Civility in politics

Zaid Ibrahim

I saw a picture of Dato’ Sri Anwar Ibrahim and the Prime Minister last night having a meal together at Parliament. The picture captured the both of them in a good mood and engaged in what looked like friendly banter, smiling broadly for all to see.

Both combatants have made it a habit of kicking off each parliamentary term by posing together and shaking hands, all to show the people that they are gentlemen. But this moment of civility inevitably descends into mutual vilification as both sides wage no-holds-barred political war against one another over the next five years. I hope, however, that this time both men make a genuine attempt to be civil so that the politics of hate and recrimination in the country can be mitigated. This would be an immense relief to all of us.

Being civil is essential for democracy to take shape and mature. On a basic level, it simply means that both men must be willing to be nice to one another. Civility in the context of their political relationship, of course, means more than that: it means knowing how to communicate effectively, to play fair, to adopt polite behaviour and to be open when dealing with one another as much as possible. Both parties must be willing to use this approach and forsake gutter politics, focusing instead on bringing about the best in each other. Civility costs nothing.

At a time when the nation is festering with racial distrust and even hatred in some quarters, the leaders of both factions share the responsibility of cooling things down. The rakyat is tired of listening to endless recriminations, accusations and shouting matches. They want to start hearing positive news. They want a good exchange of policy statements that’s conducted in a civilised manner so they can appreciate the wonderful things that we have in the country.