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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, July 26, 2009

Leaders To Bring Us Together

Leaders To Bring Us Together
M. Bakri Musa

In having to appoint a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) following the death of one of its witnesses, Prime Minister Najib clearly demonstrated his lack of leadership and inability to be in command of a rapidly evolving crisis. Essentially, events forced Najib’s hand; he was reacting, not leading.

Najib is not a leader, at least not the type Malaysia desperately needs today. His meteoric rise in the party and government is less an expression of talent, more the gratitude his party has for his late father. For his part, Najib has not shown any indication that he benefited from those splendid opportunities. On the contrary, like a spoiled child, those amenities merely indulged him.

Unfortunately for Najib, more so for the nation, there are no ‘training wheels’ to the Prime Minister’s office.

Najib’s deputy Muhyyuddin is in the same kampong league. Earlier, Muhyyuddin dismissed calls for a royal commission, insisting that the police and the MACC are quite capable of undertaking the investigations. It reflected his low standing in the cabinet that many, including fellow UMNO minister Rais Yatim, pointedly pushed for the setting up of the commission. Even the lowly UMNO Youth leader did not share Muhyyuddin’s faith in the police and MACC.

Consider a different scenario. If upon his return from his Middle East trip, Najib had summoned his Home Minister Hishammuddin and the Director of MACC for an immediate briefing. They of course would not be able to give a coherent explanation. Whereupon Najib would at a press conference announce his directing the MACC to put the involved officers on immediate administrative leave pending a full independent investigation.

Had Najib done that, with his commanding baritone voice, he would have projected an image of a decisive leader who was on top of the situation. He would also put an immediate end to the current ugly spectacle of an unfortunate death degenerating into a polarizing political and increasingly racial issue.

As senior statesman Tengku Razaleigh noted, there have been too many deaths while under custody, and Teoh Beng Hock’s demise marks a watershed in the attitude of the public towards the government, setting a new low. This essence is missed by many in the government.

The ordering of a coroner’s inquest or Royal Commission should have been an executive decision; Najib does not need to involve his cabinet. The cabinet should be deliberating substantive issues, like how to make our economy competitive or reform our rotting education system.

Najib should have learned how his late father handled the national tragedy of the May 1969 race riot. Tun Razak stood in front of the cameras and in a solemn voice and serious demeanor announced the immediate imposition of martial law and a “shoot to kill” order for the police and military. He struck a reassuring and take-charge image, in stark contrast to the hapless weeping Tengku Abdul Rahman, who was then Prime Minister.

The world may condemn him as a dictator or worse, but there was no disputing that Tun Razak established law and order quickly. To put that in perspective, the modern flare up of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland began at about the same time as our 1969 riot. Today, while to most Malaysians that nightmare is but a dim distant memory, the folks in Northern Ireland are still busy settling old scores.

The evolving public furor over Teoh’s death shows every sign of continuing its destructive downward spiral, fed by racist opportunists of all flavors and colorations, with Najib on the sideline reacting and not leading.

What stunned me were not the responses of the bigoted and uneducated; their chauvinistic views were expected and perhaps excusable because of their ignorance. It would be too much to expect them to have a perspective beyond their clan or kampong. To them this crisis is nothing more than yet another ethnic Chinese-Malaysian victimized by Malay officialdom, or the belligerent Chinese not missing an opportunity to mock Malays.

What took me back instead were the responses of those ‘educated’ ministers and leaders. They just could not comprehend the public outrage over the MACC’s interviewing a ‘friendly’ witness into the wee hours of the morning and who would later be found dead outside its premises. Perhaps those civil servants were trying to impress the public on how diligent and hard working they were in attending to their duties! If that was how MACC’s personnel treated their ‘friendly and cooperative’ witness, I shudder to think the reception a suspect would get.

Far from expressing condolences to the poor bereaved family, these ministers went on to impute evil motives on the victim and those who were outraged by the needless tragedy. How would these ministers feel if it was their son who had been victimized? Don’t they have any empathy?

To their credit Najib Razak and his Women’s Affairs Minister Sharizat Jalil did convey their condolences to the family of the deceased. The two were the exceptions. Najib was even thoughtful enough to send his personal representative to the funeral. The vulgar behaviors of the others, especially Muhyyuddin, were eagerly picked up by the toadying commentators and columnists in the mainstream media. They fueled the fire.

In seeking answers and justice to this cruel death, we must refrain from injecting additional unnecessary and divisive elements. The case is complicated enough; there is no need to inject or impute extraneous factors. As The Star columnist and law professor Azmi Sharom rightly observed, people are angry over the needless death of a young Malaysian, not a young ethnic Chinese, and what they perceive as the abuse of power by MACC officers, not the abuse of power by Malay officers.

We need to mobilize the masses to this injustice. We are a democracy and public opinion matters. Thus far public outrage has caused the cabinet to set up the Royal Commission, but that is not enough. Without continued public pressure the commission’s findings would suffer the same fate as befell the Police Commission and the one investigating the so-called Lingam Tape. Nothing happens. We need continued public pressure so the coroner’s inquest and the Royal Commission would be conducted openly and transparently, their findings readily available.

There is an art to mobilizing public opinion, and I am not attuned to its many subtleties. However, I do know that many share my disappointment that at one public rally over Teoh’s death most of the speakers were unable to convey their outrage in our national language. Many were young and presumably born and raised in Malaysia, yet they were unable, unwilling or uncomfortable to speak in our national language. That is definitely not the way to go about seeking broad public support.

I was similarly unimpressed with the rallying cry of HINDRAF, Makkal sakthi (People Power). That would be fine to gain public support in Kerala, but if it is fellow Malaysians you wish to influence, then you had better articulate your arguments in our national language. HINDRAF would have converted a few more to it cause had it substituted its slogan with Kuasa Rakyat.

Being a plural society Malaysia faces many challenging and continuing centrifugal forces threatening to rip it apart. We need leaders who must recognize this grim reality and then mobilize countervailing forces that would bring us together. We need leaders who would view our diversity not as a liability but an asset, and a valuable one at that.

Unfortunately his much-touted slogan of “1Malaysia” notwithstanding, Najib Razak is not that kind of a leader. Neither is his deputy Muhyyuddin Yassin. Instead, we need leaders the caliber of Tengku Razaleigh, Anwar Ibrahim and Zaid Ibrahim. The challenge for Malaysia is to make sure that they prevail.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The so called Thrid World countries are all suffering from the same illness. Our leaders have the tendency to overstay and use political power to make us conform to their way of thinking. The entire instrument of government is geared to do this. We as citizens are forced to be like sheep. Follow the leader or you will be sacrificed. This syndrome and the same poltical party running the country since independence has inevitably led to institutionalised corruption. As you said in another article the state is crowding out financial resources and not able to show meaningful development for all its people. The corruption is not only interms of money. You will find that all these Third World leaders continue to abuse power for their own ends. And no one wants to reprimand them.So much so they overtime believe that because everyone around them always agrees with them they are also the fountain of wisdom. Then they convince themselves that power and wisdom are the same thing.The next stage of the corruptin sets in when their followers argue that since you have the power you must also have the wisdom. As this goes on for 22 years they slowly begin to lose the ability to seperate what is morally correct and what is politically expedient.

The hidden hand of the government has its finger in every pie in the Third World countries. With foreign governments reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries even flawed elections are somewhat accepted by foreign governments. The recent developemts in Iran is a case in point. May be we have to go back to orginal principle of parliamentary democracy where it is implicit that the Prime minister must step down before a general elections and allow an independent body to run the elections. I am afraid that these matters must be resolved internally because foreign governments will not want to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.Ramalx

6:44 AM  

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