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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, January 07, 2007

Pak Lah's Leadership: Detached, Incompetent, and Increasingly Irrelevant

Pak Lah’s Leadership: Detached, Incompetent, and Increasingly Irrelevant

Detached, incompetent, and increasingly irrelevant. Those words best describe Prime Minister Abdullah’s leadership, if indeed it can be thus called. The only consolation is his increasing irrelevance.

Let us hope that he remains content playing the role of the tenth sultan. He is not much good to Malaysia, but then he could not do much damage either. Malaysia has survived worse before; it will survive his incompetent leadership. What we cannot estimate however, is the lost opportunity: Where could Malaysia be if only we had effective leadership

Take his leadership, or lack of one, during the recent flood. With over half of the peninsular states affected and thousands stranded, he saw fit only to express his sorrows. He then went right ahead with his scheduled overseas vacation. The typical civil service “nine-to-five” mentality; once out of the office you forget about your job and responsibilities. This “time card punching” culture is entrenched and difficult to eradicate even after you become Prime Minister.

Only when there were considerable criticisms in the Malaysian blogosphere of his absence did he do an about turn and came home to tour the flooded areas. The mainstream media were, as usual, silent on his initial absence. When Abdullah finally cut short his overseas vacation, The New Straits Times, a paper never known for accuracy or truthfulness, declared that Abdullah toured the flooded areas immediately on returning from his earlier trip to Venezuela. The paper conveniently omitted that Abdullah was already off on his way abroad for his vacation.

It matters not; Abdullah has become irrelevant. All he could do was engage in “photo ops” with some babies and to express his anger at the inevitable looters. Surprise! Surprise! As Home Minister, he should at least send more reinforcements of police personnel and threaten aggressive prosecution of the lawbreakers. Instead he asked the people to make citizen’s arrests. As if that would do it!

Abdullah was reduced to doing the only thing he could: sermonizing. Indeed “touring” is the right word; he was no different from the other voyeuristic visitors.

Allah’s Bountiful Gifts to Abdullah

Abdullah truly believes that the top office is his due, his reward after patiently slogging incognito all these years. To him, it is God’s reward. Now in his sunset years, Abdullah feels that it is his turn, his shurga or heaven on earth for his earlier piety and patience. How dare mere mortals question such bounty coming as it is from God; hence his nonchalant if not arrogant dismissal of his critics! If he were not predisposed to such delusions initially, his many courtiers and flatterers have ensured that he would eventually succumb.

It never occurred to him that elevation to the highest public office in the land was a rare opportunity and privilege to lead the nation to greater heights. To him it was just another step up on the civil serve rung, no different from all the previous promotions he had enjoyed.

Thus it did not take him long to treat the government’s fleet of expensive corporate jets as his private toys. He was busy jetting not only himself but also members of his adult family all over the globe. Someone in Parliament ought to ask whether those adult family members accompanying him paid their way. (I would give only his adult daughter a free ride being that she is now his official escort.)

This man of hitherto modest means and taste would not move into the palatial official Prime Minister’s residence until it had undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation! Now he aspires to own a mega yacht. Such pretensions for an Imam from Penang, a state where Malays are fast being marginalized! That is not my observation, rather of his son-in-law.

His denial of the published report of his acquiring the mega yacht was instructive. He denied seeing the boat (technically that could be correct as the report said the boat was still being built!) but he did not address the question of why he was in that unknown port city in the first place. It was not exactly a convenient refueling jet stop on his way to Venezuela. He did not deny being there but gave no reasons as to why.

With the number of foreign trips and the official functions locally, Abdullah has barely time to address the nation’s myriad problems. There he was in Kuala Trengganu caressing Michelle Yeoh’s bare shoulder at a Monsoon Cup banquet, and then he was back in the capital city giving awards at another glittering social event.

By my estimation, he spends more time abroad on official and unofficial visits than he is at home. He fancies himself a jet setter, with the rakyat picking up the tab for his newly acquired expensive tastes. He is not better when at home; he is consumed with social events and speech making.

I see little value for his many overseas trips. His recent visit to Venezuela, purportedly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations, is an example. Why not wait till the 25th? He could keep himself completely busy by visiting foreign capitals on the anniversary of our establishing diplomatic ties. He returned from Venezuela with nothing to show for the time and efforts expended.

Beware of Those Who Invoke God

When you feel that you have a special communication with God, you are not likely to listen to advice from mere mortals. You are also immune from criticisms from them. When he was asked whether he sought advice from his father, current President Bush replied that he did not need to as he sought counsel from a much higher “Father.”

Even the “thumping” Bush received from the voters in the recent midterm elections, or the equally damning report of the Iraq Study Group has not dissuaded Bush.

Abdullah feels he is divinely destined to lead Malaysia. After all, his great grandfather had foretold such a future for baby Abdullah, or so he was led to believe. Nobody can now distract him from such a mission.

He just knows what is good for the nation and for him. All those disappointments and tribulation of the past, as his being booted out of the cabinet by Mahathir and being shunted by his friends while out of office, were nothing more than duga’an – Allah testing him. He “passed” those tests, and now comes his due rewards.

With God to guide him he does not the counsel of mere mortals and he can righteously dismiss the carping of disenchanted citizens! He does not feel compel to seek advice or learn from others. They cannot match God.

To him, Mahathir’s recent heart attack was yet another sign of divine intervention. It effectively disarmed Abdullah’s most potent critics. Abdullah must feel that his prayers had again have been answered. Yet another special blessing from Allah!

Such a mindset, steeped in religious faith, is difficult to eradicate. There is no way to disabuse Abdullah of his divine delusion. There is no midterm elections or the equivalent of an Iraq Study Group in Malaysia to remind him of his errors. The UMNO General Assembly, in particular its leadership convention, would normally be the avenue for such checks on the leadership, but that has been postponed till after the general elections. Those could be held as late as May 2009. Abdullah is thus securely ensconced till then. Therein lies the danger to the nation.


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