PKR’s moment of truth

By Wong Chin Huat (The Nut Graph)

PARTI Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will face its moment of truth tomorrow, 15 April 2009. The party will decide whether it will accept Selangor executive councillor (exco) Elizabeth Wong's offer of resignation following the distribution of intimate photos of her.

Wong has done the honourable thing by offering her party a choice about whether to retain her services or not. PKR's choice would not only signal its electoral strategy; more importantly, it would indicate the party's political belief on two important questions.

Wong announcing her resignation at a press conference on 17 Feb

Big Brother watches

The first question is whether PKR respects that there should be a line between the public and the private sphere.

In totalitarian societies like China during the Cultural Revolution, there was no such thing as privacy. Every aspect of everyone's life was everyone else's business.

There was also no such thing as private relationships. And so spouses would report to the party and the masses what was said by partners in intimacy. So would parents and children and siblings.

George Orwell painted us such a picture of totalitarian life in his masterpiece 1984, from which we learnt the phrase "Big Brother".

Most of us would denounce living in such societies or the reality show Big Brother, where there is always a camera hovering over you. We would feel betrayed and angry if someone we love revealed intimate details of our private life to society. We would feel even more betrayed and angry if society rewards such acts by buying our unauthorised memoirs or simply spreading gossip about us.

To accept Wong's offer to resign would be doing that exactly. If PKR accepted Wong's resignation, it would be sending the message, loud and clear, that while ordinary citizens are entitled to privacy, public figures, especially public office bearers, are not. They are condemned to live with Big Brother or in Truman's world if they cannot avoid the camera or afford the protection of police and intelligence services.

Big Brother's face looms on giant screens in the 1984 movie adaptation of Orwell's 1984

No, this is not about being congruent or imposing a higher standard on politicians. Wong is not comparable to the likes of former Penang Deputy Chief Minister Mohd Fairus Khairuddin, the Behrang and Changkat Jering state assemblypersons, or the possible high-profile witnesses to a high-profile murder who were spared from a court appearance. Wong's candidacy in the March 2008 elections is not a testimony to a dearth of high quality and capable young leaders in PKR or the Pakatan Rakyat.

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