. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, faced off in a leadership ballot about three weeks ago on Feb 27. Gillard’s victory ended a week of vicious bloodletting by Labour parliamentarians but even in defeat, Rudd was gracious enough to say that he accepted the leadership ballot “without qualification”.

“Labour must now unite to win the next election. To Julia, I say, I accept fully the verdict of the (Labour) caucus and I dedicated myself to working fully for her re-election.”

Rudd said he bore no grudges or malice towards ministers who may have spoken out against him in the week leading up to the ballot in what has been widely reported as the most vicious leadership spat in Australian political history.

“It’s well past time that these wounds were healed,” he said.

Rudd then returned to the backbench and continued to represent his electorate of Griffith in Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland.

I am overwhelmed by such examples of political graciousness in the UK and Down Under that are sadly lacking in Malaysia. Britain and Australia are great democracies and the political leaders and practitioners of democracy there are people who take democratic ideals and principles seriously. It was a craft they have learned to live by and practise well.

Back home, it seems to me that our politicians will continue to fight tooth-and-nail with their political opponents till one of them has ‘spilled blood’ or been ‘buried alive’, so to speak.

There is no political graciousness among political opponents. It’s like a battle of ‘to kill or be killed’. They rejoice once they manage to put down an opponent’s political career.

There have been many examples of how vicious Malaysian politicians can be. Both sides of the political divide are responsible. We know them only too well.

The case of Datuk Shahrizat Jalil and Cowgate is yet another example of the viciousness and ruthlessness of Malaysian politics.

Shahrizat has announced that she would be resigning from the Cabinet by April 8 when her senatorship expires. Her husband has been charged with two counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and two counts of violating the Companies Act 165.

I think that the minister and her family members can expect more unpleasant and unhappy times ahead.

Shahrizat has fallen from grace. Cowgate could very well be her Waterloo. I don’t see her retaining her Wanita Umno leadership in the next party election. I also don’t see her being chosen as a BN candidate in the coming polls. She is politically doomed – finished!

Should we continue to attack her since she has already fallen?

If politics is the art of the possible, graceful exits are the art of the impossible. It’s very hard to resign from public office under a cloud of suspicion and come up smelling of roses.

There is no way Shahrizat will ever ‘smell’ of a rose again with Cowgate. The poor minister already ‘stinks’ for at least a thousand miles away. I think that suffices for a personal punishment, if not a political or legal one. For now, she has paid the price. I don’t think it is necessary for us to continue hammering her. Her enemies within Umno will get her – I’m certain of that. Those of us outside, let’s enjoy the show inside.

Look at how former Umno Wanita leader Datuk Rafidah Aziz shot down Shahrizat’s resignation.

“What sacrifice?” Rafidah asked. “Your term is up, you have to go anyway,” she commented.

Of course, there is no love lost between the two women. Rafidah has never forgiven Shahrizat for ousting her as Wanita Umno chief in 2009. Now, it’s time for revenge. Ha, all of us will remember that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. This is Malaysian politics. Sigh.

I am not trying to appeal for mercy for Shahrizat. She probably deserves what she gets for beating around the bush, if not for lying, with Malaysians since Cowgate erupted.

But I would just like to see a semblance of political graciousness in Malaysian politics.

Unless we show some graciousness in our own conduct towards politics, good democracy and a two-party system which we crave for will remain an elusive dream. We must make an effort not to degenerate into hostility and ethnocentric animosities.

Yes, politics can be robust but with our proclivity for aggression, I don’t see much hope for a mature sense of balance in our political discussions and interactions.

There is the real danger that we ourselves will become prisoners of our own mental limitations with the lack of graciousness in our ‘do or die’ battles with our political opponents.

You can argue with me that the cases of Margaret Thatcher and Julia Gillard were different from Shahrizat. True, they were different by a mile but what I was trying to illustrate is the political behaviour of Malaysian politicians compared with others.

And since we are talking about female politicians, there is something else we can learn from Thatcher and Gillard, if not from Shahrizat.

In Britain, ‘that bloody woman’ can rise up to be the ‘Iron Lady’ too. In Australia, it’s okay too if your female prime minister is single and never married.

Will that ever happen in Malaysia? Nay!

Will we ever be a great democracy? Nay!

Will we continue to hear of our politicians wanting to slit each other’s throat even if the opponent is already dead? Yes!

Well, you have to form your own conclusion on the type of politicians you want to represent you.

I have made my choice. I will not vote for a politician whom I think is merciless, vindictive and ruthless.

(Comments can reach the writer at paulsir99@hotmail.com)

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