Monday, August 11, 2008

The morality of defection

The morality of defection
By Khalid Jaafar

Aug 12 — Crossing over is too neutral. Let’s call it defection.

I have forgotten the exact date of Dr Chandra Muzaffar’s defection to the Barisan Nasional. He was a founding member of my party, yes, and deputy president too.

Was there any sweetener involved? Only God knows. He became a scholar again, and a BN public intellectual. For several years he was out of the limelight; for as long as he was a PKR leader, he was a bête noire to the BN media establishment.

He must have really missed the celebrity status. Now as the political scientist of the powers that be, he gives big-time interviews, and has regained his status as the expert commentator in the mainstream media and writes longish articles. He can speak the truth (all the time?), and this is the irony to the powerless.

I do not wish to repeat what has been said about him. Suffice for the reader to scan through the comments in this portal regarding his recent statement about Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's so-called obsession to become the next prime minister via the back door.

Unless he was bribed, Chandra must sincerely believe that his defection was virtuous. Let's grant him the benefit of the doubt. But what makes him think that he is the only person capable of virtuous defection?

Why deny the same adjective to 30, or even more, BN members of Parliament who wish to defect to the Pakatan Rakyat camp and thereby form a new government? Unlike our scholar whose defection could not be put to the test of the ballot box, these BN defectors and their wooers will have to face the wrath of voters in the next general election should their defection be later deemed wicked and villainous.

I really wish the BN had fielded him at Bandar Tun Razak, where he stood as the Keadilan candidate in 1999, against Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim on March 8. We would have seen the empirical result of his verbal peccadillo — Anwar as prime minister would be an unmitigated disaster for the country — on the eve of the political tsunami.

So our political doctor will continue, occasionally, to pontificate on behalf of the BN. With impunity? No, we shall hoist him on his own petard.

Why shouldn't BN MPs defect? And why can't their defection be as virtuous, if not greater, than Chandra's? They would not be betraying any friend who is languishing in prison, or destroying a movement for a just world, or the struggle for freedom and human dignity.

In any case, Chandra's defection has not resulted in the restoration of the independence of the judiciary (unless he has not seen the Lingam tape). Has he attempted to instil kesedaran, a movement he founded and drew many idealistic college students like me into activism three decades ago, into the A-G's office to put an end to selective prosecution and into the police top brass so there is no fabrication of evidence again?

Or does he still believe, like residual residents of a BN fool's paradise, that all top apparatchiks of Bukit Aman are angels? Has the economy improved since his defection? Or has he helped arrest the steep decline of our universities?

Suppose the voters remonstrate: "We voted you as the BN candidate, why now you join the PR?" What can these MPs reply? Any Baba or Dollah can reply, by asking rhetorically: "Didn't the BN government promise you all not to raise the price of petrol before the general election? They have reneged on their promise. Now all prices are going up. You still want me, your MP, to stick to the government that works against your interests?"

These are the cases for defection. The list can get longer as we put our little-used political imagination to work again. Why wait for four more years? The American slo-mo recession, to borrow the expression of Paul Krugman, has already begun to impact us.

We need to engineer an economic resurgence otherwise we all will suffer. The economy will contract and there will be more layoffs. Those who are working will see the value of their take-home ringgit shrinking.

The economy must be resurrected from the current stagnation. But first we need to restore confidence and hope. New confidence and hope can only come with new leadership. We need a Malaysian FDR.

So the defectors will not be pengkhianat after all. They are the penyelamat, the band of political white knights saving the country from the stagnation and slump. Those who still want to stay back will be on the wrong side of history.

Khalid Jaafar is a Parti Keadilan Rakyat supreme council member.

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