Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia).
He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia."
Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill.
This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.
Deciding Who To Vote For, Part 4: Hung Parliament Not Necessarily Bad
Deciding Who To Vote For In the Next Election
M. Bakri Musa
Downstream Analysis: A Hung Parliament Is Not Necessarily Bad
(Last of Four Parts)
Many fear a hung parliament as they think that would lead to
chaos and uncertainty. Yes, there may be both but neither is inevitable. On the
contrary I see many potentially redeeming aspects that could benefit citizens, the
permanent establishment, and yes, even those politicians.
citizens, seeing these freshly-victorious politicians brazenly jockeying for
positions would be both instructive and revealing. It would be quite a sight to
watch them behave worse than hookers. At least hookers are consumed with
satisfying their present customers first, and would solicit new ones only after
they have done that. More importantly, they do both discreetly. Those
politicians on the other hand would be openly and lustily auctioning themselves
to the highest bidder without even a promise of satisfactory performance to
their current customers – citizens who had only recently voted for them. Those
politicians would whore themselves brazenly. What matters to them would only be
the price their new customers would be willing to pay, regardless how filthy
and disease-ridden they are. Damn the consequences, for them or the nation.
jockeying would be intense, shameless and endlessly shifting, threatening both
Barisan and Pakatan. It would not be below MCA for example, to align itself
with DAP and throw their weight behind Pakatan, demanding an outrageous price in
return. Or MCA could demand a stiff price for remaining in Barisan. Not to be
outdone, as alluded earlier, PAS could bolt Pakatan and align itself with UMNO in
an ugly chauvinistic attempt at reviving Ketuanan
Melayu. UMNO would sell its soul to get PAS support, and PAS in turn would
readily sign a pact with the devil given the right price. There would be only one
certainty; our politicians would finally be exposed for all their corruptness
and hideousness. In the end unfortunately, citizens and Malaysia would
be paying the terrible price.
nation needs such a sordid spectacle to jolt it into realizing that elections
have consequences, and that the politicians and leaders we have today are far different
from the earlier generation that brought us merdeka.
other hand, our politicians may well surprise us. Without being unnecessarily Pollyannaish,
a few might discover that politics is after all a noble profession, and at its
best and essence, a fine exercise in the art of compromise in order to get
things done for the good of all.
At the very
least a hung parliament would prompt us to be more prudent on our voting and
not be so casual with this important exercise of democracy. If that would also encourage
otherwise thoughtful Malaysians to offer themselves as candidates, then the
whole exercise would not have been futile.
parliament would also have a salutary effect on the permanent establishment.
The last time there was a similar debacle, in Perak following the 2008
elections, the permanent establishment including the sultan, did not acquit
themselves well. Who could forget the spectacle of the Speaker being hauled out
of the Assembly desperately clinging on to his chair, or the Raja Muda, the
Sultan’s representative, being forced to cool his heels in an adjacent room while
waiting out the mayhem? It was not pretty. The stench stained all, and stayed
to this day.
You can be
certain that this time, with the real possibility of Barisan being toppled, members
of the permanent establishment would be more circumspect for their own selfish
reasons. Thus I do not expect blatant displays of partisanship as we saw in
Perak. To add flavor to that, the King today, Sultan Halim, was the Sultan of
Kedah when PAS took over from UMNO. Thus working with a non-UMNO chief
executive would not be a novelty for him.
have established this fact at the federal level, all the other sultans at the
state level would follow suit. They would, out of concern for their own
survival, no longer be so blatantly partisan. That can only be good for them
and the country.
parliament is nothing to fear; it is just another though less clear-cut expression
of a Barisan defeat. Stated differently, a hung parliament is a not-so-pretty
Deciding The Next Election: Part 3 of 4: Pakatan Victory Best For Country
Deciding Who To Vote For In the Next Election
M. Bakri Musa
Downstream Analysis: Pakatan Victory Best Outcome
(Third of Four Parts)
The best outcome would be a decisive Pakatan victory. This
is the only way to effect much-needed change, specifically to end the current
culture of corruption, cronyism and rent-seeking that is enmeshed and fast becoming
the fabric of our – specifically Malay – society. Again addressing those under
the sway of Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu,
Malays will never advance until we get rid of this destructive culture, of
which UMNO is the prime enabler.
heartened that more than half of PKR’s candidates are new, with a substantial
number of young faces. We can only bring about change with new personnel. Najib
considers recycled and rethreads as fresh. How can he ever hope to transform
the country with the same tired, tainted, and tattered team? It is significant
that he has resurrected Isa Samad, the character suspended from UMNO a few
years ago for “money politics!” Truly scraping the very bottom of the barrel! Rest
assured that tainted characters like him will be in Najib’s cabinet.
myriad problems would not miraculously vanish with a Pakatan victory; they may
well get worse, at least in the short term. After the long drought years, it
would only be human to expect Pakatan leaders and their patrons to treat their victory
as durian runtoh (bountiful harvest) and
get carried away with their excesses. It is to be noted that there are more
family squabbles during the good times than during the lean.
to behave like the long-deprived family that had won a big lottery just before
Christmas, Hari Raya, or Chinese New Year. Expect greedy squabbles on who would
get the more expensive presents, the bigger duit
raya, or more generous ang pows. Likewise,
expect predictable fights over who would be Deputy Prime Minister, specifically
whether he (or she, though unlikely) should be a Malay, and fights over critical
portfolios like Finance, Education, and Home Affairs.
confident that under Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership, Pakatan would overcome these
expected teething problems. Many still harbor doubts about him. However, I have
tremendous faith in the human capacity to change. Anwar today is a much better
person and an immensely wiser leader then he was 15 years ago. He has been
through a dramatic reversal of fate, been literally battered, and survived
nearly six years in jail until his conviction was overturned. Lesser mortals
would have been crushed but Anwar emerged stronger with his reputation
not dumb. His years in solitary confinement have taught him a thing or two
about fate and human nature. He is now well-tempered steel, not easily corroded,
and able to withstand the tempest, exactly the kind of leader the country
The chief of
police who battered Anwar was finally convicted and jailed. It is significant
that Mahathir and others in UMNO have yet to express regret much less condemn the
despicable performance of this chief of police. That reflects the ethos of Najib,
Mahathir and UMNO. That will never change; hence the need to get rid of them.
inclined, more pious or less worldly-driven PAS leaders would be a positive influence.
They would impress upon their Pakatan colleagues to regard their victory not as
a cause for celebration as with a Hari Raya, but the beginning of a long
difficult stretch, as with the start of Ramadan. Their victory should call for
restraint, patience, and generosity; a time for shared sacrifices, not a fight
over the spoils of victory. There will be plenty of time to celebrate later,
when they have successfully completed their fast (their programs bearing
also be the inevitable temptation to reward old stalwarts for their loyalty and
past efforts. Yes, by all means thank and honor them but the nation now needs a
new beginning. We need new leaders. It would be a tough sell but that has to be
done, and done gently, firmly, and with class as well as magnanimity. The torch
has passed on to a new generation. It is time for the elders to step aside,
tough though that may be for some.
human and thus likely response from them would be, “Finally it is our turn!” Those
seniors would then look upon the younger leaders not as the next generation of torch
bearers but usurpers. “We have struggled for decades and now these upstarts are
grabbing the rewards from us!”
Were the older leaders to react
that way, it would be a tragedy for them as well as the party and country.
order changeth, yielding place to new, / And God fulfills himself in many ways”
(48,49) wrote Tennyson in “The Passing of Arthur,” “Lest one good custom should
corrupt the world.” (50) That newness after the election refers not just to a
new party but also a new generation.
Those seniors should instead heed
this Tennysonian wisdom: “When every
morning brought a noble chance, / And every chance brought out a noble knight.”
(38,39) The 2013 election will be a new morning for Malaysia, and with that our
chance for a new noble knight. We should seize upon that.
There are other
potential dangers, of course. If perchance PAS were to win big relative to the
other members of Pakatan, then expect its leaders to overreach. They would want
to immediately implement hudud and
declare an Islamic state. That would fatally split the coalition and be a
tragedy for the country.
With its sizeable
victory PAS could be the de facto ruling party. Its members could threaten or
be bribed by UMNO to “return to the fold.” Historically PAS was an UMNO splinter
group. UMNO would not hesitate to throw its non-Malay partners MCA and MIC
under the bus, if that be the condition imposed by PAS. UMNO would do anything
to hold on to power.
were to happen, non-Malays have every reason to be worried. I do not expect
another race riot. Malaysians are now too smart and too far developed
socio-economically to fall for such chauvinism. Instead what would happen would
be a massive brain drain and capital flight out of the country. This time those
highly educated non-Malays would be joined by Malays, at least those who have
qualifications recognized outside of Malaysia. Those Malays have seen Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan;
they have no wish for Malaysia
to be like those countries.
coalition would survive; the demographic supports that. The nation however, would
not, at least not in its current form.
Pakatan victory will have a salutary effect on UMNO. Presently it is burdened
with corrupt, incompetent and sclerotic leadership. Despite Najib’s much-ballyhooed
and increasingly futile “transformation” and “change or be changed”
exhortations, the party is incapable of reform and self-renewal. Deprived of the
loot from having lost political power, a defeated UMNO would quickly implode.
That would be the bad news for the party.
news is that only the honest, competent, and committed would be left. They would rebuild UMNO slowly and
painfully, inspired by its past glories. The example of Mexico’s PRI cited earlier is
fear mongers out there intimating that we risk another horrific May 13 with a
Barisan loss. The irresponsibility factor aside, such fears are misplaced. If
Malays are easily swayed by frothy mouths like Ibrahim Katak, then we have a
far greater problem. Non-Malays are smart enough not to be bothered by
characters like him. The Ibrahim Kataks could easily be bought out and
effectively silenced by a few cheap directorships.
What I fear
more is not a Malay versus non-Malay riot, rather a vicious and protracted
intra-Malay conflict. Intra-communal conflicts have always been underestimated.
Syrians now suffer much worse then when their country was at war with Israel.
Further back, the communists in China
killed more Chinese than they did the invading Japanese. Malays now are more
deeply polarized along social, political, and religious lines. The fact that
our leaders across the spectrum are blissfully unaware of these simmering fault
lines makes them all the more dangerous.
Lahad Datuk incursion in Sabah was widely viewed as an “invasion.” Stripped of
the nationalistic jingoism and militaristic bravado, it was nothing more than
an intra-ethnic fight. What startled and frightened me most about the incident was
that the most virulent and violent sentiments were expressed not by non-Malays
but Malays. Not a single person, least of all a Malay, had suggested any
peaceful solution. It took a foreigner in the person of the UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki Moon to urge an end to the violence and to encourage dialogue for a
I view the
current racial taunting and fear mongering as nothing more than Barisan’s crude
and ineffective tactic into scaring Malaysians from voting for the opposition.
Next: (Fourth of Four Parts) Downstream
Analysis: A Hung Parliament Would Not Be
There can only be three possible outcomes to the next
election: Barisan to win with a
comfortable victory; Pakatan Rakyat to prevail; and a hung parliament. A
comfortable victory is one where the expected hopping of a dozen or so successful
candidates would not materially affect the political balance. A hung parliament
is where the buying or the shifting of allegiance of a handful of elected members
would significantly alter the political balance.
the pronouncements of many, the worst possible outcome would not be a hung
parliament but a Barisan victory. The best possible outcome would be for
Pakatan to secure that majority. A hung parliament is not the worse but then
also not the best possible outcome either.
with Barisan being returned to power, not with a supra majority for not even
Najib Razak is predicting that, not in his wildest dream. In his speech
dissolving Parliament, he implicitly conceded the possibility of defeat. Only his
fanatic supporters are fantasizing big victory, but only after they have been
high on their free tapai (fermented
relish precious public funds being squandered through bloated contracts (think
of the scandalous “commission” that slimy “Datuk T” secured for the
non-existing crooked bridge) and outright pilferage (as with the “cow-gate”
scandal and the Scorpene submarines that would not submerge), then expect more
of the same with another Barisan victory. Only this time the scale would be
even more outrageous both in scope and amount, difficult though that may be to
imagine. Barisan, and UMNO specifically, would look upon their victory as
approval if not vindication of their corrupt and wasteful ways. That is what
Najib meant by not changing horse midway. He and his cronies wish to remain on their
Barisan victory we would never get to the bottom of the “cow-gate” scandal or
the outrageous civil settlement between Khazanah and ex-Malaysian Airlines’
boss Tajuddin Ramli. Consider that had Barisan won Selangor in 2008, that Khir
Toyo character would still be its Chief Minister and not the convicted criminal
that he is today. There are many Khir Toyos at the federal level; only a
Barisan defeat would expose these scumbags. Only with a Pakatan victory could
they be held accountable and be prosecuted.
For those expecting
political stability as their reason for voting Barisan, that delusion would
quickly be shattered. There is little chance for Najib to better his predecessor’s
performance of 2008. If they started to scheme for Abdullah’s downfall before
the total votes were tallied in then, this time the power struggle to replace
Najib would be even cruder, more vicious, and utterly destructive. Forget about
the old Malay budi bahasa (niceties);
it would be the Mat Rempits gone amok,
complete with the roar and gore.
2008 electoral fiasco Muhyyiddin unhesitatingly turned on his erstwhile patron,
Abdullah Badawi. The temptation for Muhyyiddin to topple Najib post-election
2013 would be irresistible. Being seven years older than Najib, this is the
only opportunity for Muhyyiddin to do it. By the time the next general election
comes he would over 71 years old, a spent force.
body language all along could barely conceal his contempt for Najib, both the
man and his policies. So expect Muhyiddin to launch an even more emboldened and
naked challenge. I disagree with veteran UMNO observer Abdullah Ahmad who noted
that Najib would more likely to be challenged by younger leaders, not
Muhydddin. It would only appear that
way, at least initially.
vicious do-or-die battle between Najib and Muhyyiddin would have all the
trappings of classic class rebellion of feudal times, between orang bangsawan (aristocrats) and orang hamba (peasants). Expect the royal
class to be actively involved; no marks for guessing which side they would
personal level, it would be a brawl between a street-wise pugilist who has survived
many such encounters, versus a soft-cocooned brat long used to having his way
by hiring others to do the dirty work for him. The irony this time is that
Najib would be at the receiving end of those calculating leaders who weigh
things on what they would gain personally, an art Najib had perfected throughout
his political career.
members of Barisan, the Chinese and Indian parties as well as those from East Malaysia, would be reduced to being anxious
spectators and helpless prey. Prey because their members would be vulnerable to
tempting offers to switch side. There would be no political stability, instead endless
scheming and changes of alliances. The ensuing looting of the public treasury
to finance such shenanigans would be on an unprecedented scale.
ballyhooed promise of transforming his administration is just that – hot air.
He will again field his sclerotic ministers and they will all be back in his
cabinet. Nothing would have changed.
already getting a preview of Barisan’s shenanigans during this campaign with
Najib furiously bribing voters with our
(taxpayers’) money! Make no mistake, after the election he will be expecting
and collecting his dues. That would be the ugly scenario that awaits a Barisan
The RAHMAN prophecy
has it that the “N” refers to Najib; he would be the sixth and last UMNO Prime
Minister. If Barisan were to return to power this coming election, then that
RAHMAN prophecy would have an even more ominous meaning. It would mean the end of
Malaysia as we know it. As National Laureate Samad Said put it, this is our only
chance to spare Malaysia such an awful fate.
Next: (Third of Four Parts) Pakatan Victory Best
When he dissolved Parliament on April 3, 2013, to make way for
a general election, Prime Minister Najib advised us to “think and ponder
appropriately” before casting our votes.
practice two mental exercises to help us “think and ponder appropriately.” One,
imagine the best and worse possible consequences of our vote, that is, perform a
“downstream analysis” of our decision. Two, reflect on the greater role of
election as an effective bulwark against abuse of power by those in authority.
discuss the broader role of elections first. Subsequent essays will be a
downstream analysis of the only three possible outcomes to this election: Barisan Nasional returning to power; Pakatan Rakyat
to prevail; and a “hung” parliament.
effective check on those in power is the knowledge that they could be replaced
in an election. The more this is a reality and not just in theory, the more
effective is this critical role. Elections serve as periodic useful reminders.
elections are fair and free, but if the same leaders and party were to be re-elected
over and over, they would sooner or later succumb to sclerosis and abuse of
power, regardless how competent and well meaning they were initially. It is the
rare leader who could escape this all-too-human tendency. We must have actual
periodic change in government through elections, and not just the promise.
and fraudulent elections, or where the process is merely illusory, as with having
only one candidate per slot (Russian elections of yore and the election of UMNO
President), the less effective they would be in keeping those in power
accountable. Saddam Hussein bragged that those who did not like him could always
vote him out, but Iraqi elections under him were a sham. Had he kept those
elections honest, he would have discovered his people’s true sentiment much
earlier, and the price to both him and his country would have been considerably
decided through elections that their popular and effective wartime leader
Churchill would not be the best person to lead them during peacetime. They
wisely concluded that he would quickly turn the Cold War into a “hot” one, as reflected
by his hawkish and haughty Iron Curtain speech.
Yes, the British
were grateful to him for leading and inspiring them during the war, but that
gratitude could be expressed in many other ways. Elections are for selecting
the best future leaders, not for
expressing gratitude for or rewarding past performance, no matter how exemplary.
and at the practical level, election is a way to pass judgment on the
incumbent. It is not, as some have suggested, a contest between the incumbent
and challenger. It is for the incumbent to prove that he deserves another term
independent of the merit or capability of the challenger. The incumbent’s
performance is a matter of record, and can be readily scrutinized.
incumbent has proven to be less than capable, then he should be voted out even
if the challenger is thought of as potentially not up to the task of taking
over. The argument would be that the incumbent has proven himself incapable while the challenger is only regarded (meaning, only potentially) as
such. There is the possibility that our initial assessment could be wrong and that
the challenger would prove otherwise. There are many ready examples of previously
underrated candidates later shining in office; Harry Truman being one.
and only question voters must ask before casting their votes in this next
election is whether the current Barisan government is deserving of another
term. All other matters, as whether other parties are capable of taking over,
are irrelevant and besides, conjectural.
critical areas: economy, education, and
level of corruption. Barisan’s economic leadership is passable. It is exemplary
only when compared to that of Zimbabwe. Granted, by the figures Malaysia
outperforms America and Western Europe (and even Singapore), but remember those
countries are already cruising at high altitude. We are still ascending. We need faster growth. We should compare
ourselves to China and Panama.
Even Ghana and Laos
surpassed us last year.
pertinent especially to those under the sway of Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu, is the aggregate
economic performance of Malays. After nearly six decades of UMNO rule, we still
could not achieve our modest 30 percent goal.
is education. No one, not even the Minister of Education himself, is satisfied
with our schools. Those who can afford it have long ago abandoned the national
stream. Again looking from the Perkasa and Ketuanan
Melayu angle, only poor Malays are stuck with that rapidly declining
system. Consequently, while a generation ago I could still find many Malays at
the leading universities of the world; today Malays there are as rare as
honesty among UMNO politicians.
much-heralded growth of the private sector in education is not a sign of health
rather the contrary. It reflects a deteriorating public system. Alberta and
Singapore do not have robust private-sector education because their public
systems are so much superior.
about corruption, well, there is no point dwelling on it anymore. We are past
the tipping point; we are now where Nigeria was in the 1980s. The only
way to stop corruption is to deprive UMNO of power. The recent Court of Appeal decision
granting one Eskay Abdullah, an UMNO strongman and a member of the slimy “Datuk
T’s” trio, his RM20 million “commission” on the aborted crooked bridge in Johor
reflects the rot in UMNO. We cannot blame non-Malays for seeing that as the characteristic of contemporary Malay
politics and ethics.
like multiple choice tests, to pick the best candidate from the list offered The
incumbent always argue that his past performance had been superior or at any
rate better than what his opponents could ever hope to achieve; the challenger
offers the promise of a brighter future. Voters have to balance the risk of
changing horse midstream versus being stuck with a lame one to face an incoming
already know how lame our current horse is. Worse, it has a voracious appetite
that is severely taxing us, literally and figuratively. This next election is
an opportunity for Malaysians to send this lame one to the glue factory and
hitch our ride on a new vigorous steed.
only one effective way to teach those who have long been in power and grown
arrogant into believing that they are destined to rule forever, and that is to
vote them out of office. Then even if their successor were to prove less than
satisfactory, it would still have served a salutary lesson on both.
Mexico’s PRI of
today is a much superior political party and led by a much younger, more
capable and decidedly less corrupt leader than it was a decade ago when it was
booted out after having been in power continuously for the preceding 71 years.
believe that UMNO is “rotten to the core,” no amount of calls for
transformation and reform from within or without would be as effective as throwing
the party out.
another equally important reason to see regular changes in government. Stated
briefly, it is to teach our sultans specifically and the permanent
establishment generally the important lesson of being politically neutral. They
cannot bank on or be overly cozy with the ruling party. That our sultans and
civil servants have yet to learn this crucial lesson of democracy was
demonstrated by the ugly political mess in Perak, and to a lesser extent in
Selangor and Trengganu following the last election.
It is also for
this reason that I am optimistic of a smooth transition at the federal level
with the coming general elections should Barisan be booted out. We are fortunate
to have Kedah’s Sultan Halim as Agong, not because he had that role earlier,
rather his recent experience with the smooth transition from UMNO to PAS in his
home state following the 2008 election. His performance then shamed his brother
rulers in Perak (especially), Selangor, and Trengganu.
and members of the permanent establishment too need frequent reminding on the
need to be politically neutral and to be professional about it.
Next: Second of Four Parts: Downstream Analysis – A Barisan Win is No
Victory for Malaysia
Interview: The Future of Malays #7: Touching on the economy, while to date Malays
have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that
insignificant. They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How
can we achieve this target?
MBM: To begin with, which mortal has declared that
Malays are entitled to 30 percent? In which verse is it so written? Why 30 and
not 60 or 20? Queried thus, it is obvious that the figure 30 percent is only
the figment of someone’s imagination, or more correctly, fantasy. Whether we
control 20 or 60 percent of the economy would depend entirely on our efforts
and initiatives, not based on some written parchment.
agree that our achievement thus far, and not just in economics, is far from
satisfactory. It is in fact pathetic when you consider that UMNO, meaning
Malays, have been ruling the country for over half a century. Whom can we blame
– leaders or citizens?
development depends of us, individually and as a society, having and running successful
enterprises. A successful enterprise requires three essential capitals. Most
are familiar with only financial capital – money. More important, and we do not
emphasize enough, are human and social capitals. We provide literally billions
in financial capital, but because we ignore the other two, our enterprises
often fail or do not succeed well.
I began my private practice in America,
I did not have any money but because of the value of my human capital was high
(being a surgical specialist), I had no difficulty borrowing from the bank.
That reflects the primacy of human over financial capital. When your human
capital is high, financial capital is not an issue.
bank was not shy in lending me money even though I was a recent immigrant to America and had
no friends or family to guarantee the loan. That reflects the high quality of America’s
social capital. The bank had faith in the system that I had received my medical
credentials legitimately and not through corrupt or nefarious means.
Consequently it had confidence in my competence and thus potential success as a
America’s social capital been low and I could obtain my license through corrupt
means or through a degree mill (there was a time in America in the not-too-distant
past when that was possible), there would be no assurance that I would be competent.
My patients too would sooner or later discover that I was a fraud or a
physician in name only.
American society has low social capital, the banks would not readily grant loans
especially to a recent immigrant (pendatang
as it were), non-white person (not an American Bumiputra, to put in Malaysian perspective),
or someone who shares the religion as Osama bin Ladin. I might not repay the
loan on the basis that interest payment is sinful!
America’s social capital to Malaysia’s,
especially Malays’. Could a competent Malay engineer who is a member of PAS get
a loan from Bank Islam or land a contract with the UMNO government?
Jarjis, former Malaysian Ambassador to United States, related how he had difficulty
securing a loan from local banks to start his engineering consultancy firm in
the 1970s even though he had a PhD in engineering from McGill, an elite
university. Now that he is an UMNO strong man, they line up not only to lend
but also give him money! That
reflects the low quality of our social capital.
few years ago a student at a leading American university had her scholarship withdrawn
because her father was active in PAS. Again, that reflects our low social
capital! A society with high social
capital values the individual’s talent and ability; a society with low social
capital values who and not what he knows.
The problem of financial capital is readily solvable; not
so with human and social capitals. If we do not elevate the value of Malay
human and social capitals, there is no hope for us regardless how generous the
quotas or lucrative the contracts we reserve for ourselves. We could kiss
goodbye the 30 percent goal, or even the 20 percent!
To enhance our social capital, we must separate as far as
possible the incestuous relationship between politics and economics. Granted,
we cannot fully divorce the two as they are inextricably linked, but politics
in Malaysia generally and Malay society specifically interferes with or more
correctly poisons the other sectors especially economic.
Our academics are less scholars and intellectuals, more
UMNO activists. Peruse their resume and intellectual output. No wonder they are
caricatured as Professor Kangkong (pseudo scholars). The tragic consequence is
not just the plummeting of the quality of our universities but a whole
generation of young Malaysians are wasted.
If we do not have qualified local or Malay experts, don’t
hesitate in getting foreigners. Even America has many foreign
professors. In all my school years in the 1950s I had only one Malay teacher
(other than those teaching me Malay). Likewise at university, as I studied
abroad. Yet I did not feel in anyway deprived academically or felt less Malay.
Nor was my education inadequate or that I have fallen under the sway of
I care only the competent and diligent to teach our
students. There is no pride if they were taught by incompetent or less diligent
Malay professors. Where is the pride of being operated by a Malay surgeon if
you have to suffer the consequences of his inadequate skills? What pride is
there if a Malay engineer were to design our bridges but there is more water
flowing over than underneath them?
A society with high social capital values the expertise
and talent of the individual, not his race, tribe or political views.
Consider the many government-sponsored enterprises like
FELDA aimed at helping Malays. I would expect such entities to be led by competent
individuals with at least an MBA and vast corporate or private sector experience,
not discredited politicians and retired civil servants. Isa Samad, FELDA’s
head, has zero private sector experience; he could not even run a roadside
coffee stall. What is his legacy after leading Negri Sembilan for decades?
To enhance our social capital we must value the competent
and industrious regardless of their political sympathies (UMNO or PAS),
religious preferences (hijab wearers or fond of gowns and jeans), or the
singers they admire (Ito or Siti). We must also not be tolerant of those who
are corrupt, incompetent or have repeatedly abused our trust in them no matter
how much they praise us, or bribe us with our own (taxpayers’) money.
In short, a society with high social capital practices
meritocracy. I purposely avoided using that term as it is so often confused
with or limited to mean only paper qualifications and test scores. Its true scope
is much broader.
On another front, a society with high social capital saves
diligently and is not wasteful. The act of savings goes beyond simply putting
money in the bank and being prudent. It reflects an ability to think and plan
for the future. Those who do so are more likely to thrive. A society with high
savings rate has ample “capital formation” to finance economic development, as exemplified
by the Japanese and South Koreans.
When Datuk Onn and Za’aba talked about “correcting”
Malays, they meant that even though they were not aware of the concept of
social capital. There is nothing wrong with Malay society; we need only enhance
our social and human capitals.
If one has high human capital but lives in a society with
low social capital, one could always migrate to where the social capital is
high. Every year thousands of Chinese, Indians and Europeans leave their native
land to do exactly that.
The quality of human capital is dependent on health and
education. The first is obvious; if you sickly, you are not likely to be
productive. The second is related to enhancing citizens’ skills, ingenuity and
diligence. Consider Proton; while manufacturing cars it could also train
mechanics. Once the value of their human capital is enhanced, then only provide
them with the necessary financial capital so they could open their own
workshops. Do so and within a few years we would see Ahmad Auto Repairs and
Mahmud Motorworks mushrooming in Malaysian towns. Who gets the franchise to
operate Petronas stations at present? Politicians who have no idea the difference
between struts and carburetors!
Likewise with contracts for canteens in schools and
public buildings; those should be given to graduates of MARA catering programs.
Once they have completed their training (thus have enhanced human capital),
only then provide them with the financial capital and contracts. Once they are
successful as canteen operators they would expand into their own restaurants and
Every year the government gives out for free valuable
state land. Who gets them? UMNO operatives who are loath to get their fingernails
dirty. Why not give those land to agricultural graduates of UPM?
Enhance our human and social capitals; the two are far
more crucial than financial capital. If we ignore developing our human and social
capitals we might as well kiss goodbye our 30 percent goal. Any other pursuits
are but fantasy.
Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays # 8: You have written much on
improving our education. Is the present system capable of preparing Malays for
the future? If not what should be done to improve, replace and overcome those
Interview: The Future of Malays Part 6. What is your view on PAS and its leadership?
Do you think that their policies and struggles would usher or obstruct
Malay/Muslim development in our country?
original in Malay appeared in www. Surais.wordpress.com on Feb 20, 2013.]
MBM: The leaders and
policies of PAS do not impress me. That however, is irrelevant. More pertinent
is that those leaders and their policies will cause Malays and Muslims to
regress. Whether we would enter Paradise under
PAS, only God knows, and He is not telling me or anyone else.
has two fundamental flaws. First, it is confused on whether to be a political
party, meaning one that aspires to one day hold power and lead the country, or
a religious entity. The two are not necessarily incompatible but PAS has yet to
choose which one has the greater priority. The price for this blurring of
objective is that the organization does not excel in either.
PAS is not democratic. The highest and ultimate authority lies not with its
members, as it should be, rather an unelected Council of Ulamas. Worse, that
council is restricted only to ulamas. Where is it written that only ulamas have
the ability, wisdom or privilege to lead?
a democracy, the ultimate power must lie with voters or members. Were PAS to
govern, would its ministers be answerable to Parliament or the Council of
Ulamas? Which body has the higher and ultimate authority? According to our
constitution, it is Parliament; to PAS, the Council of Ulamas.
is no small matter. Consider the current crisis in Iran where its unelected Majlis
Syura is in conflict with the elected Parliament. I have no problem with the
Ulama Council being merely advisory. The Ulama Council must respect and defer
to Parliament. There is no place for anointed leadership in a democracy. Sovereignty
lies with citizens.
another level, PAS is consumed with labels rather than content. Its leaders are
obsessed with hudud and the Islamic
State but fail to declare what they mean by those terms. Which Islam state do
they hold up as a model? Iran
and Saudi Arabia?
with hudud; as non-Muslims are
spared, criminals would be punished based not on the crimes they commit rather
their faith. A Muslim committing adultery would be sentenced to death by
stoning; a non-Muslim would suffer only the fury of their spouse. A Muslim
caught stealing would have his hand chopped off; a non-Muslim would suffer
merely a fine or jail sentence. Is that just? If it is not just, it cannot be
Islamic. PAS has yet to address let alone reconcile this conflict.
party’s greatest weakness is that its leadership core singularly lacks
management talent. The skills needed for running a modern state are very
different from that of being an ulama. The training, academic qualifications and
experience of our ulamas are very narrow. They have never been exposed to the
behavioral sciences, while their understanding of modern science and technology
is abysmal. Their mindset is equally circumscribed.
for their political skills, PAS leaders have not shown the ability and aptitude
for cooperating with like-minded players, specifically their fellow partners in
Pakatan even on already agreed-upon goals. They behave little kids; play ball
my way or I’ll take it away. They view compromise as a sign of weakness. They
forget that politics, as Bismarck wisely observed, is essentially the art of
reflects the management talent or lack thereof with PAS. After leading it for decades,
cholera, which has been wiped out elsewhere, is still endemic. Low level of
public health is directly the consequence of managerial ineptitude. The people of
Kelantan, overwhelmingly Malays, remain the poorest in the nation. Again that
reflects the limitations of a PAS administration.
have tremendous respect for Tok Nik Aziz as an ulama but voters elected him to
be chief minister, not chief ulama. He should be humble enough to acknowledge his
significant limitations as an administrator. That is his major weakness and fault.
Had he been aware, or humble enough to be made aware of, he would have sought
Reagan, revered as one of America’s greatest presidents. He readily
acknowledged his intellectual and managerial limitations but he was very confident
of where he wanted to take his nation. So he recruited the most talented and
accomplished individuals to his cabinet so they could help him achieve his
are many such Malaysians, Kelantanese specifically. Why couldn’t Tok Aziz
co-opt a few of them? Perhaps they could not recite the Koran and do not wear
big turbans and flowing robes but if they are competent executives, that should
be good enough. Frankly I could not care less even if they were not Malays or
Muslims. You want someone to make sure that the rubbish is picked up regularly
and the welfare of citizens taken care of.
is obsessed with the Islamic State. Many, and not just non-Muslims, disagree
with that. Yet PAS remains stubborn. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful and productive
if PAS leaders were to understand and appreciate the reasons for the lack of
enthusiasm and outright opposition? The greatest fear is that Malaysia would become
another Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even Tok’ Aziz’s wife would oppose that. Imagine,
women not allowed to drive!
do your allay their fears and make them see your viewpoint? One thing is
certain. If you label them as apostates or kafirs, that would surely alienate
should focus on content and not be consumed with labels. Work with your Pakatan
partners to get rid of corruption, abuse of power, and those laws that denigrate
the human condition. Those are all wrong from the Islamic perspective. Do that
and we that much closer to an Islamic state. To me, an Islamic state is one
where there is peace, justice, prosperity, free of corruption, and abuse of
power. Never mind the label.
UMNO today has strayed far from our Islamic ideals. Corruption, cronyism, and
abuse of power are the antithesis of things Islamic. They cannot be mollified
with the building of ornate mosques or having gala Maulad Nabi parades.
upcoming general election will be a choice between a party that has a wee bit
of competence in statecraft but is riddled with greed, corruption and abuse of
power among its leaders, UMNO, versus another that is sorely lacking in managerial
capability but whose leaders are pious, honest, and not obsessed with
materialism, PAS. Which would one choose?
course we all would like the choice of competent, honest and efficient leaders,
but Allah has not given us that.
are like multiple choice tests, you select the best answer from the list given.
Given the choice we have, I would unhesitatingly pick PAS over UMNO. We can
easily train someone to be better executives or help them by supplying those
talents. It would be considerably more difficult if not impossible to change
someone’s inner core of greed, corruptness, and repeated breaches of faith.
Leaders with those ugly traits would continue to get worse, if given the power
upcoming election is an opportunity for Malaysians to deny the corrupt, the cheaters,
and the greedy that power and opportunity.
Interview: The Future of Malays #7: Touching on the economy, while to date Malays
have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that as insignificant.
They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How can we achieve
Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #5: It appears that you are cynical towards things
labeled “Islam.” Many feel that you do not subscribe to conservative Islam as
practiced by the vast majority of Muslims rather the basic teachings of our faith.
What is your comment?
[The original was posted on suaris.wordpress.com on
Feb 13, 2013.]
MBM: I am a Muslim,
by birth and through practice. I believe in God and Muhammad, s.a.w, as His
Last Messenger, as well as the five pillars of our faith. That of course is the
belief of all Muslims.
is the essence of the teachings of our Holy Koran and Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.?
Command good and forbid evil! That is repeated many times in our Koran and
hadith. That too is agreed upon by all Muslims.
is the “golden rule” of our faith. I am less interested in labels, those can be
easily printed. Content is something else. If a state does not subscribe to the
creed of doing good and forbidding evil, then I do not consider it to be Islamic
regardless of the label. It is easy to carve the names “Allah” and “Muhammad”
on arches and buildings; likewise for leaders to don overflowing robes and huge
question is whether corruption, bribery, and abuse of power are deemed
“avoidance of evil.” Likewise, if leaders ignore the sufferings and
deprivations of their citizens, could that be considered “doing good?” When I
make judgment on whether a state is Islamic, those are the crucial factors, not
how often the leaders have been to Mecca
or how exquisite their recitation of the Koran.
Singaporean once asserted that his country is more Islamic than neighboring Indonesia. In Singapore there
is no corruption or abuse of power by its leaders. Citizens too are well taken
care of and not poverty stricken. Poverty invites impiety, goes an ancient
wisdom, and impiety in turn leads to infidelity to our faith. Visit nearby Riau
and the wisdom of that observation would be readily self evident. The abject
poverty there assaults your sensibilities. We cannot blame those poor Indonesians.
The Chinese too were like that when they were plagued with poverty in their not-too-distant
on the foundation of our faith – command good and forbid evil – it is hard to
dispute the view of the Singaporean.
not quite understand the meaning of conservative versus liberal as applied to
Islam. While I understand the meaning of those two words in their original English,
in Malay those terms have acquired diametrically opposite meanings. That is why
I refrain from using either.
would be more meaningful if I were to give an example of an Islamic society and
leader I hold in high regards and compare both with another I would be very hesitant
in emulating. It is not my place to say which one is more Islamic and would
enter Paradise. Only Allah knows that, and He is
not telling me or anyone else.
are fewer than 15 million Ismailis in the world, about the same number as
Malays in Malaysia.
Those Ismailis do not even have a country of their own, but their power,
influence and contributions to the world generally and Muslim community
specifically far exceed their number.
emphasize the giving of zakat (tithe),
and with that money they build schools and universities, as well as invest in
companies that among other things manufacture pharmaceuticals. The Aga KhanUniversityHospital in Pakistan was built only in 1985 but
it is already a well known center. The Ismailis could not care less whether
their women don their hijab; they are more concerned that their women be
trained as doctors, teachers and engineers so they could contribute to society,
to be makhlok soleh (exemplary
Compare them to
the Talibans in Afghanistan.
Taliban means students, but those students are busy burning schools and
splashing acids on young girls wanting to go to school. Taliban youths are busy
leaning how to use C4 explosives and high-powered AK47 rifles; young Ismailis
are busy solving problems in science and calculus.
reflects its leaders. The leader of the Ismailis is the Aga Khan. Yes, he is
wealthy, raises thoroughbreds, and his father was once married to Rita Hayward,
the famed American actress. The current Aga Khan however, graduated from Harvard;
he leveraged his networking with American intellectuals to entice them to teach
at the universities he built in Asia.
The leader held
in high regards by the Taliban was Osama. He too was wealthy and qualified as
an engineer from a Saudi university, but he expended his wealth and skills to
destroy buildings and kill people.
“command good and forbid evil,” Aga Khan or Osama? I let readers determine
whether Malay society today is closer to the Ismailis or the Taliban. Again, I
leave it to readers to decide whether the Ismailis or Taliban we should emulate.
We are obsessed
with hudud and hijab while drug abuse
and abandoned babies are rampant in our community. Why should we emphasize hudud and not zakat? We should be mandating zakat
on every Muslim including the sultans. It is one of the five pillars of our
faith; hudud is not.
If everyone (save
the poor) pay their zakat (2.5
percent of their assets), and then we employ the smartest economists and
investment bankers to manage those funds, there would be no end to the good those
would bring. That is exactly what the Ismailis are doing, building schools and
hospitals with their zakat. What are
the benefits of the Taliban’s zakat? If
we emphasize hudud, many would end up
with their hands chopped off. Who will feed them and their families?
demonstrate our Islamic values by not tolerating the corrupt and incompetent,
as well as those who have abused our trust in them. Our Koran commands thus.
we have to accept Islam in its totality; we do not have the privilege of
picking and choosing only those parts that please us. The crucial question is
why should we emphasize hijab and the
chopping of hands but tolerate rotten education and gross corruption? What
should be our priority? That reflects our values.
education. Hamka once said that God gave us two Korans; one, the Koran we are
all familiar with; two, the universe outside and within us. For the first,
Allah had given us a prophet in the person of Muhammad, s.a.w., to guide us in
studying it. For the second, God had blessed us with an intellect so we could
reason and distinguish between good from evil, truth from falsehood. We have an
obligation to study both Korans.
elucidating the secrets of the polio virus could be viewed as studying this
second Koran. The result was the discovery of a vaccine that had spared
millions from the devastating disease. That is “doing good.” The Taliban however,
view the vaccine as a poison perpetrated by the infidels. Consequently polio
still afflicts many in Pakistan
Again based on the golden rule of our faith, is that “doing good?”
the early centuries of our faith, our ulama did not differentiate between
worldly and religious knowledge. Both ultimately originate from God. Those
ancient ulama were also proficient scientists, competent physicians, and
skilled mathematicians. They were as diligent in studying this second Koran as
the first. Today’s ulama however, totally ignore this second Koran. To them it
is not worthy of study. The ummah takes their cue from the ulama; consequently,
Muslims have not contributed our share for the betterment of mankind.
should be concerned with such critical issues as how to educate our young so
they could make their rightful contributions to society. Do good in this world
and God will look kindly upon you on the Day of Judgment. He is after all Most
this ahadith (approximately translated):
A prostitute was admitted into heaven because she once saved a dog dying
of thirst by giving it water. Do you think such women wear hijabs? Another ahadith
has it that a man was admitted to Heaven because he once removed a thorn from a
road. If that deed was worthy of admission to Paradise, imagine the rewards for
someone who actually built the road, meaning, the engineers!
we best demonstrate our Islamic values by building safe roads and bridges.
There is no point carving “Allah” and verses of the Holy Koran on such
structures if our architects and engineers are incompetent, and the roofs they
designed and build would collapse in the first storm and injure many, or if their
bridges have more water flowing above than below!
few years ago there was a public debate between Datuk Asri Zainal Abidin and
Astora Jabat on tajdid (reform in
Islam). I admire both individuals; they are among the most thoughtful. However,
in that three-hour debate, they argued on the minutiae of hudud, on whether a
woman’s hair is considered aurat and
thus must be covered. Only towards the end did a brave soul ask why we should
be bothered with hijab when our nation is crippled with rampant corruption. His
query was never addressed. We must reform Islam so we could address pressing social
problems that now blight our society. Don’t be obsessed with hijab.
typical religious discourse on radio and television or at our mosques and universities
is unidirectional, from speaker to listeners. The bulk of the time would be
consumed with excessive salutations and endless quotations of Koran and hadith.
When both are cited, discussions would have effectively been shut down. The
Koran and hadith should be the beginning, not the ending of a discussion.
the ahadith that says the community would be divided into 73 sects, only one of
which is true and genuine. The remainder 72 would presumably be headed for
Hell. How we interpret that hadith has consequences. If every ulama feels that
his is the only true sect, then he would have a messianic zeal to correct the
rest, with the rationale of helping them enter Heaven! That’s what motivates those
Taliban to splash acid on schoolgirls.
speaking, you have only one chance in 73 to be correct, less than 1.5 percent!
That probability should humble and motivate us to learn from the others in the
hope that one of them is the one true faith!
am blessed to live in America with its freedom. I can read Shia and Ahmaddiyah
literature without being harassed by religious officials. There are none in
America! In Malaysia, I would be jailed without trial, treated just like the
communists of yore. Would such a stand conducive to peace and understanding or breed
suspicion and enmity among Muslims?
Astora Jabat, I do not subscribe to any figh (sect). I do not as yet know which
of the 73 sects is genuine. What I do know is that piety, justness and wisdom are
not restricted to any community. I can still learn from the Shias, Ismailis,
Salafis and Wahabis, among others, on the truth and beauty of our faith.
the Day of Judgment, we would be held accountable for our deeds on this earth.
We could not give the excuse that we were merely following the teachings of
this ulama or that. Our faith is blessed not to have a defined clergy class. We
have to think for ourselves. We decide whether to follow the ulama who command
us to hate non-Muslims and consider those Muslims whose politics we disagree
with as infidels.
to the beginning, my understanding of Islam is simple and straightforward: Command good and forbid evil. The rest are
but examples and illustrations.
Cont’d: Suaris Interview The Future of Malays
#6: Continuing on, what is your view on
PAS and its leaders? Will their policies and activities usher Malays forward?