Shafie Apdal’s ‘values’: ‘dividing’ the baby – Chiew Choon Man

Given pressing pandemic situation, Pakatan, in inking MoU with govt, makes painful but necessary choice of foregoing desire to punish those who wronged it

DATUK Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, in castigating Pakatan Harapan for entering into a memorandum of understanding with those who stole the people’s mandate, reminds one of King Solomon’s judgment.

The first woman agreed to the king’s judgment to cut a baby into two so that each can have half. If she cannot have the baby, then neither one should have him. The real mother pleaded with the king not to kill the baby, and was prepared to let the fake mother have the baby to save him.

PH, like the real mother, has put the people’s interests above its claim to the 14th general election mandate to govern. For PH, political stability, addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, reviving the economy, and saving lives and livelihoods take precedence. 

Shafie’s stance, like the first woman in King Solomon’s judgment, is to maintain the claim to govern, even if the baby dies in the process. If Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob loses majority support, it will lead to further instability in the country, and chances are, Parliament will be dissolved, just like what Shafie did when he lost his majority in the Sabah assembly.

A general election amid the Covid-19 pandemic would be disastrous. It will be a repeat of the outbreak that spread like wildfire throughout the country after the Sabah election. In June 2020, Shafie chose to dissolve the state assembly rather than resign after his government collapsed following defections. Is this the kind of “values” one should pursue?    

Bargaining with the devil

The PH leadership, in entering into the MoU, made the painful choice of foregoing the desire to punish those who wronged them in favour of pragmatism. Given the fact that the country is facing an unprecedented health crisis, economic recession and political chaos, at this juncture, the people’s interests are better served by choosing political stability and reforms.

Shafie Apdal’s ‘values’: ‘dividing’ the baby – Chiew Choon Man
Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s stance, like the first woman in King Solomon’s judgment, is to maintain the claim to govern, even if the baby dies in the process. – The Vibes file pic

PH’s dilemma in choosing to negotiate does not come close to that faced by Nelson Mandela. Mandela had for 23 years chosen imprisonment rather than negotiations with the South African apartheid government. He was fully aware that negotiating with the ruling National Party would be widely viewed as a sign of “weakness and betrayal”.

However, the alternative to negotiations would have been continued oppression, violence and civil war, with thousands killed and property destroyed. Mandela chose to negotiate with the devil.

In many instances, the rejection of negotiations is due to acting intuitively. It is emotions that dictate knee-jerk reactions to turn down the offer to talk to one’s opponents. It takes courage and clear-headed analysis to assess the realities of the offer to negotiate. Often, with the benefit of hindsight, a leader’s “call to battle” instead of a “call for peace” serves the leader’s own political interests rather than the people’s needs.     

Ethics of compromise

Taking a stand against compromise may seem an admirable stance when it involves sacrificing strongly held core values. This argument, however, is not valid for the MoU. No party is required to concede its principles or values. The parties’ respective needs are met through new and creative solutions by fairly agreed negotiations between parties of almost equal bargaining power. The memorandum provides for the various reforms to be implemented through empowering Parliament to function more effectively. Further, it expressly preserves PH’s role, functions and responsibilities as the opposition.

A compromise is good or bad depending on whether it is an improvement to the status quo. It is undeniable that the country will be worse off if there is no MoU.

As of September 20, there were 2,112,175 total confirmed Covid-19 cases, and 23,744 total deaths. The unemployment rate shot up to 4.8% in June, 30% of shops in malls closed, with 300,000 workers losing their jobs over the past 16 months, 580,000 businesses face closure by next month, the micro, small and medium enterprises sector are on the brink of collapse, there have been 1,708 suicide cases from 2019 to May this year, and the suicide rate has doubled from a rate of 1.7 last year amid the devastating Covid-19 lockdowns. From the number of deaths due to Covid-19 alone, it is clear that the whole country has faced the consequences of the pandemic akin to real warfare for more than a year. 

The country cannot afford another round of the government avoiding a vote of confidence through the postponement or suspension of Parliament sittings, ineffective pandemic controls, and feeble economic recovery efforts.           

Unethical not to compromise

In the face of the devastation, it would be unethical, if not immoral, not to compromise. Principled prudence must overcome the intransigence of those claiming to be standing on principle.

Not all agreements require compromises, and not all compromises are bad. There are agreements that are, in fact, complementary to each party’s needs, where no party is required to “give something up”. The MoU is such an arrangement.

There are certainly some arrangements that are “rotten compromises”, which do great harm or injustice to one side, and there are “devils” that one cannot bargain with. 

However, before one condemns a compromise as bad, one needs to be able to distinguish between bad compromises and good ones. We should not compromise in order to preserve our integrity, basic principles and values. But, we should compromise where it is intrinsically and pragmatically justified.

What is needed to discern between the two are wisdom, patience and tolerance. It may be worthwhile to take a step back to reflect on that as a matter of human humility and fallibility. There is the possibility we may not always be the only one who is morally, politically or socially right.

By : Chiew Choon Man (Chairman of the PKR Youth legal bureau) – THE VIBES

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