Leaders should limit their terms in office

Term limits would cure both senility and seniority — both terrible legislative diseases.

— Harry S. Truman, former US President

THE just-concluded Melaka state election was a big blow to Pakatan Harapan (PH), which won only five out of 28 state seats contested.

PKR, whose president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is also PH chairman, lost all 11 seats it contested. When a leader of Anwar’s standing failed to win a single seat for his party, be ready for a backlash from supporters.

I empathise with Anwar. He has gone through hell and back over the past 20 years. I honestly hope that history will be kinder to the opposition leader.

On the results, let me say this as an outsider. It would not be fair for PH to dump Anwar over the loss of one state election. Other PH leaders must also share the blame.

However, I must also express my disappointment with Anwar for fielding ex-Umno “frogs” on PH ticket in the election.

I have zero tolerance for political frogs who are nothing but self-serving opportunists who do not deserve a single vote, irrespective of which coalition they are with.

Come the Sarawak election next month, all of us must bury the treacherous frogs in Sarawak. We all know who they are. Never allow these traitors and opportunists to take us, the voters, for granted ever again.

The brickbats against Anwar brings me to a subject which top political leaders should seriously take note of — the necessity to set a term limit for the top party post.

In the case of Anwar, he can be the president of PKR and chairman of PH for as long as he wants and as long as he has the support of the majority of party members.

I don’t think this works in today’s political realm any longer. Malaysian politics must change and leaders have to recognise that they are not indispensable.

So far, there are only two Malaysian parties (to my knowledge) that have constituted a term limit for its top leader.

DAP was the first party to do so. In 2003, its then secretary-general Kerk Kim Hock proposed to limit the tenure of the DAP secretary-general to three three-year terms, meaning a maximum of nine years.

In the party’s delegates conference that year, Kerk stressed that “such a change will act as a catalyst for more changes which are necessary for the DAP’s survival and development”.

“The term limit is in fact part of the party’s reform programme. It is only through reform that the DAP can remain forever young and relevant”, he added.

Kerk was only 43 when he succeeded DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang as sec-gen in 1999. At 47, he decided to limit his own term as the party’s top leader, something only an unselfish and visionary leader would undertake.

Kerk stepped down as the DAP supremo in 2004 and passed away in 2017 at 61. DAP lost a most loyal and dedicated leader.
In Sarawak, SUPP is the only party which limits the tenure of its party president.

Upon being elected president in 2014, Dr Sim Kui Hian decided to constitutionally limit the tenure of the party president to three three-year terms, with a maximum of nine years.

At only 49 then, it was clear that Sim wanted to lead SUPP on a different path of “People First” politics. It was not about himself.

At his young age, Sim could easily be party president for, say two decades, but he has never harboured such an ambition.

To the good doctor, SUPP is a party and a platform for Sarawakians to serve Sarawakians via politics. The party should never be taken as a personal fiefdom.

“SUPP is Sarawak’s oldest political party. It is bigger than me or any party members. We owe it to our founding fathers to preserve and protect its dignity.

“There is still a lot of goodwill and public respect for SUPP. Our founders fought and sacrificed for Sarawak. Those of us in the party today have to do the same. The interests of the people should always be our priority, not ours,” Sim added.

Sim has only three more years to serve as SUPP president.

When the time comes, he said, he would be glad to step down but would be immensely happy that he has left a legacy in the party — that is, a SUPP president whose term is limited to only nine years.

DAP and SUPP had set the example. Will other parties in the country follow suit?

Or do their leaders want to serve forever? Or they would only retire after they have been voted out of office?

There is hope in our politics if we have young, selfless leaders like Kerk Kim Hock and Dr Sim Kui Hian. When their time is up, they would leave happily for younger colleagues to take over.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.