Former chief editor of the New Straits Times group and veteran writer Kadir Jasin recently wrote in his blog in his personal capacity that voluntary resignation was an option for leaders implicated in scandals.
In the context of the sex video which is alleged to feature Economics Minister Azmin Ali, Kadir said it served as a litmus test and whether Pakatan Harapan leaders would “do the right thing”.
Kadir’s suggestion merits consideration. In a democratically elected government, the leaders are ultimately accountable to the people. People elect leaders based on what they say, stand for and the image they project. It is the responsibility of the leaders to honestly present all the facts about themselves so that the people know who they are voting for.
If for whatever reason, a leader withholds a fact about himself or herself or about a past misdeed or a current association which he or she knows fully well will influence the vote or support for him or her, that leader betrays the trust of the supporters.
That personal characteristic or deed may not be wrong but if it’s unacceptable to the people and the leader knows that bringing it out to the open would risk the loss of support, and he or she keeps it hidden, that leader fails in honouring the trust of the people who put him or her in public office in the first place.
As Kadir pointed out in his blog, many leaders who know the pulse of their supporters have resigned when their secrets became public knowledge.
Whether a leader resigns or not depends on the high moral standards he or she holds to. A person with high morals will resign as in the case of the examples Kadir gave in his blog. (The case of Lord John Dennis Prufumo who was sacked and later jailed for having an affair with a call girl was the famous example he listed.)
One with lower moral standards may not as in the case of former US President Bill Clinton who is known for operating in the grey areas of morality.
When it became public knowledge that he had sex with an intern while in office in the White Office, Clinton hung on to his position. It kicked up a storm of public protests but he weathered it and held on to his position with only a slight slap on the knuckles in the form of impeachments for perjury and obstruction of justice. He was acquited of both charges because the Senate was unable to get a two-thirds majority for conviction.
Clinton stayed in office, but the damage was done. He will go down in history — despite his accomplishments — as the president who had a sexual affair with a 22-year-old intern. In addition, the Democrats lost the subsequent elections — a loss which was largely attributed to his affair.
Malaysia is currently making history. We threw out a corrupt regime and we need to make sure that the leaders we install have the trust of the people. Our leaders need to ask: What will history say of us?
Historians are going to thoroughly examine what transpires now to record them as historical facts for posterity. Generations to come are going to study about the history that is unfolding right before our eyes. History will not lie. So, if leaders have been implicated in scandals, resignation is an honourable option if they don’t want salacious or criminal facts about themselves to be recorded in history books!
Resignation does not mean an admission of guilt; it simply says the leader assumes responsibility for himself/herself and those involved or associated with and puts the voters and the nation before one’s own interests.
Getting out of the hot soup would give the leader the chance to take stock and gain clarity. Whether the scandal is a crime or a moral issue, or whether he or she is an active participant or one by association, the leader will be able to change and reposition himself or herself according to the expectations of the voters.
At a future date, that leader can seek reelection. If the past scandal comes up again, the leader can honestly and confidently declare he or she is no longer associated with it; it’s history, not where he or she is now.
There is always a chance for a comeback if people believe in one’s honesty.