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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, July 13, 2008

Long Goodbyes Are Only For Lovers

Despite the apparent standing ovation Prime Minister Abdullah received upon announcing his retirement in front of UMNO members on July 10, 2008, there was no love lost between them. Likewise, despite the effusive tribute heaped upon Abdullah by his chosen successor Najib Razak on that same occasion, there is also no love lost between the two.

In announcing his resignation so far ahead, and thus ensuring a long drawn-out transition, Abdullah ignored a fundamental element in human (and also political) relationship. That is, long goodbyes are only for lovers! Abdullah should ponder the lyrics of the chorus line in Ronan Keating’s song, “The Long Goodbye.”


Come on baby, its over, let’s face it!

All that’s happening here is a long goodbye!

[For an accompanying music video, please click this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5_k2pdvNTU ]


While it may be sentimental (and hence tolerable) for lovers breaking up to have long goodbyes, such a protracted political transition would be disastrous for a nation. Far from clarifying the leadership crisis, it only compounds the uncertainty.

Let’s face it. This belated ‘love’ between Abdullah and Najib will not last; neither will they, politically. The world of politics is like the animal world. When you are seen as weak, your predators will quickly pounce in for the kill. While it would be obscene to celebrate such an outcome, nonetheless it would be therapeutic for UMNO, Malays, and Malaysia.

I am uncertain of what a standing ovation after Abdullah’s announcement means. Perhaps they wanted to hear yet another statement reaffirming the same, only this time for him to make the date much earlier. They would then continue giving him ever more enthusiastic ovations – thus calling for even more announcements – until he declared his withdrawal right away! At which point he would bring the house down!


The Limp and the Crippled

As perverse as it may seem, Abdullah’s announcement was meant to reassure UMNO members as well as the public. The result was anything but; the speculations continue, only more intense and interesting!

In truth, the party and country would be better off without these two top leaders. This pact, conveniently arranged by the pair and purportedly “endorsed” by the party’s Supreme Council, was meant to strengthen the top leadership by portraying a public picture of seeming unity.

The limp and the crippled clutching each other would not result in a steady ambulating couple. Far from giving strength to each other, the pair would succeed only in bringing each other down. No marks for guessing who is who here!

That Abdullah is a limp leader is now obvious; made more so by his coalition’s recent electoral thumping. Yet there are still otherwise perceptive pundits who feel that if only those UMNO warlords and ministers would let him lead, Abdullah would do wonders!

If Abdullah had not shown his leadership talent by now, especially after he received the massive mandate in 2004, rest assured there is no talent, hidden or otherwise. Abdullah just does not have it; two more years would not miraculously produce one. The sooner he, UMNO, and the pundits accept this reality, the better it is for Malaysia.

Previously the pair was consumed with neutralizing each other. This desperate last minute union of convenience is brought on by fears that both would be wiped out by a third element.

Before that, Najib Razak, egged on by unconcealed endorsements from former Prime Minister Mahathir, had been making some uppity remarks on challenging Abdullah. Mahathir however now seems to be changing his tune; he has openly chided Najib for not standing up to Abdullah.

Najib’s trajectory was also rudely interrupted by sordid revelations relating to the murder of the Mongolian model. One has it that Najib allegedly had an illicit sexual relationship with the victim; another, Najib’s wife Rosmah was somehow involved in the murder itself. She has denied the allegation, but curiously has not seen fit to sue Raja Petra who made that serious allegation.

Najib denied “knowing” the model, a proclamation of innocence reminiscent of and equally unconvincing as President Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” statement.

Perhaps Najib, a consequence of his early British education, was using the word “know” in its narrow biblical sense as, “Joseph knew his wife, and she conceived.” There was earlier false speculation that the murdered model was pregnant, with the fetus’s paternal origin the subject of intense gossip.

Anwar Ibrahim has as usual read the political situation well. He has shrewdly aimed his guns not towards Abdullah but at Najib. He knows that Abdullah will implode sooner or later. Besides, Anwar’s nemesis Mahathir is doing a pretty good job demolishing Abdullah. It is not that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” rather if my enemies are bent on destroying each other, sit back and relish the scene!

Abdullah also faces a more formidable challenge from Tengku Razaleigh. The Tengku has been getting some traction in his attempt to secure nominations to challenge Abdullah.

Malaysian Politics Hit New Bottom!

With the series of sordid sexual allegations involving senior political figures, Malaysian politics seem determined to hit new bottom (pun intended). The authorities and the public have been distracted by the salacious details, real and fantasized. Indeed, the police are now consumed with this useless investigation, at the expense of fighting crime and corruption.

Malaysia’s political problem is clear: it’s UMNO, specifically its leadership, or lack of one. It is a problem because UMNO is the biggest party, in Parliament as well as in the ruling coalition. UMNO is now rotten to the core.

It is instructive that the only fresh young talent attracted to UMNO these days are such characters as that college dropout Saiful Bukhari Azlan and the lost soul (politically) Ezam Noor. Saiful received an endorsement from no less than Najib Razak, while Ezam was feted by Abdullah himself! Such low standards!

Saiful was the pretty boy who hitherto successfully passed himself off (at least to the gullible) as a “personal assistant” to Anwar Ibrahim. This young man is determined to bring Malaysian politics down to new bottoms, literally and figuratively!

Ezam Noor meanwhile successfully (he thinks) passed himself off as a pretentious warrior against official corruption. He also fancies himself as possessing an oratorical gift matching that of Barack Obama, but minus the intellect. Ezam’s brain, judging by his utterances, could only be slightly bigger than that of a grasshopper, which may explain his frequent political hopping. Nonetheless that was enough to impress UMNO’s top echelon.

Like Saiful, Ezam is threatening to reveal other presumably equally sordid details involving Anwar Ibrahim. Rest assured that when Ezam does that, his standing in UMNO would be significantly enhanced. Such is the rot in UMNO.

Some sympathetic commentators (or perhaps they are just eager to ingratiate themselves to Abdullah) lay the blame for UMNO’s problems on the party’s “warlords” and its essential conservatism. If only the party would accept Abdullah’s “reforms” and the warlords get out of his way, these pundits insist, why there would be a renaissance of the party and wondrous things would magically happen!

These pundits missed the point. Those warlords flourished precisely because of Abdullah’s ineffectiveness. Far from embracing reform, Abdullah is the greatest obstacle towards it.

One badly needed reform is for the party to open up its election process by doing away with the current onerous nominating process. Do away with nomination quotas and you would invite more candidates. That would be the only way to discover new talent.

Abdullah however, is determined to keep this barrier, in fact anything that would help keep him in power. He is a Malaysian Mugabe in the making, if we let him be.


UMNO’s Abscess

There is a malignant abscess in UMNO; it needs to be lanced soon lest it metastasizes and kills the party corpus. The nidus of this putrefaction is the limp Abdullah and the crippled Najib. Both have to be lanced and the associated pus around them flushed out. The sooner this is done, the less complicated the surgery would be and the earlier the healing could begin. The more swiftly the process is accomplished, the less pain (and mess) there would be.

The scalpel is now in the hands of UMNO Supreme Council. If it fails to exercise its solemn responsibility, then the tool would be quickly taken out of its hands and then given to the membership. If they too fail to use it, as by giving candidates like Tengku Razaleigh and others the necessary nominations to contest the party’s elections or doing away completely with the quotas, then they would also lose the privilege of using that knife.

The dye would be cast long before the party’s elections in December. During July and August the party divisions will be selecting their delegates and choosing the party’s nominees. If the members too become limp and crippled by the directive from above, and if they fail to exercise their independent judgment, that would seal the party’s fate. This month and next will be their last chance to redeem the party they love.

Keadilan’s Wan Azizah’s “no confidence” vote against Abdullah scheduled for tomorrow [July 14] has little chance of success. Nonetheless it would serve as a warning thunderbolt, signaling the coming of a severe storm.

The sound of a lightening bolt is a much more reliable predictor of upcoming events than that of a standing ovation.

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