Yesterday, we carried an inspiring news feature on Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani. Politicians usually come in for flak for misconduct but Gilani has earned plaudits from the media. When his son was recently booked for a motor traffic offence using the high beam within the city limits of Islamabad Gilani dutifully went to the police station like a good father, paid the fine and thanked the police officer concerned for having acted without fear or favour. Father and son went back home thereafter.
This praiseworthy conduct of the Pakistani premier should be viewed against the backdrop of what is happening in this land, where politicians and their offspring are `more equal than` others. If a ministerial brat were ever to be booked here by any chance, his father would have to visit the cop who dares ruffle political feathers not at a police station but in hospital. Remember the fate of the Police Narcotics Bureau sleuths who raided a Colombo night club where a politician`s son and his goons were present a few years ago and the policemen who tried to stop a gang led by a minister`s son from spray-painting graffiti on the boundary wall of a convent in Colombo. They all got bleeding noses and black eyes! Another police officer crumpled into a heap on the roadside, having confronted a politician`s brother-in-law who had, under the influence of liquor, crashed into a lamppost close to midnight.
During the early stages of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair`s tenure, his wife Cherry committed the offence of ticketless travel in a train. She duly paid the fine, tendered an apology for her forgetfulness and walked off. And the Blairs were praised all over the world to high heavens, though their detractors said it was only a publicity gimmick.
One may have the pleasure of bashing Sri Lankan politicians to one`s heart`s content but one should not make the mistake of considering their foreign counterparts role models. For, all politicians behave more or less in a similar manner when their interests are gravely threatened. How Tony Blair acted when his wife was exposed for her association with a notorious crook is a case in point. A cover-up was attempted first but later Mrs. Blair had to admit, under pressure, that the convicted fraudster Peter Foster had helped her buy two flats in Bristol! Prime Minister Blair stayed put instead of having egg on his suave face. And the matter ended there.
Prime Minister Gilani, no doubt, deserves praise but it is doubtful whether he would have acted in the same manner if the offence his son committed had been serious enough to jeopardise his political career. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have many things in common including a flawed political system where expediency takes precedence over scruples. The less said about stinking politics of the two countries, the better!
However, countries in the West are no better. President Bill Clinton even committed perjury and got away with it, having desecrated the Oval Office, ably assisted by Monica. President Bush lied to Americans about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq to justify invasion of that country. It was found later that there were no such weapons. America got bogged down in a protracted conflict but President Bush carried on regardless winning as he did a second term. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is neck deep in trouble over a sex scandal but he is standing his ground. He is not likely to throw in the towel so easily. His defence has been that he is no saint. (He may go a step further and demand that the one who has not sinned cast the first stone at him.) Power seems to have the same effect as durian on ageing politicians it gives a turbo boost to their libido.
Judging politicians is like making weather forecasts praising them is always at the risk of having to eat one`s words sooner or later. Therefore, one needs to be cautious in showering praise on politicians and promoting them as role models. It may be recalled that President Barack Obama took the world by storm during his presidential campaign and he became a better entertainer than the late MJ. But a recent US Today/Gallup survey has revealed six months into office, President Obama`s popularity is lower than that of his predecessor George W. Bush at that stage of his tenure. Nothing could be more ignominious to an American political leader than to rank lower than Bush!
The safest way to judge a politician, in our book, is to wait till he or she retires or is retired.