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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, March 16, 2008

Still Blind To Reality!

If Abdullah Badawi could not leverage the huge mandate he received in 2004 into effective leadership, there is little hope that he could do any better now that he had been severely mauled in the last election. Those who think otherwise are merely deluding themselves and engaging in wishful thinking.

All the top leaders of UMNO are afflicted by this collective blindness, a willful refusal to see or even acknowledge this evident reality; they are engulfed in mass denial.

Of course the likes of Najib Razak and Rafidah Aziz would unhesitatingly and shamelessly grovel themselves up to Abdullah; after all they serve at his pleasure. Najib in particular does not want to disturb the current pattern, knowing full well that this would be Abdullah’s last term and that Najib will take over after that. If Abdullah were to fumble now, there is no assurance that he would not take the whole crowd –that would include Najib – with him.

What amazes me however is when the likes of Shahrir Samad tried to spin the recent election debacle into something else. He would like us believe that it was actually a positive development, the “maturing” of Malaysian society the consequence of Abdullah’s “enlightened” leadership! The surprise was that he could utter that ridiculous claim with a straight face!

Maybe Shahrir felt beholden to Abdullah for having been selected as a parliamentary candidate. Shahrir knows only too well the fate that befell lawyer Zaid Ibrahim. Zaid was one of the few UMNO MPs who had the courage to criticize or at least disagree with Abdullah; consequently Abdullah dropped him as a candidate this time around. Shahrir is drawing the wrong lesson. He should instead recall that Zaid’s stock soared afterwards. He was, among other things, named one of Asia’s top philanthropists. And with UMNO being thrashed, Zaid must thank his lucky stars to have been spared the massacre in Kelantan. God works in wonderful ways!

Then there is the hogwash circulating that it was not poor Abdullah’s fault for the electoral humiliation rather his advisors. How convenient! These Abdullah’s apologists are beginning to believe their own spin. Abdullah’s advisors reflect on Abdullah; like begets like, meaning, Abdullah has dumb advisors because he himself is dumb. Getting rid of his present advisors would not solve anything; he will get other dumb ones!

It is not just voters who have passed judgment on Abdullah’s leadership, so have investors. Trading on the KL stock market had to be temporarily suspended on the Monday following the election. Try spinning that!

It is well to remember that voters’ judgment is based on Abdullah’s past performance. The stock market however is based on expectations. They are declaring that Abdullah remaining as leader would be a disaster, and they are betting their money on that.

Lame Duck Prime Minister

What happens to Abdullah as a person does not interest me in the least; the fate of Malaysia does. Abdullah is now reduced to being a lame duck leader. The longer he hangs on, the more damage he would inflict on his party and country.

If Abdullah does not step down now, Malaysia will in effect have no chief executive. The whole cabinet and indeed the entire government machinery would be consumed with a leadership struggle, both overt and covert, right till the upcoming UMNO General Assembly this August. Nothing substantive would be done, not that Abdullah was an effective executive at the best of time. Everyone would be jockeying for position. It is this uncertainty that is so corrosive to investor confidence.

Indeed the infighting has already begun. It starts out small, naturally enough, in the tiny state of Perlis where there is now an ugly tussle for the chief minister’s post. Soon the crisis will spread, of trying to find scapegoats for the party’s humiliations and over the dwindling goodies. It would not be pretty.

Whatever economic, political and other gains that Abdullah’s hacks and family members hope to gain by his stubbornly clinging to power would vanish just as quickly with his toppling. Remember how quickly they tried to humiliate Mahathir once he stepped down, and he was a very strong leader. He fought back. Abdullah is spineless; he could not even stand up to the chief minister of a tiny state like Perlis. Abdullah would be piled on so quickly and so mercilessly once he is forced down such that the likes of me would be forced to take pity on the poor soul.

New Political Dynamics

This election alters fundamentally the political dynamics at the federal, state, and most importantly, the local levels. This harsh reality has not yet to sink on UMNO operatives. The loss of five states, especially the three most industrialized – Perak, Penang and Selangor – will have severe ramifications, far more than the loss of the two-third supra-majority in Parliament.

All the major economic initiatives (the various “development corridors” except perhaps for the Iskandar Project) previously announced by Abdullah would require agreement from the involved state governments. Now that those states are controlled by the opposition, approvals would not be automatic.

While previous UMNO or Barisan chief ministers would readily kow tow to Abdullah (after all he appointed them), the likes of Khalid Ibrahim (Chief Minister of Selangor) or Lim Guan Eng (Penang) would have no such deference. They would demand, among other things, that the various contracts be subjected to competitive biddings. That would immediately dry up the hitherto steady stream of bounties that used to flow the way of UMNO cronies.

Those previously fat UMNO cats would quickly be reduced to angry and hungry mangy felines, viciously fighting each other up for the rapidly dwindling morsels.

An UMNO Mat Deros who could previously have bulldozed his way through the local council or state government merely by showing those cowed officials pictures of him performing umrah with Abdullah, would now find the going rough. As for the real Mat Deros, now dead, watch his estate being saddled with unpaid assessments, plus penalties. It would not surprise me that the infamous mansion in Klang to be cited for non compliance with local building codes and therefore had to be torn down.

Rest assured that all those powerful UMNO ministers and functionaries wishing to have their own mansions in the cities of the states controlled by the opposition would no longer get sweetheart deals, where valuable crown lands would be handed to them at cut-rate prices a la Mat Deros. They would heap their frustrations on Abdullah. It would be tough on them and Abdullah, but good for Malaysia. That is one positive development of this election.


Anonymous Thomas Lai said...

Dear Bakri,
How right you are. My belief is that the PM and his top UMNO leaders are riding the proverbial tiger - they can't dismount lest they get eaten by the tiger, so tainted are they! looks like they need to be shoved off. Now if only there are more brave souls the like of Mukhriz....

10:18 PM  

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