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Tunku Aziz needn't have left in such acrimony

I refer to the resignation of Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and lament his departure under such acrimonious circumstances where he even gave vent to his feelings to describe the DAP's secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as ‘biadap' (ill-mannered or uncouth).

The Penang Hokkien equivalent of the Malay word biadap is boe kar see, literally meaning ‘not taught proper manners', with the fault of this social deficiency attributed to the parents of the one scolded. The full Penang Hokkien term in fact is peh bow [parents] boe kar see.

Both Malay and Chinese terms are very damning insults, excoriating not just the one scolded but particularly the parents for not teaching their child proper manners. The Chinese consider such a description as a very serious insult because the disparaging reflects on the person's parents for not bringing up the person correctly.

And a typical Chinese most certainly doesn't want his/her parents criticised in that manner, as Confucius had instructed: "The superior man, while his parents are alive, reverently nourishes them; and, when they are dead, reverently sacrifices to them. His thought to the end of his life is how not to disgrace them."

But I wonder whether Tunku Aziz, in lambasting Lim Guan Eng as biadap, was aware he was not only scolding the son but the father, Lim Kit Siang, as well, considering Tunku had reaffirmed his friendship with and respect for Lim Senior?

But why has Tunku made such an unusual and drastic criticism of Lim Guan Eng?

Now, it would not be amiss to say we Asians are particularly sensitive to the tone, undercurrents, subtext, real feelings and cause of such a damning insult to at least two generations of Lim's.

So I hope to be able to answer the question in the following discussions.

For a start, I believe 78-year old Tunku, the elderly patrician he is, must have considered himself a senior statesman of the nation, regardless of his DAP membership. Mind, I do support his self-evaluated political worth as I see him as a man of principles and absolute integrity.

Thus, he must have felt he had the right to issue advice on what he saw (then) as an impending violation of the law by the Bersih participants to congregate at Dataran Merdeka, no matter how bad the law had been in banning a congregation there.

I have to say I did support his prediction as I too had foreboding uneasiness about some selfish politicians hijacking the Bersih rally for their own political interests.

Tunku obviously would have suspected who the likely troublemakers were, and naturally as the senior statesman he considered himself to be, he must have believed that, unlike his DAP party's hoi polloi members, he would be allowed some latitude to express his advice.

But alas, that was not to be the case as Lim Guan Eng was no doubt embarrassingly compelled to show DAP's solidarity with the Pakatan coalition's support of Bersih 3.0's intention to march to Dataran Merdeka.

So he had to publicly chide Tunku for speaking out against DAP's policy to support the Bersih march to Freedom Square.

For such a person as the 78-year old patrician Tunku to be chided in public by a relatively young man was really too much. He would have already been quietly fuming at what he saw as Lim's lack of courtesy, I suspect the word biadap would have by then formed in his angry thoughts.

The straw that broke his back was the subsequent offer of a fellowship with the Penang Institute and mention of the associated stipend, both of which would be seen (by a patrician like Tunku) as gross, tacky and insulting.

According to Malaysiakini's report Guan Eng declines to counter-attack Tunku Aziz':

Penang Institute chief executive officer Zairil Mohd Khir has expressed regret that his offer of a senior fellowship to Tunku Aziz had been "misconstrued".

Zairil said when it became clear that Tunku Aziz did not wish to be re-nominated for another term as a senator, the Penang Institute saw it as an opportunity to recruit a public intellectual with a valuable global network.

Zairil, who is political secretary to the chief minister, added that the post offered to Tunku Aziz comes with a standard package for senior fellowship that includes a yearly stipend of RM50,000.

Zairil explained that Lim Guan Eng was only co-opted to convey to Tunku the think-tank Institute's offer of a senior fellowship because of its respect for Tunku's very senior and eminent position.

He expressed regret that the institute's enthusiasm to have Tunku on board had been misconstrued by the former DAP vice president.

But alas, Tunku saw it differently as he was, as mentioned above, already smarting from the public chiding by a much younger man. Perhaps Tunku was even miffed by DAP's earlier failure to ‘persuade' him from withdrawing from a second term as a DAP senator.

We Asians should be aware that very senior people like to be ‘persuaded' to stay on in office, even and especially when they offer to withdraw or resign.

Wasn't this characteristic also exhibited by former Umno president, Dr Mahathir Mahathir?

Thus, I suspect when DAP failed to show proper due 'respect' by insisting, persuading, and even begging Tunku to do a second term as a senator, he must have felt terribly hurt -perasaan tersinggung sangat!

When the fellowship offer came via Lim Guan Eng, whom Tunku would have already viewed unfavourably as an ‘ill-mannered' young man, he would have felt even more insulted. The final straw was when Zairil rang him up to mention the stipend.

It was just too much for a patrician like him to accept (what he saw as) insult after insult after insult. And he cried out in agony: "Did he think I was that kind of person? This man has no sense of decency. The only word is a Malay word, and it's ‘biadap'".

Well, not exactly, for as mentioned there's also the Chinese equivalent term of boe kar see, but I doubt Tunku would by then be interested in acquiring a polyglot vocabulary.

Anyway, regardless of the cross lines of communications and incorrect trans-generational interpretations, basically a comedy (or tragedy) of errors on both sides, the harm, as I suspect, had already been done much earlier when Lim Junior chided him publicly.

Tunku is not unlike Dr P Ramasamy, also of the DAP, where both want respect due to their elderly and senior status, though of course their problems with the DAP leadership were of different issues. If you recall, Dr Rama had also threatened to resign rather than apologise for whatever he was accused of, seeing in the whole affair as a lack of respect for him.

The issue of mishandling elderly politicians with pride and sensitive feelings isn't only confined to DAP. If we recall an Umno party election on 15 October 1993, we would remember the late Tun Ghafar Baba was also humiliated by a much younger man named Anwar Ibrahim.

Many Umno members had then expressed disappointment and perhaps even anger at the younger Anwar for not having the grace to allow the senior man to continue as deputy party president for another mere six months before he retired.

This is something younger politicians, especially Asians as we are, ought to be acutely aware of, the feelings and pride of senior and elderly party members.

I feel rather sad that Tunku has decided to end his association with DAP and in particular Lim Guan Eng in such an acrimonious manner, and only wish, though too late, that matters could have been dealt with more diplomatically and discreetly.

However, I am glad that Guan Eng has firmly closed the issue in a gracious and respectful manner.