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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, October 15, 2006

Undur lah, Pak Lah! Readers' Responses

Undur lah, Pak Lah! Readers’ Responses


My essay last month, Undur lah, Pak Lah (Step Down, Pak Lah! September 3, 2006), stirred quite a response both in this website and elsewhere. The issues I raised must have struck a chord with Malaysians.

To those who agree with me either in total or partially on Abdullah Badawi’s lack of leadership, I urge you not to resign to that fact. There is much that we can do; we must continually put our leaders’ feet to the fire. We should demand high standards and expectations of them, and if they do not perform, we must not shy from asking them to leave. Eventually even the densest among them will get the message. oFormidable leaders like Tony Blair succumb to grassroots pressures. Abdullah is even denser and not as smart as Blair, so we have to hammer the message even harder and more often.

To those of my generation, we owe it to younger Malaysians not to accept or tolerate mediocrity in our leaders and those aspiring for leadership. Now that Abdullah has postponed UMNO’s leadership conference originally scheduled for next year, all the more we must let him know that his brand of leadership is severely wanting.

Those who disagree with me fall under three categories. There are those who dispute the facts I cited and/or their interpretations. Then there are those who disagree because they have misread my essay and misattributed certain assumptions on my part. The last are those who question my standing to comment, on account of my residing outside of Malaysia.

As this last group is the easiest to dispose off, I will attend to it first. As one of my readers succinctly put it, who cares where I live. We should address the issues. Would those who currently disagree with me react favorably if I were to inform them that I live in Ulu Kelantan? Their reactions then would undoubtedly be: what would a villager know!

I am contemptuous of and do not wish to engage those who view ideas first and foremost on the pedigree of their bearers instead of addressing the merit of those ideas.


Yearning for Mahathir?

There are those who believe that my criticizing Abdullah was nothing more than my yearning to have Mahathir back. Yes, Mahathir was the best leader Malaysia ever had; he transformed the nation. Having stated that, I am also on record as being among his severest critics. I believe the man was sincere when he said that he was not interested in being prime minister again. He is a man of his word; the same cannot be said of Abdullah.

Abdullah’s frequent utterances for transparency and welcoming criticisms are nothing more than, to put in the local colloquial, “cock talk.”

Reflecting back on my criticisms of Mahathir, even when I was severely knocking him down during the terribly trying times following the 1997 economic crisis, I never felt at any time threatened. I felt free to critique him. In the last couple of years under Abdullah Badawi however, I have heard from several reliable sources that I am now on the Special Branch’s radar screen!

Not that it would bother me, but that more than anything else is the key difference between the administration of Abdullah and Mahathir, which in turn reflects the key difference between the two leaders.

As for Mahathir’s many Johnny-come-lately critics, I remember receiving a long and unsolicited e-mail from one Kalimullah Hassan back in the early 1990s chiding me for daring to criticize Mahathir! Of course that was the time when Kali was enjoying plump positions in the many GLCs. Today Kali has nothing good to say about Mahathir I am sure that if Abdullah Badawi were out of power, Kali would be praising Abdullah’s successor sky high and at the same time unhesitatingly condemning Abdullah. Such are the true nature of such characters.

I do not pretend to know what Mahathir’s motives are for criticizing Abdullah, but many Malaysians share his concerns about Abdullah’s competence to lead. The significant difference between Mahathir and me is this: I predicted Abdullah’s mediocre potential way back in 1998 when Mahathir appointed him, while Mahathir discovered the man’s hollowness only recently.


Najib Not Much Better

Many assumed that my calling for Abdullah to withdraw meant that I was favoring Najib. Far from it! With Abdullah’s withdrawal, all the top slots in UMNO would be open, and Najib would have to fight to be the number one.

I do not know who would be the best candidate. If we open up the nominating process so that anyone could contest without first getting the division’s nomination, you would likely get more and better choices.

If we remove the current blight of money politics, we would ensure that the wisdom of the crowd would get expressed. By Abdullah withdrawing now, the upcoming General Assembly next month would then become a leadership convention. Since the campaign period would be short and sudden, that would negate (but not wipe out completely) some of the corrupting influences. It takes time to raise the cash and to corrupt people, as well as to engage in intrigue and backstabbing.

I agree that the current senior leaders in UMNO are a bunch of losers, and that includes Najib Razak. He reached the top simply because Malays felt a deep sense of gratitude to his legendary father. My simple answer to that would be to pick any of the other sons of the late Tun. Najib may be the eldest, but he did not inherit any of his father’s smartness; that went to the late Tun’s other sons.


Judging Abdullah, Not Mahathir

Many are unhappy because by my focusing on Abdullah’s evident weaknesses, I am conveniently overlooking Mahathir’s. Mahahtir’s presumed sins are irrelevant; he is no longer leader. Precisely because I do not want Abdullah to repeat Mahathir’s mistakes, I am relentless in criticizing Abdullah. Mahathir may have had many negatives, but he also had many compensating achievements. Besides, I have no interest now in criticizing Mahathir as he is retired. I have done my part, and more, when he was in power.

If Abdullah would recognize his glaring weaknesses and not be taken in by the soothing praises from his courtiers and step down now, that would ensure UMNO, Malays, and Malaysia would have the opportunity to be led by more enlightened leaders. That would be one enduring legacy worth striving for, and one that sadly eluded Mahathir.

Still, it is only an opportunity, whether it would be realized with his stepping down remains to be seen. He could do much to enhance the possibility of UMNO selecting competent and honest leaders by ensuring the election process be as open as possible. As matters now stand, there is only one certainty: Abdullah staying on would be a disaster for Malaysia, and at a time when it could least afford it.

Many of Abdullah’s earlier moves were promising but he failed miserably in the subsequent follow through or execution. His reform of the Police Force is well intentioned, but is bogged down. His cutting of the oil subsidy too was wise, as that benefited the rich disproportionately, but he did not make the necessary contingency plans ahead of time to ameliorate its impact on the poor.

Consider Abdullah reducing the federal budget deficit, which his spin-doctors proudly proclaim to be their master’s best stroke. There are good deficits and there are bad ones. Having a deficit to finance schools, universities and the infrastructures is good; creating another monster money-losing GLC is not. In failing to differentiate between the two, Abdullah and his advisors are exposing their lack of leadership skills and financial finesse.

Abdullah Badawi is bad news for UMNO, Malays, and Malaysia. I knew this man was kosong (empty) a long time ago. Mahathir is only now discovering this. I hope the rest of Malaysia does not take as long to discover the vacuity of Abdullah Badawi.

Abdullah must step down, and do so now!

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