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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.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Undur Lah, Pak Lah (Part II)

Any other political leader whose party had been so humiliated as UMNO was at this election would by now have tendered his or her resignation. Abdullah Badawi however, is slow on the uptake. He does not respond to subtle signals, even though there was nothing subtle about voters’ rejection of his leadership. The only way to get his attention would be to hit his thick skull with a two-by-four lumber, metaphorically speaking of course.

At a press conference early this morning he declared, “I don’t know who is being pressured (to step down), I’m not resigning.” At best, that reflects a leader totally out of touch with the harsh reality; at worse, the bravado of an idiot. With Abdullah, it is both.

If UMNO members do not complete what the voters had set out to do in this election – that is, get rid of Abdullah – then the next elections would be even uglier. If former UMNO leader and Prime Minister Mahathir was accurate in his assessment that the party can no longer be reformed from within ( a sentiment I share), then we are indeed watching the beginning of the end for UMNO. The implosion has begun.

Nothing is inevitable, however. This once proud party could indeed regain its luster and the citizens’ confidence if it were to thoroughly cleanse itself. As with a fish, the rot begins at the head. Chopped off the head, and unlike a fish, with a viable organization a fresh, unblemished head will emerge ready to take over, as with a hydra.

Fortunately the party has a chance to do this soon. Its Supreme Council members must move forward the party’s leadership conference that was postponed to this August. The council should also rescind its earlier “tradition” of there being no contest for its top posts. It should open up the process and loosen the rules. There is no need for a prospective candidate to line up support from umpteen divisions. To discourage frivolous candidates, institute the payment of deposits, as with the general elections.

Those two initiatives would immediately open up the field. UMNO could then preview more candidates instead of restricting itself to the same tired old faces. New faces of course would not guarantee change. We have already seen many young leaders in UMNO who are only too quick to learn and too eager to acquire the unsavory traits of their elders.

A New Dawn for Malaysia

As Anwar Ibrahim rightly observes, this election marks “a defining moment” in the history of the nation and the opening of “a new chapter.” It is indeed a new dawn for Malaysia, a pivotal point in its politics. He can say that with considerable authority. More than any other person, Anwar was responsible this remarkable reshaping of the Malaysian political landscape. Even though he was not allowed to contest this election, he campaigned actively.

He was also instrumental in aligning the opposition parties. Those parties also worked closely together in 1999 and 2004 elections, but without Anwar’s personal involvement they did not achieve much. Clearly the Anwar factor is real and remains formidable.

The academics will no doubt have their own voluminous analyses of this election, the most significant turning point in Malaysian politics. I wish only to highlight one positive and refreshing trend. This election saw all parties fielding many new and young candidates. Two young fresh talents deserve scrutiny for different reasons, but both reflect the greater political dynamics.

One is Nurrul Izzah, Anwar’s daughter who defeated Welfare Minister Shahrizat Jalil in the Lembah Pantai constituency which included the upscale community of Bangsar and the University of Malaya campus. Unlike many of her cabinet colleagues, Shahrizat was a competent minister. She also treated her novice political opponent civilly and with respect, rare among UMNO politicians. They have a penchant for demonizing their opponents.

Nurrul Izzah’s considerable talent (she after all has a graduate degree from Hopkins) and appeal aside, her victory reflects the waning support of UMNO among urban sophisticated voters.

On the other hand, the fate of another young candidate, Abdullah’ son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, provides an amusing contrast. A year or two earlier Khairy, using the “protection” of his father-in-law, managed to ascend to the number two position in UMNO Youth san a contest or election. This time he was catapulted to contest the hitherto safe rural parliamentary seat of Rembau. Despite being challenged by an unknown school teacher, Khairy managed only to squeak through. UMNO has problems even in the Malay heartland.

Obviously this Oxford graduate was attempting to ride on his father-in-law’s coattail, except that Khairy made the mistake of not recognizing that his father-in-law had no coattails; he was naked!

Non-Political Lessons From This Election

For Malaysians who rely on the mainstream media or who are guided by their opinion shapers, the results of this election would be a shocker. For those who follow the Internet however, this was exactly what we had expected.

While the pundits in the mainstream media were all wet in their prognostications – they all confidently predicted a return of Barisan’s supra-majority – Raja Petra of Malaysia-Today was spot on in his overall predictions. He also predicted a significantly reduced majority for Abdullah and a greatly enhanced one for Najib.

Mainstream media readers may not have heard of “Chegubard” Badrul Hisham Shaharin, Khairy’s political opponent in Rembau, but ‘Netizens are very familiar with him. They also contributed substantially towards his campaign. Had indelible ink been used on voters to prevent repeat voting and had the Elections Commission not have spare postal votes handy, Chegubard would have handily crushed Khairy.

Equally telling was that I had difficulty assessing both Malaysiakini and Malaysia-Today; their websites were swamped despite having multiple mirror sites. Even when the authorities suspended Malaysiakini’s website, it could still be accessed via its mirror sites elsewhere.

For another telling contrast, I had no problem at all downloading the mainstream media’s websites. In my hunger for news however, I readily settled for second best! This election is more than a repudiation of Abdullah Badawi. It is also a repudiation of the mainstream media and their pundits and journalists.

Doing away with Abdullah is much more doable task, not so with our incompetent sycophantic media. UMNO members must not shy away from doing the necessarily dirty task at hand, getting rid of its leader Abdullah Badawi. If they fail to do that, then Malays would not hesitate in getting rid of UMNO.


Blogger IBU said...

Pak Lah...Pak Lah...

Reminds me of the parable of the boiled frog. Except that this one, is still daydreaming even with the high voltage jolt!

7:26 AM  

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