POLITICS: Focus on real issues, not personal attacks
I NOTE with dismay that in the run up to the 13th general election, politicians from both sides of the divide are resorting to character assassination and other unethical practices. This is against our political culture.
Politicians in the 1950s and 1960s were more mature, stayed clean and never got personal. There were no racial undertones in their speeches. They focused on central issues and emphasised their own positive attributes, displaying wit and wisdom.
Challenges and counter-challenges were common then. I recall some interesting episodes.
In the 1960s, the late D.R. Seenivasagam, the secretary-general of the People's Progressive Party, challenged then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-haj to stand against him in the Ipoh or Menglembu parliamentary constituency. D.R. (as he was commonly known) said: "If the Tunku wins, I will quit politics."
D.R., dubbed as the "stormy petrel of Malaysian politics", was a friend of Tunku while both studied law in England. D.R. was confident he could beat Tunku as both constituencies were PPP strongholds.
For the mild-mannered Tunku, who always said he was the happiest prime minister in the world, the challenge from the boisterous D.R. appeared irksome.
Indeed, there was an air of discomfort, even among political observers; if Tunku accepted the challenge, he would definitely lose.
Did it mean that the voters in those constituencies did not like Tunku? The answer to this question lies in the reply of Brutus, who, upon slaying Caesar, said: "...not that I lov'd Caesar less, but that I lov'd Rome more".
Tunku put on his thinking cap. On the third day came his response; a counter-challenge: "Let D.R. contest against me in any of the constituencies in Malaya other than Ipoh and Menglembu. And if D.R. wins, I will quit politics."
D.R. knew well that if he accepted Tunku's challenge, he would be in trouble. So he didn't. The matter ended there merrily and Tunku came off unscathed.
In the 1959 general election, PPP fielded a self-employed Indian candidate from Kuala Lumpur against then MIC president Tun V.T. Sambanthan in Sungai Siput.
On the eve of polling day, PPP brought an old, one-eyed woman from Kuala Lumpur and put her on the stage. It alleged that the woman lost one eye to the rats at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital, ostensibly to discredit Sambanthan, who was then health minister. Nonetheless, Sambanthan was returned, but with a small majority.