Democratic leadership & responsibility: Learning from Mahathir

Published : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018 at 12:00 AM
In the global political arena, several interesting events took place recently and one of the most important of those is Dr. Mahathir Mohamad getting elected as the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia at the age of 92. He seemed to take a new challenge after all these years as he won the election against a party from which he first became the Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981 and held the chair continuously till 2003. It was very unusual that a single person remained in power for such a long time in a democratic country but Mahathir played such a great role that his contribution will be always in memoir.
During his reign, Mahathir’s policies have helped to transform Malaysia into an important industrial power and contributed to strengthen the economy of the country to a sustainable extent. His leadership style and uncompromising nature in the cases of country’s welfare brought him to attention far beyond his country’s borders as he is considered to be one of the most charismatic leaders all around the globe.
Dr Mahathir retired after 22 years as Prime Minister achieving the goal of transforming the face of Malaysia. After 15 years of retirement he again came into power and along with the Malaysian people, the whole world welcome his return as we again expect to see something extraordinary from this exceptional leader.
From the practice in Malaysia, we can find few excellent angles of democratic practices. There the leaders as a person are more important than the party. The works of leaders are remembered more than their association. In democracy, the fate of the people is actually dependent on the roles that their representatives play in securing their future. Hence, it is important that the leaders are honest and committed to the welfare of his people. Democratic leadership is indeed a process of promoting leadership among the people.
Strong democratic leaders value people’s welfare over their personal interests. Such was the case with Mahathir for which he embossed a special place in the heart of his people as well as received high acknowledgement in the global forums. He had to take several critical decisions while he was driving Malaysia through a transformation and never did he hesitate if he believed that would bring in better results for his country and people. We must also remember how he found his successor Abdullah Badawi in 2003. It shows his role in creating new leadership.

Upholding nationalism is a basic quality of any leadership reflecting commitment to the group, society and country. It should not matter which political party or identity someone belongs to if he holds nationalistic ideology. Commitment to the people’s welfare and rights along with thrust for national development can bring in great leadership as was the case with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He had to come out of his party for his nationalistic ideology as he formed a new party to fight for the rights of the East Pakistanis.

Going against the decision of his former leaders, Bangabandhu participated in the elections of 1970 because he believed it will bring better future for his countrymen. Bangladesh achieved its independence in 1971 due to his courageous steps and efforts. He actually set an example of democratic progressive leadership even before Mahathir.
If we come to the context of Bangladesh, the picture is very different. Here, it is very difficult for a leader to establish himself out of the influence of the large parties. The politics of Bangladesh is currently dominated by the ruling party Awami League and the biggest opposition party BNP. Other than these two, Jatiya Party and Jamaat-e-Islami have some grasp over the political fields. It has become almost impossible to gain any space in politics of Bangladesh without being associated with any of these parties.
One must belong to one of these parties to establish an acceptable political identity for himself. Hence, a party is more important than a leader in Bangladesh though it is against the principle of good democratic practice from any context. Usually this practice was highly evident in the national politics earlier but now, the local government politics of our country has also got the same stature.

The current ruling party, Awami League, is approaching their consecutive third term of government power through the 11th general election by the end of 2018. It is an unusual scenario as we have always experienced shifting of government power between the two dominating parties. Many are criticizing the fact that, AL is taking oppressive means to continue with power.

But no one can deny the fact that, many development projects were initiated during the regime of this government under the gallant guidance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and it still requires some time to realize the benefits of these projects. It requires more than a five-year term to implement all these projects which will take our country much ahead in the race of progression internationally.

It took Mahathir to reign for 22 years to change the total economy and standing of Malaysia. It does not matter if a party or a person is in the government for a long time rather it matters if that duration is of any good to the countrymen. Current Bangladesh government has been blamed to be autocratic by several reports and media, especially because of their uncompromising nature in decision making.

This autocratic nature cannot be completely denied as on several instances, the government especially PM Hasina took some strong stand and did not bend under any pressure. An autocratic ruler can also serve democracy if the welfare of the people is his priority.Taking a strong decision is often required to take the country forward as was the case with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. The only concern is if the decision will be in the people’s favor.

Whenever the rights of the citizens are violated especially of those who belong to the disadvantaged class of the society, the leadership turns into dictatorship and in the long run, these decisions takes a country backward. Participation of the countrymen in the form of their expressed support and trust is most important. Our political leaders tend to ignore the benefits of the citizens in most cases as widespread corruption pushes them off-road. A corrupt leader can never bring prosperity for his people and that is a dark reality of Bangladeshi politics.

Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina is well known and appreciated for her uncorrupt soul as she is working very hard to realize the dream of Bangabandhu. From 2008 till now, her government has initiated many large development projects which if implemented properly will change the economy and image of the country tremendously. But sadly, not all the leaders of her party holds the same ideology as hers as her government have been also accused and presumed to be corrupt to a great extent. This is reflected through increased budget of those large projects, failure to complete on time and many thing else.

Similar is the case with BNP with their chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia currently behind the bars on a five-year sentence in a corruption case. The acting chairperson is also in exile and also been sentenced for a ten-year term in the same case. The nation cannot expect much from these corrupt leaders. It is required that good and honest leaders come out to take the country forward. But in current context, it seems, we will not be able to find any sharp leadership out of the top parties and as our politics has turned into a two-dimensional practice, we cannot even expect that from outside.

PM Hasina has several times asked for new leadership in her party though the leaders and activists always denied to do so as they very well know, there is no capable leadership without her right at this point. Her image single handedly is taking the party towards the possibility of a consecutive third term as the government.
Though the sacrifice, works and humanity of Bangladeshi prime minister is highly admirable, it is a wrong sign if new leadership does not come up. Sheikh Hasina is playing a role like Mahathir right now. As Mahathir had to come forward at 92 to take charge of the country again so that his works and the possibility of Malaysia’s development does not go in vein, she is also taking a huge load to take the country forward without much support from her fellow leaders. If she is elected as the consecutive third term prime minister, then she need to focus on finding out capable future leadership though it will be very difficult in the presence of so many corrupt leaders which is also the case with BNP.
An environment must exist where honest and committed leaders can come forward. We can learn from the examples of Malaysia where people put their trust on their beloved leader Mahathir who even after retiring came forward to take the challenge of pushing the country forward after 15 long years. A good leader should be more important irrespective of which party they belong to. If that happens, the main political parties will also be bound to bring in good leadership. The people must be aware with our eyes only on our advancement.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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