Qualities to govern a new Malaysia

THE 14th General Election has come and gone. It is a watershed in our country's political history, and the people of Malaysia have decided. The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition is forming the new government.

The leaders of the new government would now be getting down to the brass tacks of governing the country and serving the people.

Perhaps the mood can be summed up by an old Lat cartoon. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was depicted using a loud speaker calling out people who were celebrating – "O.K. EVERYBODY! ... GET BACK TO WORK!"

There is so much to do, so much to catch up on the socio-economic development of the country, so much to investigate, so much to improve and fix on the delivery and efficiency of some public services. And so much to heal and reconcile.

Elected winners from across the political divide should not display any arrogance but humility and magnanimity, they should not provoke or instigate others but close ranks and work together for a better Malaysia. Let the court decide on the justice to be meted out to those who are guilty of any crime.

The old government had been judged on its performance, governance and policies, likewise, the new one shall be judged by the delivery of its promises and manifesto and governance. The first 100 days would be a real test on addressing the 10 promises and other stated commitments of the new government.

It was unfortunate that many destructive social issues such as drug abuse, organised crime, human trafficking, juvenile delinquency, domestic violence and loan sharking, were not brought up during the campaign period.

As a think-tank analyst who has witnessed many elections and studied elections and conflicts in many countries, I am concerned about the temptations of power, especially for the first timers in high positions such as ministers. As the saying goes "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely".

I am aware that there are already some checks and balances in the system and more are to be put in place by the new government (such as on the role of the attorney-general), but it is never enough and the best form of checks and balances is educating people on the pitfalls of power and governance. This article should be seen in this light as contributing to such an awareness. It is not targeting any leaders in the new government or is it suggesting that any of them would be corrupt.

The key qualities of the leaders needed to govern our country, or any country for that matter, look simple enough – integrity, fairness, wisdom and humility.

First, a leader must have integrity. This is non-negotiable. Without it, the corruption of power and greed would consume a leader quickly.

A leader must be fair to all. Without justice, there would be conflicts and no lasting peace.

A leader must be wise. Having wisdom is more important than being smart and it can only come with age and the right kind of experience of learning from making honest mistakes and achievements. New leaders must also learn how to manage the civil service and its bureaucracy and how to formulate policies with them to ensure effective implementation and delivery.

Humility, another important quality, demonstrates the inner strength, honesty and maturity of a leader. An arrogant leader rarely learns anything and tends to be detached from the very people he or she claims to represent.

Here is a simple message from the late Nelson Mandela, a global icon of humanity, based on extracts from an interview by Oprah Winfrey in 2000, a year after he willingly stepped down as president of the new South Africa.

"The first thing is to be honest with yourself, you can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. And one of the most important weapons in changing yourself is to recognise that peace, I mean people everywhere in the world want peace.

"I was in the company of great men, indeed. Some of them are more qualified, more talented than I am. To sit down with them, to exchange views was one of the most revealing and enriching experiences I have. It fortified your morality. It gave you courage to do better than your best.

"Anybody, who changes his principles depending on whom he is dealing with, that is not a man who can lead the nation. You have a limited time to stay on Earth. You must try and use that period for the purpose of transforming your country into what you desire it to be. Democratic, non-racial, non-sexist country.

"Humility is one of the most important qualities which you must have because if you are humble, if you make people realise that you are no threat to them, then people will embrace you, they will listen to you."

The country is now sailing in unchartered waters with a reinforced "ship", new "crew" and a new "engine". While we should support and give the leaders of the new government an opportunity to deliver on their promises, they must be constantly reminded that they were elected to serve the people and public interest must always come first.

The basic rights of the people must be protected and enhanced. National unity based on diversity must be promoted. Social issues must be addressed. The main priority now is on bread and butter issues such as increasing income generation for all, reducing the cost of living, improving public services and looking after the welfare of the people of all races.

The writer is the CEO of a social enterprise Asian Heritage Museum (AHM), the tenant and custodian of the iconic heritage site Carcosa Seri Negara (CSN), where the "Road to Independence" exhibition is being held. AHM plans to set up a peace museum at Carcosa and an arts, cultural and nature centre at Seri Negara and make CSN a fascinating and iconic tourism destination. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com