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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.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Cast From the Herd: Excerpt #55 A Three-Generational Family

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 55:  A Three-Generational Household

In my matrilineal Adat Perpatih culture, home, land, and inheritance all belong to the women of the family. I remember a distant uncle whose wife died while giving birth, a common enough occurrence at the time. He was left with their three young children. A major crisis erupted when he wanted to marry someone from a different village and thus clan. By tradition, he would have to move to his new wife’s family, leaving behind his three children. In Adat Perpatih, the wife’s family, specifically her surviving parents and maternal siblings, have priority custodial and inheritance rights over the wife’s property and children, ahead of her husband.

They solved the crisis when they found a maternal relative of his late wife for him to marry instead. As she was from the same suku (clan) as his late wife, he retained his rights of domicile on her tribal property. He merely tukar tikar tidur (changed his sleeping mat), as the elders put it. In Malaysia today there are many such children separated from their fathers. This happens not only with the death of the mother but also when their father marries multiple wives, a prevalent practice. 

When my parents were posted in Triang, my grandparents moved into our village house to care for us. When my parents were transferred back to the village, my grandparents continued living with us. Even in the village with its close-knit extended families, living with in-laws can be a challenge. We were a three-generation household, with two males in charge: my father and maternal grandfather. It is the law of nature that when more than one is in charge, then no one is. Or when one tries to be, there would be the inevitable conflict. 

So it was with our household. My grandfather, being the oldest and in a culture where old age is revered, was in charge, nominally and only by tradition. He had no discernible income except for his few cows and water buffaloes. His ‘tending’ of the cows consisted of nothing more than letting those critters out in the morning and letting them in at dusk. They must have had an internal homing device, a biological GPS of sorts. For the rest of the day his cows, together with those of the other villagers, would meander along the road, pooping all over the pavement. Cars had to slow down to avoid the animals and their excrements. 

Once, the crown prince was so enraged that he drove his brand new sports car right into one of the cows. He was rewarded with splashes of red (the animals’ blood) and brown (you guessed it!) on his badly-dented yellow Bentley Sport. Those cows were live, mobile, and very effective speed bumps. On my last visit to the village, they still are! 

In contrast to his cows, my grandfather doted on his buffaloes, the few that he had. He never slaughtered any; they were his pets. Every morning even before he had his own breakfast my grandfather would be out with his scythe cutting the lush grass by the river for his buffaloes. Unlike his free-ranging cows, the buffaloes were tethered to a ring of rattan through their noses. To insert it he would first pierce the animal’s nasal septum with the sharpened end of a bamboo stick, and then thread one end of the rattan stalk. The two free ends would then be twisted over each other. The beast hardly sneezed when done right.


The operative phrase there is “done right.” Done wrong, well, the giant could bolt and at worse impale you by its huge horns. I tried once to do this “nose job” and was lucky to escape without injury. I was thankful that my botched first attempt at surgery was not too traumatic to discourage me from pursuing a surgical career. I had better luck with humans. 

My grandfather’s love for his buffaloes went further. He had created a muddy paddock in our front yard, heaven for the huge lumbering beasts but a source of a huge stench, not to mention the swarms of pesky mosquitoes. 

I returned from school one day to see the wooden fence around the paddock dismantled and no buffaloes. My grandfather had sold his entire herd, including a calf only a few months old. Without the buffaloes stomping, the mud pool soon dried up, and with it the stench and mosquitoes were gone. My father covered the area with dead leaves and fresh soil. Soon, like magic, there was a lush lawn. Nature’s healing power in the hot humid tropics is miraculous. Only then did I realize what an eyesore that paddock had been. Later at a family kenduri I would later find out why he had sold the whole herd.

With my parents now renovating the house, my grandparents retreated to the house behind us that they had earlier built for their middle daughter who was now living in the city. In the beginning they would retreat only to sleep and pray while they still had their meals with us. Soon they began leading their own separate lives, which I presumed was what my father had intended. That was good for me as my grandparents’ house became my refuge during weekends or whenever I ran afoul of my parents. 

Next:  Excerpt 56:  Answering The Call

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Anwar Ibrahim's Classy First Press Conference

 Anwar Ibrahim’s Classy First Press Conference

M. Bakri Musa



Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s first press conference shortly after being sworn in was a class act, bar none. He weaved the substantive with the symbolic in an elegant seamless whole. He even handled with remarkable aplomb the congratulatory phone call from Turkey’s President Erdogan that had interrupted the beginning of the press conference and threatened to drag on and on.


            In that press appearance Anwar first spoke in crisp Malay, followed by his equally flawless English. He had none of the exasperating local habit of jumbling even the simplest sentence in both English and Malay, the latter often the “modern” variety with its glut of bastardized English words. This rojak rambling in bazaar Malay and pidgin English reflects a cluttered undisciplined mind.


            I would have to go back to the 1970s in Canada during Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s era to see a comparable polished performance by a bilingual national leader. With Trudeau it was French and English, during a time like Malaysia today, of peak rivalry if not outright hostility between the speakers of the two languages.


            Referring to the symbolic, Anwar again reemphasized his central mission. That is, Malay as the national language and Islam the state religion notwithstanding, Malaysia is for all Malaysians regardless of race, region, or religion. That went beyond being symbolic; it was a much needed balm and necessary reminder following what had been a divisive and polarizing election campaign. Anwar’s enlightened message of inclusiveness was in stark contrast to the dark insularity of the other contenders, in particular Muhyiddin Yassin and Hadi Awang.


            I was less enamored with Anwar declaring the following Monday a national holiday. The disruption aside, it is expensive, and not just in lost productivity. That gesture is far more expensive than renovating ministers’ offices or issuing them with new cars. Anwar rightly rejected those.


            Anwar reiterated his campaign promise of not accepting a salary. A big deal, symbolically and substantively. The loud applause affirmed that. Previous leaders had treated the national treasury as their private bank, and state assets as theirs. Fiscally and operationally however, Anwar not drawing a salary is less significant than his other campaign promise of a smaller cabinet. Think of the savings with not just ministerial salaries and perks but also the associated highly-paid KSUs (Chief Secretaries) and their myriad deputies and assistants.


            Anwar reiterated his commitment to tackling corruption and reviving the economy, specifically the escalating cost of living. It spoke volumes that both the ringgit and Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Index rebounded on news of Anwar’s becoming Prime Minister. I hope he would also commit to a third and equally crucial crusade–repairing the rotting education system. The three are interrelated. You cannot have a robust economy without a well-educated populace, or with corruption corroding the system.


            Anwar should not even consider those with pending criminal trials or tainted backgrounds to be in his cabinet. To be specific, I refer to Ahmad Zahid because he is head of Barisan (now part of the governing coalition) as well as his close relationship with Anwar. Zahid is responsible for Barisan’s post-election support of Anwar, thus enabling him to form the new government. That deed is not to be underestimated, and Zahid should be commended for that, but nothing beyond. Anwar should also avoid retreads from the outgoing cabinet; they were part of the problem and thus cannot now be part of the solution.


            Bring back Latheefa Koya to head the Anti-Corruption Agency, and appoint a Special Prosecutor. A Special Prosecutor would be far more effective than forming a Royal Commission, quite apart from pre-empting charges of political reprisals.


            Reform education so future Malaysians would be more like Anwar, fluent in Malay and English, of deep faith but not wearing it on the sleeve or hijab, and be comfortable with the local ambience as well as on the global stage. In short, glokal Malaysians.


            It reflects Anwar Ibrahim’s supreme confidence that his first order of business when the new Parliament convenes on December 19 would be to introduce a vote of confidence on his government.


            Back to that press conference, I was gratified by the ensuing questions–probing, pertinent, and perceptive, free from the usual toadying groveling types. It is amazing that when the right signals come from the very top, Malaysian journalists respond.


            Anwar can credibly claim aspiring to be Prime Minister not for personal gains but to execute his mission for a better Malaysia. No amount of wealth, glory, or adulation could ever compensate for or be worth the physical and other pains he and his family had endured.


            As a coda, since being sworn in as Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim has given a number of sermons. It is heartening to see so many non-Muslims listening outside mosques to his message of an inclusive and tolerant Islam, a reassuring as well as refreshing contrast to the divisive venomous variety spouted by the likes of Hadi Awang. That might well be Anwar’s most important and enduring contribution.



Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Contrived, Unneeded Political Crisis

 A Contrived, Unneeded Political Crisis

M. Bakri Musa



At last, five days after the election with the results certified within hours of the closing of the polls, the Agung today (1:30 PM local time, November 24, 2022) finally announced that Anwar Ibrahim will be Malaysia’s tenth Prime Minister.


            For Malaysia, Anwar’s appointment brings a much-needed breath of fresh air after the putrid haze that have suffocated the nation for the past few decades and threatened to linger forever, becoming thicker and even more stifling. It is as if the windows are now wide open so the crippling incompetence and rotten corruption of the Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri Administrations could now be flushed out.


            For Anwar, this must be a moment of sweetness and achievement in so many ways, comparable to that felt by the late Nelson Mandela. However with the many daunting problems ahead, he would have precious few moments to savor the victory except to express his gratitude to Almighty Allah and the voters.


            The Agung’s announcement today was no surprise as Anwar’s coalition had won the most number of parliamentary seats as well as garnered the highest percentage of the popular votes. The obvious question was why the delay, as well as the prolonged negotiations? The process involved leaders of all the other parties, major and minor, as well as the sultans.


            As for the other sultans’ high profile involvement leading up to the announcement today in what was essentially a federal matter, a minor though not commented upon observation but nonetheless a not inconsequential one is this. Why were the non-royal governors of Melaka, Penang, Sarawak, and Sabah not invited or not involved? This after all was a decision that would impact the entire nation. Ever wonder why secessionist sentiments are growing in East Malaysia, or that non-Malays feel left out?


            Back to the delay in the Agung’s announcement, what had transpired behind the scenes during the last few days following the election, with the series of breathless last minute negotiations and slew of press conferences? To the world, all those unseemly activities degraded the nation’s highest office. Those haggling and counter offers as well as the offering and withdrawing of statutory declarations as if they were negotiable checks are what you would expect when buying a ram’s head in a Middle Eastern bazaar. Malaysians demand better of their leaders.


            The question that immediately arises is whether all those activities were but a charade, a manufactured crisis to direct citizens’ attention elsewhere so as to conceal something more sinister and consequential?


            There is a price to pay for this prolonged political haggling both by the political leaders as well as members of the permanent establishment, including the Agung and his brother sultans. They triggered this unneeded crisis for the nation and at a time when citizens could ill afford it.


            Citizens were not apprised and thus did not know what had transpired behind the scenes in the various luxury hotels a la the Sheraton, together with what had occurred at the palace in the presence of the Agung. Transparency is the essence of democracy.


            Had the Agung made the decision he made today last Sunday following the election, then Malaysians would have been spared the ensuing needless political melodrama. Apart from the economic and political costs, this crisis has incited raw racial emotions and ethnic bigotry reminiscent of the dark ugly days following the May 1969 national election. Many are still kindling the ambers of that terrible tragedy.


            In unnecessarily delaying Anwar’s appointment, the Agung must bear the major part of the blame and burden. Had the Agung announced giving Anwar the first crack at forming the government last Sunday, all the ugly post-election drama would not have happened. The bitter rivalries and emotions of the campaigns would by now have subsided if not forgotten. In deliberately delaying the announcement, the Agung fanned this unneeded crisis.


            Again, had Anwar been invited to form the government last Sunday, being a polished politician, he would have created the necessary compromises to achieve a workable coalition with like-minded potential partners. He has to as his political survival depends on that. Politicians are by nature and vocation adept at this. Politics is after all, to quote Bismarck, “the art of the possible, the attainable–the art of the next best.”


            In a misguided quest for a “unity” government, the Agung tried to force a coalition. Force coalition, like forced marriages, rarely endures. Sultans by their very nature have minimal to no instinct at negotiations. They are used to having their ways and demands acceded to right away.


            This delay in forming a new government carries many unquantifiable costs, with the rakyat not the sultans bearing them. This central point must be hammered in, and often, lest this mistake be repeated. The rakyat is paying the Agung and his brother sultans a hefty sum every year. They better earn that by learning to be part of the solution, and not be the problem.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Agung's Stunning Inability To Learn From Recent Experiences

 Agung’s Stunning Inability To Learn From Recent Experiences

M. Bakri Musa


Here we go again! In this latest go around in choosing the Prime Minister following the recent 15th General Election, the Agung has again demonstrated his utter inability to learn from the experiences of only just a few years ago. As then, he is again today reduced to being the old school headmaster and his errand school kids, summoning newly-elected MPs to the palace with their statutory declarations in hand.


            Those earlier maneuvers had resulted in Malaysia having three failed Prime Ministers (Mahathir, Muhyiddin, and Ismail Sabri) and a Parliament that shuttered its doors half a year earlier, forcing an election upon citizens during the treacherous monsoon season.


            There is only one thing worse than not being able to solve a problem, and that is to add or complicate it. This is what the Agung has done by not letting Anwar have the first bite at forming the new government. There are severe consequences to that decision.


            The Agung’s current action has caused the nation to be held in ransom by conniving politicians jockeying for positions. The Agung has also yet to learn that it is never smart to have a “no-action” caretaker government, more so when Malaysia is facing severe economic problems and the Covid-19 pandemic still not under control. The continuing decline of the ringgit is only one and very visible manifestation of the former.


            Worse, and an unquantifiable as well as unnecessary risk is that this dallying by the Agung has unleashed a torrent of ugly vicious racist sentiments that rival those seen in the aftermath of the 1969 elections. Perhaps the Agung, just age ten then and cocooned in his parents palace in Pahang, does not remember that dark period of Malaysian history. 


            The solution to the current electoral dilemma is as simple as it is obvious. When no political entity has won a clear majority, as with this recent election, the most sensible route would be to let the one entity that has garnered the most seats be given the opportunity at forming the government. Then it would be for the new Parliament whether to reaffirm or reject that decision, and then take it from there.


            Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition won both the highest number of Parliamentary seats as well as garnered the highest proportion of the popular votes. Eighty-two seats and 37 percent respectively, to Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional 73 and 30 percent. Not even close. The decision should have been a no-brainer. One does not need to be a constitutional lawyer or pay undue deference to Westminster practices to adopt that. It is plain common sense. Simple logic also dictates that.


            Had that been done last Sunday, Malaysia would today have a functioning government ready to begin tackling the many pressing problems. If any politician were to be stupid enough to call for a vote of no confidence on Anwar and thus force another election so soon, then he and his party must be prepared to face the wrath of voters. Do so and risk you and your party suffering the fate of Mahathir and his party. Mahathir was far more popular in his time than either Muhyiddin or Ismail Sabri put together.


            Instead of taking this most logical as well as this common sense step, the Agung wanted to be in the center of things. He is not satisfied in being the King, he wants to be the kingmaker too. He is hungry for national attention instead of being satisfied to discreetly stay behind the scenes. Let the politicians battle it out where it should be, in Parliament, not the Agung at the Palace.


            Who should be Prime Minister is the choice of the rakyat, and only them, not the Agung’s.


            Had the Agung sworn in Anwar on Sunday following the election and then deliver a general advice to the new Parliament on the need for its members to work together, reminding them what they had put citizens through recently what with the raging floods quite apart from the costs of the elections. That should tamper the enthusiasm of any mischievous parliamentarian toying with the idea of an early no-confidence vote on the new government.


            There is also more in this case beyond the counting of seats or popular votes. That is, the alternatives to Anwar had proven their inability to lead in the outgoing Parliament. Time for Malaysia to bet on someone else. That someone is Anwar, no matter how you shuffle the cards.


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Let Anwar Ibrahim Form The New Government

 Let Anwar Ibrahim Form The New Government

M. Bakri Musa


Malaysia’s 15th General Elections on November 19th 2022 saw the implosion of UMNO and the humiliating rejection of its longtime former leader Mahathir. While my third prediction (outright victory for the Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan) did not happen, nonetheless it had won the most (81) parliamentary seats. As such the Agung should give Anwar the first crack at forming the new government.


            The Agung would be failing in his constitutional duties as well as moral responsibilities to the rakyat if he were to do otherwise. The rakyat have expressed their collective decision. It is now for the Agung to make the call, as constitutionally mandated, to choose from among the leaders of the various contending parties the one who would or could command the confidence of the new Parliament. It is a judgement call reserved only unto him.


            It would then be up to the new Parliament to accept the Agung’s decision or contest it through an open debate following a formal vote of no-confidence on Anwar.


            The scenario with the previous parliament where individual MPs were summoned to the palace with their statutory declarations in hand, a la errand schoolkids being called to the headmaster’s office, would not do it. It did not work then and it would not now. The Agung would be well advised not to repeat that charade. There is no constitutional provision for this extra “voting.” Those so-called statutory declarations were made following secret inducements, aka corruption; hence Muhyiddin’s and Ismail Sabri’s bloated Administration with new ministers, ambassadors-at-large, and chairmanships of GLCs.


            A decision taken following open robust debate is fluid and dynamic, the outcome often unpredictable right up to the last minute. Not so with backroom deals, whether concocted in a secret hotel room or at the palace. That is scheming, not constitutionally sanctioned, and borders on being illegal if not immoral. The affairs of state should not be handled as if you were haggling at a souk.


            Following the election, the Agung’s Comptroller of the Royal Household issued this statement. “The parties and coalitions will be asked to give a name of one MP who has the confidence of the majority of MPs in the Dewan Rakyat to be the Prime Minister by 2 PM on Monday Nov 21, 2022.” Syntax aside, that is misguided. It is for the Agung and not anyone else to make that call, with the House then having the prerogative to affirm or deny his choice. Let’s not repeat the “headmaster scenario” of the last Parliament, and the consequent political debacles.


            There are other issues with that royal edict. The instructions given to Speaker Azhar Harun was misplaced as he is no longer the Speaker. His Dewan had long been dissolved. It would be the new Parliament’s prerogative, after it has been properly constituted with all its members sworn in and a new Speaker elected, whether Anwar could continue.


            This Agung had goofed twice before with the outgoing Parliament. When Mahathir resigned in February 2020, the Agung should have followed standard procedure and appointed Mahathir’s then Deputy Wan Azzizah to take over. Had that been done, Malaysia would have been spared much of the subsequent unneeded political uncertainties. By “reappointing” Mahathir as “caretaker Prime Minister,” an unprecedented practice except when Parliament is dissolved in anticipation of an election or during a declared emergency, the Agung fell for Mahathir’s ruse.


            Voters rightly saw through that even if the Agung did not; hence Mahathir’s utter humiliation by voters during this last election.


            That sneaky Mahathir’s maneuver led to the subsequent so-called “Sheraton Move” and the attendant political uncertainties and backdoor scheming. Reprehensible, as Malaysia was then (still is) facing the Covid-19 pandemic. Mahathir’s deception culminated in an unwise general election being called prematurely and during the treacherous monsoon season.


            As for picking leaders from the other coalitions, Perikatan Nasional’s Muhyiddin had proved his utter ineptness during his brief (fortunately) earlier tenure. His vicious diatribe against Christians and Jews during the last campaign only cemented his unfitness to lead Malaysia. The Agung would have learned nothing if he were to reappoint Muhyiddin.


            Barisan Nasional does not even know who is its leader. Zahid Hamidi, its president, is facing serious criminal charges. Ismail Sabri was an abysmal failure earlier on. The Agung would again show his utter lack of capacity to learn if he were to give Ismail another opportunity.


            The only and wise option is for the Agung to choose Anwar to lead the new government. Let him then use his political skills and unique talent to craft the necessary coalition to secure Parliament’s confidence. Any other option would disrespect the citizen’s decision, regardless how eloquent or legalistic the rationale. Forming a new government should not be reduced to the trading and bartering of a souk market, as the Agung’s latest edict has already triggered.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Thhird And Final Chance For Malaysia To Move Forward

 Third (And Final) Chance For Malaysia To Move Forward

M. Bakri Musa



This Saturday November 19, 2022 Malaysians will have an opportunity to put an end to over forty years of corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement that began in 1981 when Mahathir first became Prime Minister.


            For Malay voters, it will also be a chance to expose the cruel fraud of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Special Privileges) that has been perpetrated upon them all these years. Far from being a scheme to improve the impoverished lot of the Malay masses as envisioned by our earlier enlightened and farsighted leaders, it is but a nefarious ruse to line the pockets of our Orang Kayangan (Malay elite). This gluttonous group includes not only the sultans but also hordes of their wannabes, in particular politicians in UMNO and PAS. This perversion of what was once a noble endeavor (Malay Special Privileges) was also the handiwork of Mahathir.


            Malaysians had two earlier tries at rectifying Mahathir’s colossal errors. The first was the Tenth General Election of November 1999, in the wake of the devastating Asian economic tsunami. Mahathir must have had an inkling that he was a major factor to that crisis for he resigned soon after.


            On superficial analysis, the Mahathir-led coalition had a resounding victory in that election, winning over 75 percent of the parliamentary seats despite gaining only 55 percent of the popular votes. More telling however was that many prominent UMNO leaders would have been eliminated had it not been for “last minute” postal votes from some nearby army bases. That election was held in the background of Anwar’s massive reformasi movement against KKN (korupsikronism, and nepotism).


            The second try was on May 2018 when the Najib-lead Barisan coalition lost power. In the ensuing euphoria, leaders of the winning Pakatan Harapan were too generous in attributing their victory to Mahathir’s efforts. That led to their fatal error in inviting the sly Mahathir to take over as Prime Minister. They should have just expressed their gratitude to the man and then lead him out of the door. Had they done so, there would not have been the subsequent back door “Sheraton Move” where Mahathir schemed to block Anwar Ibrahim’s right to succeed him, as was agreed to earlier. Mahathir’s “success” burdened Malaysia with her subsequent political instability, with three Prime Ministers under five years! All equally inept; all Mahathir’s handiwork!


            Malaysia also missed the chance in having her first woman Prime Minister in May 2018. Wan Azizzah would not only have been that but also the best Prime Minister, a Malaysian Angela Markle – quiet, smart, and effective. What an inspiration that would have been for our young girls! Intellectual-wise, Azizzah is head and shoulders above the rest. At the very least she would have spared Malaysia Mahathir’s subsequent treachery that burdened the nation with Muhyiddin’s embarrassing incompetence and Ismail Sabri’s rudderless leadership.


            Or, had Mahathir let his then Deputy Wan Azizzah take over in February 2020 when he resigned for the second time, as normal practice would have it, he would at least help rehabilitate his tattered legacy after having cursed Malaysia with Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak.


            In this election Pakatan’s Anwar Ibrahim and Rafizi Ramli are at their political prime, putting the other leaders on the defensive. Consider this poignant scene circulating in “Tiktok.” The erstwhile formidable Mahathir was about to deliver his campaign speech when a junior police officer told him politely that he could not do so as Mahathir did not have a permit. His body language as he meekly moved away from the microphone and off the stage said it all. A pathetic sight!


            Contrast him to Fahmi Reza, a non-candidate in this election. He too was told to leave a local campus because his “democracy class” did not have a permit. Fahmi however stood his ground and although he finally left with the students cheering him, he made the authorities look childish if not stupid.


            In this election Malay conservative voters, the bulk of the electorate, have not changed, or if so only marginally, not enough to change the overall electoral dynamics. What has changed is that they are now split between the UMNO-led Barisan coalition and the also Malay-led Perikatan Nasional. This triangulation works to Pakatan Harapan’s advantage.


            The other new factor is the expected influx of young first-time voters. The bulk of them too would be Malays but unlike their elders, these young voters are less likely to hew to traditional patterns. I expect them to identify more with the vigorous and inspiring young leaders in Pakatan Harapan. 


            These young voters are my reasons to be optimistic about this upcoming election. They will usher in a new Malaysia by burying the old, corrupt, and incompetent faces in Barisan and Perikatan coalitions.

Monday, November 07, 2022

UMNO's Impending Implosion

 UMNO’s  Impending  Implosion

M. Bakri Musa


When the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) lost power in the 14th General Election of May 2018, its leaders deluded themselves into thinking that it was only a temporary setback. This coming 15th General Election on November 22, 2022 will disabuse them of that.


            It would be sad to see the end of one of the few (if not the only) Malay entities, be it political, business, or anything else, to have sustained such longevity. Most last slightly longer than the morning dew. Beyond that, UMNO successfully spearheaded the nation’s peaceful path towards independence. That deserves the gratitude of all.


            On the other hand UMNO is the one entity most responsible for the collective, destructive Malay submissive feudal mindset and culture. With that, the undue and unquestioning obedience to those in power. Thus Malay sultans could cavort with foreign hookers and then burden citizens with the subsequent humongous alimony. Religious leaders brandish their Qur’an and endlessly quote the hadith while the ummah remains blighted with degrading poverty and crippling social pathologies. In Kelantan, long ruled by the ulama class, kopi susu (cafe au lait) refers to the water flowing out of their taps.


            The leader of the Islamic Party PAS (its Malay acronym) Hadi Awang once said in a televised press conference in London, complete with simultaneous English translation, that corruption is halal in Islam as both parties agree to the transaction! According to his kitab prostitution too is halal. His novel “corruption is halal” has much to do with his getting some of the loot of 1MDB, albeit only the crumbs. He sued Clare Booth of Sarawak Report who first exposed that, but ended up paying her to settle the lawsuit!


            At the federal level, again the consequence of UMNO rule, the ulama have been coopted by the state and reduced to be its handmaiden. They should have been, like their counterparts in the early glory days of Islam, the bulwark against the excesses of those in power.


            As for Malay political leaders, the man who stole billions from Malaysians and then imposed upon them generation-long crippling debt is referred to with great adoration as Malu Apa Bossku? (What is there to be ashamed of my boss?) Najib Razak is only one manifestation of the degradation of Malay values. Again the entity most responsible for that is UMNO. 


            It reflects how corrupt and depraved the party is in that four of its seven past leaders have resigned, including Mahathir. He helmed the party and country for over 22 years, the longest tenure for any Malaysian leader. In case you missed it, that matched the duration of Muhammad’s Prophethood.


            Unlike the other three, Mahathir went beyond just quitting. He started his own party to oppose UMNO. Some gratitude, an ugly personification of his Melayu Mudah Lupa (Malays easily forget!) mantra, his “repayment” to UMNO after what the party had done for him.


            Meanwhile UMNO’s current (eighth) President, Zahid Hamidi, is facing serious corruption charges. His immediate predecessor, that Malu Apa Bossku? character, is now in jail. Bless old Abdullah Badawi; he remains the only one unblemished. One out of eight!


            A line from Yeats’ “The Second Coming” poem describes well today’s UMNO:  “The best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” And all members are hooked and hopelessly dependent on corruption, cronyism, and nepotism.


            Back in the 1950s and 60s UMNO members, in particular those in its Youth Wing, were not at all shy in criticizing their leaders. Youth members regarded themselves as the party’s ginger group, to spice things up in case its leaders got too comfortable. There was also a time when all UMNO Presidents were challenged at the leadership convention. Again, Mahathir put an end to that, in the name of party ‘unity.’ 


            Today there are no jantans (alpha males), young or old, in UMNO, and the party’s leadership convention is but a sham. They are all enablers for UMNO’s wayward leaders; likewise the other leaders of the component Barisan coalition parties. These degradations of UMNO and the Barisan coalition it leads all happened under Mahathir.


            There is more. Mahathir exploited Razak’s New Economic Policy to the hilt by vastly expanding UMNO’s reach into the corporate world. When UMNO was declared illegal in 1988, again during Mahathir’s watch, there was a mad scramble for ownership of its vast assets held under various hidden nominees. Likewise with his massive privatization schemes. Both gave rise to instant classic rent-seeking berlaggak(ostentatious) UMNO billionaires. That included one of Mahathir’s sons whose shipping company, near collapse during the 1997 Asian economic tsunami, was “rescued” by yes, the national oil company. Today at 97, this Geritol politician still feels he has more to give, I mean, take!


            Consider corruption; there is no embarrassment among UMNO leaders today to have their workers blatantly handing out cash for votes. My advice to voters is simple. Take the money (it belongs to the rakyatanyway) and boot out those bastards come voting day. Not only do I look forward to UMNO’s implosion in November 2022, but also that of its longest-serving leader and the man most responsible for the degradation of this once mighty party – Mahathir.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Cast From The Herd. Excerpt # 53: A Traditional Wedding

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 53:  A Traditional Wedding

Soon it would be my brother Sharif’s turn to be on the village matchmakers’ radar screen. Word came about that there was a young lady in a nearby village who would be a perfect daughter-in-law. I recognized the name, my former classmate Rokiah. Village tradition had it that when someone brought up the name of a prospective bride, it would be up to the potential groom’s family to carry out the first initiative, pandang memandang (look and see), that would lead to, if promising, merisik (exploratory phase). 

So one day my father came upon the girl’s house on the pretext of being lost. As he approached the house, Rokiah was outside hanging her clothes and did not notice him. My father interpreted that as an unfavorable signal. Had it been otherwise, the process would have gone to the next level, jarum menjarum (lit. threading a needle), where the two parties would try to weave as it were an agreement with respect to such matters as the mas kahwin (dowry) and a propitious date for the Hari Beradat (lit. tradition day; fig. wedding day). 

It was one thing for my father to get bad signals from his internal antenna, another to explain that to the matchmakers. He would have to come up with a more acceptable excuse. That quandary tormented my father especially now that Sharif would be home that December school holiday and thus be more visible to the matchmakers. 

When Sharif came home during that December holiday with my uncles Nasir and Tahir, he told them that he had just sat for his Cambridge School Certificate examination as a private candidate through the International Correspondence School. He had done well at the trial examination and the school had offered him to register directly (upon payment of fees of course) for its Sixth Form classes instead of having to wait for the formal results that would not be released till March. That way, the school advised him, he would have a good head-start. 

My father overheard the conversation and interjected himself immediately. He said how pleased he was that Sharif was considering continuing his education. My father reminded him that he was university material despite not excelling in his LCE examination a few years earlier. He had been stricken with typhoid and missed months of school. My father had pleaded with the headmaster to let Sharif repeat the year. The answer was an emphatic no. There was no place for such accommodation or judgment. The rules were clear and strict. 

So when Sharif said that he was continuing his studies, my father was jubilant, and not just because he now had a ready excuse not to pursue that earlier marriage suggestion. Again, education rescued my father! 

Two years later Sharif passed his Higher School Certificate and secured an accountancy scholarship to the University of Tasmania where he met his future wife, Zainab Mat Akhir, a Colombo Plan scholar there in economics. They had a simple wedding in Australia. 

The closest to a big traditional wedding in my family was my Uncle Nasir’s. When he broke up with his Javanese girlfriend, the village matchmakers hooked him up right away with the young maiden of my grandmother’s choice. At the betrothal ceremony the ladies of our family went to the bride’s home bearing gifts of jewelry (including the engagement ring), fruits, flowers, toiletries, and the mas kahwin (dowry). The dollar notes of the dowry were folded origami-style into shapes of birds and flowers. With the various denominations being in different brilliant colors, the resultant figures were stunning. 

The groom had no role in this ritual; he was not even there. When the party returned, my Uncle Nasir pestered the entourage about his future bride. He had seen only her pictures. 

“You’d better brush up on your English,” teased my sister. 

“If I were you, I’d move up the wedding date before she changes her mind,” added Azizzah. 

The akad nikah (exchange of vows) was a few months later, on the evening before the bersanding (reception). Both were at the bride’s home. At the akad nikah the kadhi (judge) delegated the bride’s uncle to ask her (she was in a separate room surrounded by her female relatives) whether she consented to be married to this young man. Upon getting her verbal agreement, the kadhi asked the groom whether he was ready to undertake the responsibilities of being her husband. 

After the assent, the kadhi recited a few Koranic verses followed by the exchanges of gifts. The oohs and aahsfrom the guests signaled their approval. The groom now entered the bridal suite to meet his new bride for the first time, accompanied by his groomsman. The couple then emerged to sit on a raised dais for the berinai ritual when guests took turns sprinkling rice seeds (symbolizing fertility) and fragrant petals (sweet smelling), ending with the staining of the couple’s palms with inai (red vegetable dye). 

In the eyes of Islam, the pair was now married. By tradition however, they were not, so the groom returned home that evening with the rest of his entourage. 

The next day at the bersanding, my uncle was in his traditional attire with a keris (dagger) tucked underneath his cummerbund and a tanjak perched on his head, like a sultan. Indeed the couple was raja sa hari (king and queen for the day). My Uncle Tahir was the pengapit (lit. clamp; fig. best man) and held up an embroidered umbrella, more to shade himself than the groom. Meanwhile Sharif carried the groom’s suitcase, symbolizing the groom’s moving into the bride’s home. In more traditional ceremonies the groom’s party would also carry a sprouted coconut to be planted in the bride’s compound. I saw many a wedding where the groom was carried in a sedan-chair on poles over the shoulders of the men, in the fashion of feudal kings, or more recent, the African dictator Idi Amin. 

On arrival at the bride’s house my uncle’s party was kept waiting. After the appropriate long pause so as not to appear too eager, the bridal party emerged. Once side by side, the bride’s right baby finger was hooked around the bridegroom’s of the left hand as they proceeded to the house, with the kompang (drums) now more exuberant. 

There was not even a hint of a smile or any indication from the bride that this was her most joyful moment. Traditional modesty dictated that. They were then seated at the head table to begin the ceremonial feeding of each other. That was the first time I saw the bride smile when my Uncle Nasir, afflicted with the usual groom’s nervousness and clumsiness, accidentally smeared her cheek. 

By tradition there would be yet another bersanding, this time at the groom’s house, but our family dispensed with that. My father’s frugality had by now influenced the rest of the extended family. In the days following, the newly-weds visited relatives on both sides. That was the first time I was formally introduced to and spoke with my new auntie-in-law.

Next:  Excerpt #54:  Memorable Family Vacations