On Thursday, two Members of Parliament got involved in a brawl that ended with one of them in the hospital. This is not the first time our ‘honourable’ Members of Parliament have been involved in a fight.
In September 2017, an all-out fight broke out in Parliament during the Age Limit debate. Chairs were thrown about, property destroyed, and some legislators still nurse injuries from that day. It, therefore, seems unusual that a simple brawl between two MPs should be overlooked as another act for the public to shake their heads at.
However, it is important that we call out such unbecoming behaviour because it is only a small representation of much bigger issues. We address our MPs as honourable because it is assumed they should be that way – deserving of honour. Beyond an assumption, The Leadership Code (Amendment) Act, 2017, requires a code of conduct that should bring honour to anyone who observes it.
While the Code does not explicitly mention fighting, it has clauses on general conduct that implies it. It reads: “A leader shall not engage in high-handed, outrageous, infamous or disgraceful conduct or other conduct prejudicial to his or her status in government or a public body.”
Despite the complexity of that statement, it is clear that our leaders are held to a standard of conduct that should be above reproach. This is especially because the said MPs were within the Parliament Building. Perhaps a fight at a private residence might have been simple fodder for gossip. Not this time. Such behaviour should be condemned immediately, lest it becomes commonplace.
The same Code that highlights what is expected of leaders also requires that the public “shall accord due honour and respect to a person who is or has been a leader and has conformed to the requirements of this Code.”
The public is, therefore, under no obligation to honour any leader whose behaviour does not call for it. This embodies the adage that respect is earned. One would ask if it is important for the public to respect its leaders. It is.
We usually emulate leaders, unconsciously or not. There is already an air of apathy towards our leaders, going by the reactions to the fight in social commentary.
Our leaders, therefore, need to show the public that not all hope is lost; that they can rise above their tempers and treat each other cordially. We expect a public apology from the two MPs for disgracing their offices. If not as a show of some degree of decorum on their part, then at least as a sign that they still desire the respect of their electorate come 2021.
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