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Monday 11 December 2017
Commentary

Politics’ own morality

Politics’ own morality

Prof Ramesh Deosaran writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

Morality. This is derived from “moral” which is described as “concerned with goodness or badness of human character or behaviour; or with the distinction between right and wrong.” (Concise Oxford). In other words, when you make a moral judgement, you are essentially making a judgement between right or wrong, good or bad. But as life and especially politics would have it, between right and wrong, there are shades of grey that press for compromise, etc.

In politics – from election campaign to governing – politics become an exercise in managing shades of grey – with a morality of its own. It is now seen in motion with US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and with the refugee crisis in Myanmar – its leader Aung San Suu Ki and Pope Francis – to name a few. Over ten years ago, former prime minister Basdeo Panday made two seemingly Machiavellian statements which set me thinking since then: (1) Politics has its own morality – to which the self-righteous and others condemned. (2) In politics, get them before they get you – a survival mechanism.

Pope Francis faced a moral crisis on his recent visit to the very troubled Myanmar and the fate of genocide now crippling that country’s Rohingya Muslims. A recent UN report concluded that the Rohingya now face “the final stages of genocide.” Beaten killed, starved and with houses burned down by Myanmar’s army, over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have dragged themselves into Bangladesh. (Report by Alicia De La Vennin, Research Associate, Queen Mary University of London)

Pope Francis went there. And appeared hesitant to publicly criticise the army or Myanmar’s Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Ki. Instead, he tactfully spoke generally about “peace and love for all” etc.

It was a political decision. A strategic one that overcame what many saw as a moral obligation. Myanmar has a minority four per cent Christian population (with 550,000 Catholics) with 90 per cent Buddhism, four per cent Muslim, one per cent Hindu. From it dealings with the Rohingya, the army there seem ruthless and hate-driven against the impoverished, hapless Rohingya, with the major world powers relatively silent. The Pope waited until he came to Bangladesh when he spoke out more directly. If he had spoken out in Myanmar, the ruthless army might have taken revenge on the minority Catholics there. Equally so, he would have offended Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Ki also, mainly because she largely survives on the shoulders of the army – never mind her being elected.

Putin knows thousands fighting for a liberalised Syria have been killed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And while former US President Barack Obama has failed in stopping both the blood flow and Assad, Putin saw this as an opportunity to generate a strategic political-economic foothold in the Middle East. It is for a similar reason, that after all the talks and talks Trump had with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin, both remain tactfully conservative on a full oil and trade blockade with North Korea.

Their high-profile courtship and promises with President Trump have little to do with right or wrong in themselves. But rather with what political consequences will flow from such action. It is more about strategy than morality. Making the US the leading world power, or even appearing to be so, is not in either China or Russia’s geo-political plans now.

Look, there are thousands of such “political strategy over morality” examples around us today. Some are big picture examples, some small. Come December 12, Roy Moore contests a senate election in US state of Alabama. Has been accused of several sexual harassment charges, all of which he denies. President Trump supports him, but the moral obligation doesn’t go far, given the obvious epidemic of such charges across the US and possibly because of earlier allegations against Mr Trump himself. So Trump’s support is shaped by the possible consequences of his sharing Moore’s political platform. This is political strategy. With a morality of it own.

You ask what about this country? Many examples here. Take the pledges in the party campaign manifesto. The manifesto is not a legal document. But it carries a moral obligation, given the platform promises, etc. But what happens? Mr Panday has the answer.

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