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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, September 03, 2006

Undur lah, Pak Lah!

Undur lah, Pak Lah

Few images could match the pathos of a man struggling to keep his head above water as he is drowning. A more tragic scene would be seeing a Mongoloid child quietly slipping underwater, oblivious of the mortal danger he is in as he sinks down, grinning. No intimations of fear or helplessness; a few moments later he would be found lifeless at the bottom of the pond.

This is the image Prime Minister Abdullah currently projects, and it is not far from the reality. He is way above his head, and is blissfully unaware of it. He still maintains the “elegant silence” of a Pak Bisu (the lovable deaf-mute uncle), and a “What? Me Worry?” grin of Mad Magazine’s Alfred Neuman.

He is sinking fast, and he does not know it. He is also taking his party and the nation down with him. Unfortunately, it is not within our culture for those closest to him to warn him of the impending disaster, much less to rescue the poor soul. On the contrary, they would continue to shield him from the harsh reality, all the way down to the bottom of the pond. They are more interested in protecting their own interests rather than in saving the man or the nation.

Undur lah, Pak Lah! Step down, Pak Lah! Spare your party, race and the nation you love needless grief.

It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that you might also be sparing yourself, your loved ones, and those closest to you. That is not for me to say.

Right Decision; Right Timing; Right Reason

By stepping down now, Abdullah would be making the one right decision at the right time and for all the right reasons, something that has sorely eluded him since becoming Prime Minister.

This would be an appropriate time for him to announce his resignation, to be effective following the election of a new leader at UMNO’s forthcoming annual convention in November. Doing so now would spare his party and the nation the endless distractions of a leadership tussle. With Ramadan coming up, there will be only a few weeks for the members to focus on electing their leader. The restraining influence of that holy month would curtail the more blatant “money politics” that has plagued UMNO. That would help ensure a clean election; at least I hope so.

Were Abdullah to reveal his stubborn streak and hang on however tenuously, rest assured that the party and nation would be consumed by the leadership brawl. Forget about the Ninth Malaysia Plan, economic growth, or even plain normalcy. Even if Abdullah were to survive (a very big “if”), it would be a hollow victory. He, the party, Malays, and Malaysia would have been senselessly and irreparably battered in the process.

Clinging on would only make him look even more pathetic and helpless than he is already now. Please spare us the sorry sight!

I trust the collective wisdom of UMNO members to select Abdullah’s worthy successor. They have been through the exercise many times before. When Datuk Onn left the party in a huff, sulking because the members would not do his bidding, they demonstrated great judgment in picking the hitherto unknown and colorless civil servant, Tunku Abdul Rahman. It was a prescient choice for later he would lead the nation to Merdeka. In contrast, the daring, brilliant and charismatic Datuk Onn was content to remain in the false security of the colonial cocoon.

Similarly later when the Tunku was enjoying himself too much in being the “world’s happiest Prime Minister” while the nation was fracturing, UMNO members again asserted themselves. That famous genuflecting letter to Tunku from Dr. Mahathir may be from one person, but not its sentiment.

Granted, the UMNO of today is a far cry from its earlier being; it is now corrupted to its core. The rot accelerated when Anwar Ibrahim introduced the party and its members to “modern” forms of campaigning, as with “money politics.” It was only through outright corruption and blatant bribery, condoned by the party’s senior leaders, was Anwar successful in dislodging Ghaffar Baba as Deputy President and thus, Deputy Prime Minister. However, as we Muslims would observe, Allah has His Ways; nothing happens without His Will.

Today money politics is entrenched; it seems futile to have faith in UMNO’s ability to make wise decisions, uncorrupted by money and influence peddling. Examine the last leadership convention, and that was with the two top positions not contested. Imagine the ugly tussles and ensuing gross corruptions had both positions been vacant.

There is some reason to hope that this time it would be different, if Abdullah were to resign now. With the restraining influence of Ramadan and Hari Raya, as well as the short notice, there would not be a prolonged disruptive and acrimonious campaign. There would be corresponding less time for intrigue and bribery. It takes time to form alliances and to engage in backstabbing. This may well be the only opportunity for the party to have a relatively honest election, and for its members to express freely their collective wisdom. This may also be the only chance the party has to cleanse its leadership, and thus itself.

If Abdullah does not seize this rare opportunity and instead succumb to the flatteries of his courtiers, rest assured that the party and nation would needlessly be distracted until he is out. Not a pretty prospect, for him, the party, and the nation.

Contrary to Abdullah’s perception, Mahathir is not the problem; silencing him would not be the solution. Mahathir is getting wide hearing not because he is the former Prime Minister (although that is a factor), rather the issues he raises resonate with the citizens.

Undoing Mahathir’s Legacy

If Abdullah were intent on undoing Mahathir’s legacy, as Abdullah’s many interlocutors seemed to convey, then stepping down now would do it. He would have effectively broken UMNO’s ill-advised “tradition” of not contesting the two top positions. This presumes that Najib would contest the top slot with Abdullah’s withdrawal, and thus automatically vacate his Deputy President post. There is nothing to indicate that he would not do so.

It was just over two years ago that Abdullah received an overwhelming mandate from the people. He has not committed any egregious deeds, which would be the usual reason in calling for a resignation. On the contrary, he has done a few things right; that is to say, I agree with those decisions.

That is precisely Abdullah’s problem. Even when he did the rare right thing, as with trimming the budget deficit, canceling that silly crooked bridge, and reducing the petroleum subsidy, his timing was off and or his reasoning flawed.
It was pathetic and painful to see his ministers and other defenders going through contortions to justify canceling that bridge. As for the timing, the penalty payments may yet exceed the cost had the boondoggle been built!

As for Abdullah’s overwhelming mandate of 2004, do not read too much into it. Malaysians are by nature generous and forgiving of our leaders, at least the first time around. When Tunku took over from the towering Datuk Onn, Tunku’s Alliance Party won all but one of the 52 seats. Datuk Onn scrapped through with the only one seat.

This was not because Malaysians were mudah lupa (easily forgetting) or being ungrateful to Datuk Onn for his great service in establishing UMNO and saving the nation from becoming a dominion. Rather, Malaysians prefer giving their new leaders a rousing start and a generous chance.

Resigning the prime ministership is quite the tradition in Malaysia. Chalk one up for the nation! Tunku did it temporarily to concentrate running his campaign in1959. A decade later the Tunku missed the subtle Malay signals and was more or less forced out, albeit civilly and with decorum in 1970. Hussein did it gracefully in 1981, without prompting, when he found himself overwhelmed.

Fast-forward to today, Hussein Onn is fondly remembered despite his forgettable tenure. In contrast, during the recent celebration of Merdeka’s 49th anniversary, few recalled the Tunku’s pivotal leadership in that fateful event.

Mahathir made it clear that he now deeply regrets anointing Abdullah as his successor. That point is irrelevant. By resigning now and simultaneously opening up the nomination process by letting anyone to participate by doing away with the onerous branch nomination requirements, Abdullah would reduce the corrupting influence of money politics and help ensure getting the best candidates. Let the membership decide who are serious and who are frivolous candidates. By resigning now, Abdullah would also ensure that the next generation of leaders would truly be the choice of the membership. That is a legacy that even Mahathir could not match. That is also the one enduring legacy worth leaving.

Undur lah, Pak Lah!


Blogger Eugenist said...

Salam..Uncle Bakri

It's been a pleasure reading this work of yours. I think this is the one that had managed to create furore in Malaysia. Many of the Goverment's yes men showed their disagreement with your article.

But nevertheless, it is the rakyat that showed the support. And I am one of the rakyat that will support you.

I really hope you will write more on the said issue.

Hope to hear more from you soon, Uncle Bakri.



2:17 AM  

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