Justifications of Machiavellianism: power and prime ministership


Addin Aiman

If you were to ask any politicians what their ambition is, most of their answers would be; to give back to the society and to make the world a better to place to live in. But in-order to achieve those targets what are the necessary steps that should be made? Bear in mind, the world and politics that they are living in is harsh and crude.

To make changes and transformations, these individuals need power. Without power it is almost impossible for them to become greater catalysts of change. What I meant by greater catalysts of change is to have a certain amount of control and authority in-order for them to be influential in the transformation process. But how to have power? Must they be strictly sticking up to morality all the time in a political environment that is tough and challenging?

The answer is both yes and no. They must have the integrity and morality as leaders, but sacrifices must be made. One of the steps to do to clinch power is to sacrifice those principles, for I am afraid that the world is unjust, challenging and unpredictable. The sacrificing of principles in terms of the breach of ethics and integrity can be justified. Why?

Because to have power they must be able to be crude and when they are already in power as a result of being crude, they are ready to make changes. With regards to that, politicians; political secretaries, member of parliaments or party members that do not have that the certain amount of power yet should be more of a realist than an idealist. They should apply the concept of Machiavellianism.

Machiavellianism is an art where individuals, usually politicians trade morality with power by being cunning, sly, duplicitous, and deceitful and by playing the game of politics with tricks and cheats. With respect to the current political landscape, if they are intending to obtain power so that it would allow them to do greater things for the nation and be an important asset in nation building they must be skillful in playing the political game. Politics nowadays don’t necessarily require knowledge. It requires individuals to have skills to equip them in the political survival and mileage.

In our country we have two prominent Machiavellians. Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim.

These two political figures are often associated with corruption by many. They always relate both these esteemed men that had respectively been the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, to money politics like cronyism and bribery, abuse of power and the more subtle type of corruption, patronage politics. But obviously these are driven my motives.

For Tun Mahathir, his abuse of many aspects of democracy like curtailing the freedom of expression comes with a reason; He simply did not want his vision for the betterment of our country to be hindered by the opposition and also his enemies. During his administration many of his opposition including the opposition within his own party were silence by the ISA and kept in cold storage.

Back in the late 80s, his Party UMNO were divided between two camps namely Team A which consist of Mahathir’s supporters and Team B, which comprises of Tengku Razaleigh’s supporters which also had the backing of Tun Hussein Onn and Tunku Abd Rahman. There were growing rifts between both Tun Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh with the latter being critical of his administration and for the fact that Mahathir was not friendly towards criticism. Tengku then decided to challenge Tun’s UMNO presidency.

Mahathir realized that this posed as major threat to his premiership and ambition and Mahathir being Mahathir was sly and cunning enough to cancel it. He went on to serve as the longest Prime Minister in Malaysia. His dreams for a better Malaysia would not be accomplished and we would definitely be seeing a different Malaysia now if was not a Machiavellian. He further strengthened his absolute control over the Malaysian politics by sacking his number 2, Anwar Ibrahim, also a Machiavellian.

Anwar Ibrahim, who is the staunch opponent of corruption, was also a political corrupter before. A student leader back in the 1960s that has strong Islamic credentials joined UMNO to achieve his target of making changes to the country. In-order to make the country great he must resort to power. Power according to him was to become a Prime Minister. In his steps on becoming the Prime Minister he spring-boarded his political mileage (besides being influential) by involving himself in money politics until he was elevated to the Deputy Prime Minister post.

He was heavily linked with cronyism when he was the Minister of Finance. Projects and tenders were rewarded to his close associates like IPPs, highways and railways projects. Among his cronies were Tan Sri Vincent Tan, Kadir Jasin, Kamaruddin Jaafar of Tumpat, Zahid Hamidi and others.

Anwar had also resorted to various forms of bribery in order to acquire votes. According to some accounts, Anwar bribed UMNO division leaders by packets of money to make his position in UMNO unshakeable.

But his doings might come with a justification. When he was already one step closer from the prime-ministership, he had indicated that he was advocating morality and integrity in the administration. In the late 1990s, as a deputy prime minister and deputy president of UMNO he began his attack against corruption and cronyism in the party and the government.

When Mahathir left for Argentina for a two-month holiday, he was appointed by latter as the acting Prime Minister. With this power given to him Anwar charted out solutions to curb corruption that was plaguing the country. One of the steps he made was to approve the 1997 Anti-Corruption act.

If Anwar Ibrahim had become the Prime Minister after Mahathir had resigned sometime after 1998 Commonwealth Games, obviously he would be made the Prime Minister and make reforms to the political system and the country’s administration that was corrupted at that time. Unfortunately his prime-time in politics ended in the middle of the road.

In addition to that, the new Machiavellian replacing Tun Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim will likely be Khairy Jamaluddin. A crafty and opportunistic politician that had his own fair share in the breach of ethics when his father in-law was the Prime Minister. He took advantage of Abdullah Badawi’s tenure as the prime minister in positioning himself in the administration of top GLCs. This might be due to the reason that in order to for him to achieve his ambition to become the Prime Minister before reaching 45 he must have the means, monetarily. But his plans may have partly failed. At almost 40 years old, he has yet to hold an important ministerial position that would serve as a bridge to Prime ministership.

So to summarise, as politicians, playing according to the tune of the music by being cunning, wicked and deceitful is justified as long as their intention of acting in the aforementioned way is valid; which is to obtain power in order to make the changes to the world they are living in. Once they have the power, they would apply the morality and integrity in governing the country. Finally we must remember that it is not possible for a principled person to have power in this intolerant world without being intolerant himself.