Does the personal life of a politician influence his ability to govern?

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Does the personal life of a politician influence his ability to govern?
By Zan Azlee

What is considered off-limits when it comes to a politician’s or elected leader’s life? If we look at the media, both Malaysian and international, there would be a perception like there are no limits.

In Kedah recently, there was a tussle over the Menteri Besar position whereby the sitting MB, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir was ousted and replaced by Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah.

Of course, the political observers made their regular cheers and jeers. And being politics with no limits, I guess anything would go and we shouldn’t be surprised.

But there were no big shocking exposes when it came to these two characters. But some people took offence at some of the jeers, namely relatives of the two politicians.

The first to voice out her thoughts and feelings was Ahmad Bashar’s daughter, Azira Hafiza Ahmad Bashar, who called the public to stop name-calling her father. She did it on Facebook.

Feeling like she had to step in and defend her father’s honour, she wrote about how she saw him as a good and responsible father and human being – from the perspective of a loving daughter.

Then, as if on cue, Mukhriz’s daughter, Meera Alyanna Mukhriz, decided to do the same and also poured out her feelings about her father. And she did it on Instagram.

She too became a character witness for her father and vouched for his credibility, integrity and commitment to the state, even in detriment to his time with her and the family.

So here’s the thing, does the bias opinion of a daughter factor in the ability for an individual to govern a state or country well? And if not, then what are considerable factors?

I would say that bias character witnesses are not important. Neither are a lot of things that we see as good judge of character. But that’s a personal opinion of mine that might not be shared by many.

Take for example how we viewed sex scandals among politicians. Former MCA president and Cabinet Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Chua Soi lek, was caught in such a scandal in 2008.

The scandal cost him his Cabinet post and his (then) vice president post in MCA. But he staged a comeback and won back the VP post. He also won the presidency in 2010.

Here’s my other question. Would an individual’s sexual life be of concern when it comes to his ability to govern the country or his political party? Or would it be a private matter that isn’t a concern to the public?

Many of our former national leaders such as Tunku Abdul Rahman and his peers were known to lead very hedonistic and enjoyable lives outside of their official capacities.

And we never held any of it against them and their abilities to lead the country. In fact, many saw this generation as the benchmark for the country’s political governance.

Now let’s also take a look at the world’s so-called ‘great’ democracy – the United States of America. Some of their more recent leaders have been embroiled in sexual scandals too.

Former president Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky being the most famous one out there. He was impeached after significant attention from the press and the public (but acquitted).

But, if you go back into a little bit of history, just like Malaysia, there was a time in the US when political scandals were known but never given any attention, neither by the press nor the public.

John F. Kennedy was said to have had several extramarital affairs (Marilyn Monroe was said to be one of his sparring mates) which was known publicly but never made into something detrimental to his political career.

The turning point, as told in an interesting story on the Radiolab podcast, was the reporting of the US presidential candidate Gary Hart’s affair with model Donna Rice.

Reporters from the Miami Herald actually staked him out to catch him red-handed with Rice. Although hurt, Hart decided to continue the race because he felt that the accusation was irrelevant.

It’s not just sex and family members as character witnesses. It could be many things. A penchant for partying hard, being friends with tattoo artists and rock stars, a habit of buying expensive paintings, or whatever else.

Would an accountant who likes to smoke cigarettes make him incompetent in his job? Would a librarian who has a penchant for pornography be bad at organising books and information?

The point I am trying to make is that human beings are many things. And when do we (or should we?) start seeing the merging of the personal and political?

Basically, shouldn’t we be able to distinguish what is personal from what can and cannot affect an individual’s professional ability and competence?

I have to admit that I am someone who believes that the personal should not affect the political. It shouldn’t matter how someone chooses to live. If they are professional in their jobs, then so be it.

But veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who was interviewed in the Radiolab podcast made a valid point. A person who has extramarital affairs, like Hart, would have it reflected in their professional political capacity.

Someone who will be entrusted into public office and hold a position that will influence public policy should not be someone who uses and disposes women the way he was perceived to have done.

Hence, the blurring of the line between personal and professional. But I guess that will be a constant challenge that the voting public will have to face – differentiating between what is relevant and what is not.

[This article originally appeared at English.AstroAwani.Com]

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