Beyond who wins on May 9

By Mohamad Akid

What is more important in a leader, his goodness or his competency? A leader with exemplary values sounds nice, but it speaks nothing of the person’s ability to lead. A nice person might lack the conviction, knowledge, charisma and pragmatism to make decisions on behalf of a nation. That’s what 14th century Andalusian scholar Ibnu Khaldun believed.

Instead, he argued that we should choose a leader who is first and foremost competent. The one who might not necessarily be the most kind and benevolent, but who is able to use the political power he has for the nation. We can prepare for the misdeeds of the ruler but not his incompetence.

But not everyone agrees that the end justifies the means. Being casually Machiavellian might get the job done, yet create moral hazards tantamount to a public legitimisation of an immoral or evil deed. If competence is the only thing we value, where do we put the good? If that is the case, why bother with being just? Why not focus purely on being an effective leader who manifests the will of the people, whatever the means?

For many new and would-be voters, this is one of the things that cross their minds. They’ve grown up with ideals on what should and ought to be, but find their ideals mostly discarded come adulthood and election period. Campaigning has become a race to the bottom. It is a debate on which side is the lesser evil rather than which is more capable. In fact, one could go as far as to say that the discussion on the goodness of our leaders is non-existent at this stage. What matters is who is the dirtier devil.

So is it really their fault if they are disillusioned and indifferent towards politics? To pin the blame fully on youths for being idealistic is misplaced. We never made the effort to teach them the realities of the world, nor do we want to. No one wants to teach children to ignore the rules and win at all costs.

But at the same time, we do not hold ourselves to the standards we teach. Instead, we choose to dismiss concerns, saying, “The real world isn’t like that”. We hold fast to the principle of “the end justifies the means”. The youth are forced to comply lest they be demonised for following their own conscience. Choose the lesser evil, whatever the cost.

Of course, in areas where what matters is not national policy but whether people’s daily lives are improved, this piece is moot. But for many urban people and those who are active on social media, the “mother of all elections” is seen as a do-or-die election. This might very well be the case. Maybe in the larger scale of things, it isn’t. But regardless of who wins, the country still has to move onward.

The lack of attention to the moral values we want our leaders to espouse will only be damaging in the long run. It turns off young voters who have ideals worth fighting for, and it creates cynical adults who give up even trying to be good. It also ignores the need for leaders to be morally exemplary as well as competent in guiding a nation.

If leaders represent the people who choose them, it would do us good to ponder what kind of values we want these to be.

Mohamad Akid is an intern at FMT.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.