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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, April 20, 2008

Targetting The Biggest Ass

Johore UMNO leaders had apparently told Prime Minister Abdullah that he must have a succession plan that is “structured, smooth and speedy.” This three “S” strategy missed targeting the biggest ass of all, Abdullah himself. The initiative had more to do with saving Abdullah’s “face” than with solving the grave problems confronting the party.

If UMNO members and leaders were serious, they would focus on getting this harsh and unadulterated message straight to Abdullah: He is unfit to lead the party and country. He has clearly demonstrated this through his deeds (or lack of them) and words. The man is a habitual liar; he cannot separate fact from fiction and distinguish reality from fantasy.

Abdullah’s idea of taking responsibility for his party’s electoral debacle is merely to utter that statement. He has no inkling of what it means to accept responsibility.

Abdullah’s pleading that he is needed to “revive” the party is laughable and self serving. If he could not pilot his ship of state competently when it was calm, there is no hope that he would be any more capable when it is now stormy, and threatening to get even more so every day. Abdullah is the problem, and a very huge one at that. Consequently his moving out would be a big part of the solution. It would not solve everything of course, but it would remove a major impediment.

His “leadership” has been nothing more than endless sloganeering (Work with me, not for me!”), like the leader caricatured in Shahnon Ahmad’s short story, “Ungkapan” (Sloganeering).

Having grown accustomed to the perks and trappings of his office, Abdullah will not leave voluntarily, much less gracefully. He has to be literally dragged out. Subtleties and hints will not work on this man. He is too dumb to read the signals. He is also insulated, surrounded by courtiers ever willing to spin bad news.

Only Three Exit Strategies

There are only three ways to get rid of Abdullah. One is for him to be successfully challenged as party leader in the upcoming UMNO General Assembly in December. Two, would be for a sufficient number of the ruling coalition members to vote with the opposition in a “no confidence” motion in Parliament. And three of course, would be through divine intervention, not inappropriate for a man who is never shy in parading his piety and religiosity.

Knowing the onerous obstacles placed in UMNO towards challengers, the first option is unlikely. Granted, Tengku Razaleigh – the only one to have come out publicly to challenge Abdullah – is a formidable challenger. More daunting however, is the cultural inertia of Malays, especially those in UMNO. They have yet to learn the essential lesson that challenges and competitions are healthy, not acts of treason or betrayal.

The second path is more realistic. The political resurgence of Anwar is real. Far from being the “Anwar who?” of a few years ago, he is now increasingly viewed not only as the de facto leader of the opposition (even though he is not yet in Parliament) but rightly as Prime Minister-in-waiting.

Anwar will be able to contest a parliamentary seat once his statutory prohibition ends on April 14, 2008. A vacant seat will surely come up soon as Malaysia has a good track record of MPs dying in office or getting caught in some scandalous acts and thus having to resign. More likely though would be for one of the current PKR MPs to resign, not to pave the way for Anwar (though that would be the convenient and acceptable excuse) but because the job is not as glamorous or challenging as it is made out to be. Many PKR MPs are successful, young and honest professionals; their “elevation” to the “Yang Berhormat” (Your Honorable) status cuts deeply into their income and career prospects.

As for divine intervention, that is beyond my purview. However many a leader had used “medical” reasons as a convenient face-saving cover for resigning. Abdullah could always blame his hemorrhoids or narcolepsy (a pathologic tendency to doze off).

Abdullah Is The Problem

When Abdullah assumed office nearly five years ago, I was one of the few who were not enthused about his leadership potential. My conclusion was based on reviewing his performance as a minister. I predicted then that by the time Abdullah leaves office, Malaysians would be counting their blessings if he had not screwed up the country too much, and that the best we could hope for was for him to maintain the status quo.

Alas, I was wrong. I had not counted on the maturity and resilience of Malaysians in overcoming Abdullah’s gross incompetence. Malaysians are also incredibly generous as demonstrated by their giving him a rousing endorsement in the 2004 election in the hope that it would give him the necessary boost and confidence to lead. Unfortunately that too could not override his basic ineptness.

In their collective wisdom, in this recent election Malaysians decided that it was not necessary to deal a crippling blow, only enough punch that would leave Abdullah and UMNO reeling, and in the process trigger an implosion in an already corrupt and dysfunctional organization.

Equally remarkable, Malaysians also demonstrated that they are capable of executing peaceful political change. There was not even a hint of civil disorder following Barisan’s loss of five states. Compare that to 1969 and the horror that followed when the ruling coalition lost only one state.

To be sure, had the election been conducted free and fair, with no stuffed postal ballots and with the use of indelible ink to prevent fraudulent voting, the ultimate message would have been delivered, and Abdullah and his ilk would have been kicked out.

Perhaps it was better this way. For had the Barisan Nasional been voted out, there would have been a dangerous political vacuum as none of the opposition parties could form a government. Their loose coalition, the Pakatan Rakyat (Citizens’ Alliance) had yet to be ratified. Now having sensed that power is within their grasp, the opposition parties are ready and willing to sink their differences for a common cause.

Meanwhile UMNO and its coalition partners are galloping fast towards their collective demise. Their course is irreversible.

Thankfully my earlier dire prediction on Abdullah was misplaced. Abdullah has not destroyed Malaysia, only UMNO and Barisan Nasional. Malaysians can all count their blessings for his legacy not being any worse.

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