Recently I read Dr. Syed Husin Ali’s remarks to the Bar Council on the occasion of Human Rights Day, which was observed at the Council. Very simply, I was reminded once again about how unfortunate we Malaysians are in some respect that we have been deprived – and have deprived ourselves - of having genuinely outstanding individuals as our political leaders. If you have not reviewed his address at the Bar Council gathering (click here), you really owe it to yourself to do so.
As I see it, the confluence of historical circumstances, pure Machiavellianism, and opportunism, among other things, has – over the last generation - brought us a slew of utterly sub-par politicians who’ve hogged and monopolized political power in one realm or another. I find myself hard-pressed to actually find much to feel re-assured, let alone celebrate, about some of these so-called leaders.
How unfortunate indeed that a stellar, highly thoughtful, reputable, and honourable figure such as Dr. Syed has remained for so many years, very much so outside of the nation’s political power base. Instead, time and again, we’ve had to endure some thoroughly uninspiring, inarticulate, shallow, and even inept politicians who have done more to squander the nation’s resources and deplete our national spirit. For far too long, through our own complacency and our insecurities and trepidations about each other, we have allowed ourselves to succumb to those who peddle mediocrity packaged with fear-mongering, parochialism, cronyism, social mirages, and a false paradise.
The consequence of this has been the consolidation of power in the hands of a relative few, the willingness on our part to accept so-called leader who lack so many fundamental and essential leadership qualities. And perhaps most significantly, it has resulted in the systemic retardation of our political institutions. The calibre of ‘leadership’ is often at display in our parliamentary debates. But this, of course, is hardly even the most damning of evidence – and displays - of the level of mediocrity that passes for ‘political leadership.’
I am not one to hold false hope that someday our history books will recount – let alone celebrate - the honourable and tireless ways Dr. Syed has helped to secure and preserve some vital threads of democratic culture in Malaysia. Quite the contrary, I very much expect our history books to continue to white-wash much about the true champions of democratic ideals in Malaysia. Nevertheless, rest assured that someday, my kids will know about individuals such as Dr. Syed who have genuinely toiled for human rights and democracy in Malaysia. Needless to say, this man is no quack doctor. On the contrary, he’s the real deal.
There’s an old expression that the cream always rises to the top. In the case of Malaysian political leadership, sadly, this has yet to happen. And it would only happen when we Malaysians do eventually awaken and deem ourselves worthy of true champions of democracy like Dr. Syed Husin Ali.