I think a leader should know how to read the people’s thoughts and gauge whether their time is up.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, two-time prime minister

Some of you might have guessed it right! My topic for this week is reflected in the heading — about not overstaying your political welcome.

Very soon we’ll witness the 12th Sarawak state election and not long after that the 15th general election, although the latter is not expected before 2023. Even then, there is talk that the state and general elections might be held simultaneously.

There are many MPs and assemblymen who are still in office after several terms — not three or four, but six or seven terms. There is one in his 11th term who is still clinging on. Holy cow! I bet my last ringgit he will still want to stand in GE15.

I recall Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni’s presidential speech in 1986, when a few days after his party seized power through the barrel of a gun, he spoke of African political leaders not knowing when to leave, and having to be forcibly ejected from office.

“The problem with Africa is leaders who want to overstay in power,” he was quoted by the international media fraternity.

I guess Museveni has to eat his own words now; after nearly 35 years he is still clinging on under the pretext that if he were to give up now, his country will slip back into chaos.

Back home we still have quite a handful, who have long been in the business of politics, not just a few years but a few decades. DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang has been around for half a century since 1969, or is it 1968? 

Then there is Umno’s Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who has been an MP since 1974. This man has gone through the mill, so to speak, having been the country’s finance minister and helming the now defunct Semangat 46 party which he formed after leaving Umno.

Razaleigh is still clinging on and he might stand yet again in GE15. No one dares predict when he will step down. Only God knows.

The problem with our wakil rakyat is even if they know it’s time for them to go, they are still reluctant. And you have people who know how to sing praises of their leaders to stay on, not realising that there are others who might not be satisfied and those who want a change.

Even then these representatives should not be persuaded by such people to stay on. Bagi lah peluang untuk orang lain!

In a recent interview with this paper, PBB senior vice president Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof drove home a strong point: politicians must know when to leave the scene and make way for fresh blood.

He said it has always been his party’s tradition for politicians to step down when the time comes.

“We have been trained to hand over to the young people to take over … politicians must not overstay their welcome.

“I know there are senior leaders or veterans who have been serving and contributing a lot. They realise it is about time for them to hand over to the younger ones.

“So, I would like to say thank you to all the leaders who have indicated their willingness to hand over.”

If one were to take Fadillah’s word for it, one can expect see more new faces in the coming election.

Anyway, talking about not overstaying one’s political welcome, there are three ways a politician may choose to retire:

  by natural causes,

•  when they choose to, and

•  when voters decide enough is enough.  

The first method is not by choice. Nothing much we can do here. It’s for the Almighty to decide.

The second is by choice and politicians can decide when to leave. They should know when it’s time to retire or determine when voters have had enough of them. Exit with honour. They must groom others to take over from them so that their work continues without disruption.

The third scenario is one which our YBs must avoid at all cost. Nevertheless, there are those who refuse to step down or simply fail to read the voters’ minds and overstay their welcome.

Come election they are kicked out. Sarawak had instances in the past when party leaders were shown the exit unceremoniously.

I would like to end with PRS chief Tan Sri Dr James Masing’s quote during his party’s eighth anniversary celebration nearly 10 years ago: “There is life after politics … to ensure that such life exists, we must be mentally prepared for the next phase. We have worked so hard for many years for the cause of our people. I am sure we deserve to have time to live a hassle-free life in our twilight years.”

Well said, Sir.