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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

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.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It's Still The Economy, Stupid!

It’s Still the Economy, Stupid!
Exchanges With Din Merican

July 10th, 2006

Dear Bakri:

Thank you for sharing your professional and personal thoughts on Prime Minister Abdullah’s recent “simple sinus surgery.” I also read your latest posting, your “Open Letter” to PM Abdullah.

I have been busy and not had a chance to contribute to your website. Currently I am jointly editing a book of the papers and speeches presented at the April 2006 Second Conference of Asia Economic Forum, University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Your readers too have noticed my absence. Rest assured I am well, Praise be to Allah! Congratulations and best wishes with your latest book!

I have not heard anything here to indicate that the PM’s recent “simple sinus surgery” could be something more. As a surgeon, your professional observation certainly merits some thought. A leader’s health is a matter of public concern. In the United States, the President’s physical and mental conditions are being regularly monitored and evaluated.

As you said, why would he go to Australia for something simple unless that “simple procedure” turns out to be a biopsy. I too do not trust the official pronouncements. I remember one of your earlier essays on the curious silence on Datin Seri Endon’s illness. Shortly after you wrote that, she passed away. All the while, officials and her physicians were making optimistic statements on her strength and resilience right to the time of her death. Our nation went into a state of shock at the apparent suddenness of the event. We knew the late Datin Seri was a tower of strength to our Prime Minister. I hope and pray that the PM’s procedure was nothing beyond a “simple sinus surgery.”

There have been sniping locally and in cyberspace as to why he chose to go to Perth for his “simple surgery.” If it were simple why not have it done locally? After all as you noted, Dr. Mahathir had his heart operation done here even though at that time many leaders suggested that he went abroad.

Recently Tun Mahathir jokingly lamented that he was in the habit of making poor choices when it comes to personnel. He was of course referring to his chosen successor. I am glad and agree with you that at least in choosing Dr. Yahya Awang as his heart surgeon, he picked the right one. You must be very proud to have played a role in Dr. Yahya’s training when you were in JB. Your high opinion of him certainly bears out. He did the first heart transplant in the region, and was recently awarded a Tan Sri, one of the few given to other than politicians or civil servants. Dr. Ismail Merican, the current Director-General of Health, was also given his Tan Sri recently.

Perhaps AAB in choosing to have his surgery in Perth believed that his observation about our country having First World facilities and Third World mentality also applies to your profession.

I do not know much about AAB’s state of health, but he certainly does not look good. He is nervous due to the mounting public pressures over rising inflation, low Foreign Direct Investment, dismal stock market activity, and slower economic growth. There is little vitality.

I agree with you that he seems distracted, prone to waffle, unable to concentrate (as you indicated in your open letter), and has limited attention span. He is drifting and grasping for breath. Could he be worried about his health? There could be a family pow wow in Perth, where he is said to be resting after his sinus operation.

In the final analysis, his personal health may be irrelevant. My take on the current politics in UMNO, and our country is this: It is still the economy, stupid! In my view, if a leader does not understand that his primary responsibility to Malaysians is to create conditions favorable for domestic and foreign investments (that is jobs and income via economic growth), then he is failing his pledge of office.

AAB should deal with the short-term aspects of 9MP to jumpstart the economy. He should not wait for the 2007 Budget but act now, with some quick pump priming measures.

Tun Mahathir will be relentless in seeking answers to his famous four questions directly from Badawi himself, instead from his subordinates like Syed Hamid, Nazri and Rafidah. Mahathir will not stop until he gets satisfactory explanations. The Tun’s criticisms resonate with the public; we too want answers beyond pat statements. We know that Badawi will not be able to withstand the continuous assault since he basically does not know what is happening in his own administration, and cannot control his ministerial barons.

Syed Hamid is hiding behind considerations of secrecy and national security as his reasons for not disclosing details and declassifying documents relating to the sale of sand to Singapore and related issues. Nazri, on the other hand, is attacking Mahathir on a personal level, but there is already a backlash against the minister. Some UMNO divisions want Nazri sacked from the party.

Rafidah (Kak Pidah to Wanita UMNO) is just unable to give us an answer as to why she gave most of the APs to one of her former MITI staff. For her, she has answered the Tun’s questions by her letter to him.

Proton’s former CEO Tan Sri Tunku Mahaleel in an interview recently explained the effects of the new National Automotive Policy and the sale of Augusta. You can view videotape on Raja Petra’s www.malaysia-today.net. I thought the former Proton chief made a compelling case that the company’s heavy investment in R&D through Augusta suffered severely. He also questioned the wisdom of having three national car companies.

Abdullah’s spinners too are demoralized because they can no longer defend him against an increasingly skeptical public. The public thinks he is incompetent and weak, as you say in your open letter, “lembab.” His son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin’s and Kalimullah’s days may be numbered, and UMNO members are after their blood.

Kali is suing Mahathir’s former assistant, Mathias Chang, for defamation. This will not help Abdullah’s cause. I note that Khairy is curiously silent these days.

I am told from fairly reliable sources that there is apparently considerable pressure for Abdullah to step down before the next UMNO General Assembly in September 2006. May be they will gave him a face-saving way out, in the usual Asian tradition. They will ask him to step down and reward him with a Tunship together with a bundle of cash. That would definitely be cheaper considering the damage he has already inflicted on the economy. Look at the ringgit and the mounting losses in KLSE since he took office from his illustrious predecessor. It is not likely that the Prime Minister would give up power that easily since those close to him would be affected in the same way that Tun Mahathir’s supporters are now experiencing.

Then there is Najib’s increasing prominence in recent months on matters of national importance. Zam’s idea of a trusted UMNO personality to broker talks between Mahathir and Abdullah is already nipped in the bud. Fancy using the Governor of Malacca to be involved in politics again! I think Mahathir will not directly refuse to meet Abdullah, but the fact that the Zam’s idea was crushed prematurely speaks volumes.

Over the next few months, Malaysia will go through a period of political uncertainty over the question of who will succeed AAB as President of UMNO, as thus as PM. I remain optimistic that if there were to be a change in the leadership, it would be smooth and orderly.

Sallam,
Din

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