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Najib’s Leadership Deficiencies Undermine Malaysia’s Future

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Najib’s Leadership Deficiencies Undermine Malaysia’s Future

M. Bakri Musa

 

Najib’s glaring leadership deficiencies have now been glaringly exposed. Malaysia deserves better. His performance has not been up to par even when compared to his lackluster predecessor. If under Abdullah Badawi Malaysia had the modernity of Manhattan but the mentality of Mogadishu, under Najib, Malaysia risks degenerating, period.

Najib is not terribly bright or introspective. Like a little child, he always hunger for approval. He is also severely “charimastically-challenged.” A leader could survive or even thrive despite having one or two of these flaws, but to be cursed with all three is fatal.

All his adult years Najib has depended entirely on government paychecks. No surprise then that his worldview is narrowly circumscribed. His solution to every problem is to distribute government checks, well exemplified by his many “1-Malaysia” handouts. His recent Majlis Ekonomi Bumiputra was no exception; likewise its hefty price tag.

Not being introspective, Najib does not and never will recognize his shortcomings. Consequently unlike his immediate predecessor, Najib will never resign voluntarily; he would rather destroy his party and country first. If UMNO does not recognize this, it too will go down with him; likewise the country.

A good leader, to paraphrase a hadith, is one who protects his followers from his hands and tongue. Najib does neither. Functionally, he slipped his hands into the pockets of Malaysians when he raised the price of petrol. He wants to do it again with his Goods and Services Tax (GST). Meanwhile his smooth tongue bribes us with his ever-generous “1Malaysia” gifts, using the rakyat’s money of course.

While being smart is an obvious asset in a leader, not being one would not necessarily be a handicap. Reagan, one of the most successful American presidents, was far from being brainy. He however, knew his limitations and duly compensated for that; his cabinet was full of intellectual heavyweights and individuals of proven achievements.

Incidentally my comparing him to Reagan, no matter how unfavorably, only feeds Najib’s delusion.

Najib thinks he is super smart; he frequently parrots the latest buzz words. It is not just an increase but a quantum leap! It is not just any strategy but a blue ocean one! Meanwhile the ship of state is headed straight to the bottom. He does not appreciate his fundamental problem. You cannot scour the ocean on a leaky sampan with a crew familiar only with the rakit (bamboo raft), and hope to survive.

The embarrassing caliber of Najib’s cabinet and advisors reflects his blissful ignorance of his deficiencies. He had over four years to scout for fresh talent, only to end up with the same mediocre core ministers he inherited from his equally dull predecessor. I cringe whenever I hear any pronouncement from them. They are all “half-past six.”

Even on the rare occasion when Naijb picked a bright star like Idris Jala, the former chief executive of Shell, the sparkle is gone. It is hard to soar like an eagle when surrounded by turkeys. Idris is reduced to and consumed with making elegant Powerpoint presentations to any willing audience.

Tasked with “transforming” the government (note the bombastic buzz word!), Idris Jala either severely underestimated the enormity of the task or generously overestimated his talent in executing it. He forgot the evident reality that the government of Malaysia is not Shell with respect to size, scope of activities, availability of talent, or any other matrix. The bureaucratic inertia of the civil service pales the physical one of a loaded supertanker.

If Idris had appreciated the enormity of the challenge, or had a wee bit of humility, he would have focused on only one or two areas, and learned from the experience. Once successful, he would have minimal difficulty selling his ideas and initiatives.

If Najib had been introspective, he would have assigned Idris a specific portfolio and then let him do his own “transforming.” Idris would then be able to show instead of just merely tell us his managerial capabilities.

Like a skillful carpenter, a good leader knows when and where to deploy his finest tools. Implicit in that observation is that a good leader must first recognize which tools are sharp and which ones are dull, to be discarded. It is precisely this critical insight that Najib is severely lacking.

Najib’s second weakness, his hunger for approval, is equally crippling. He tried to ingratiate himself to extremist Malay nationalists by brandishing his kris dipped in tomato sauce, but to no avail. During the last election he had his son utter a few words of Mandarin and gave generous on-the-spot grants to Chinese schools. Likewise, he visited Rome for an audience with the Pope. At home he garlanded himself in that outlandish floral arrangement around his neck while visiting Batu Caves. Voters readily saw through those silly overtures.

Like a spoilt brat who had grown accustomed to being indulged upon, Najib could not accept the harsh rebuke that was the last election. He reacted like the over-pampered kampong kid by sulking; hence his shameful silence during the many recent crises.

Lacking self-awareness, Najib has pretensions of great charisma. If contrast is the essence of art, then his on-stage performance with the South Korean Gangnam Group, Psy, during the last election campaign was truly, well, artistic. If that were his only gig, that would be harmless enough. It was however, mildly funny, even if it was at his expense.

A charismatic leader could at least attract talent to his cause despite lacking competence or not being generously-endowed intellectually. Najib does not attract the best. He confuses endless slogans for substantive efforts, frenetic activities as decisive actions, and sulking withdrawal as deep contemplation.

Take his endless sloganeering. First there was glokal Malay (contraction for global and lokal, Malay bastardization for local). Lacking traction, he shifted to “One Malaysia.” Streams of slogans later, it is now “Endless Possibilities!” What’s next? Najib is the leader caricatured by Shahnon Ahmad’s lead character in his novella, Unggappan.

We must change the nation’s sorry trajectory by dispensing with the current leadership. The excuse that there is no one else capable may be solace to Najib but an insult to all Malaysians. Allah would not be so unkind and unjust as to deprive us of our share of leadership talent. To get our rightful due however, we must first stop indulging our present incompetent leaders, beginning with Najib. Only then could we diligently search for better ones.

Malaysia deserves better than to be saddled with Najib Razak.

 

Mahathir’s Continuing Burden On The Nation

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Mahathir’s Continuing Burden Upon The Nation

M. Bakri Musa

 

Mahathir is the only prime minister who devalued the ringgit, the very symbol of the nation’s sovereignty. If that were to be his only negative legacy, Malaysia could easily bear it.

Unfortunately the man has burdened (and continues to burden) Malaysia with many more ugly legacies. He has also devalued our culture and institutions. Most of all he has devalued the trust we have in each other, a vital but scarce asset in a plural society.

On a much lesser scale, and to serve more as a concrete example, the upcoming UMNO leadership convention will be another. With its “no contest” rule now the norm, the convention mocks the very meaning of a leadership election, reducing it to the same level as the old Soviet “elections.” This coming event will again expose the party’s corruptness and how pathetically bereft it is of talent. The same old tired and tainted candidates will be recycled. It is an exercise less of renewal and rejuvenation, more of an old and leaking sewer treatment plant, with nothing to hide the stench.

As for the candidates, they would be like desperate monkeys elbowing and clawing each other for the top braches, their howling effectively drowning out the sound of the tree crashing down.

Legally speaking, this party is of course not the original UMNO, rather “UMNO Baru,” Mahathir’s own creation after he maneuvered a less-than-honest squeaky victory over his challenger, Tengku Razaleigh, back in 1987. The party was subsequently deregistered. UMNO Baru is but a pretender to that glorious old party, the spirit of 1946, the one that bravely fought against the Malayan Union and ultimately brought the country to independence. No surprise then that this UMNO Baru has all of Mahathir’s ugly trademarks.

I am privileged not to have met the man; thus my analysis is strictly based on his policies and performances as a leader. It is not colored by personal feelings or show of gratitude. I am spared the “mudah lupa” (ingrate) epithet.

Again thanks to Mahathir, this mudah lupa is a special burden in our culture where one’s personal kindness and familiarity could hide and indeed excuse many a sin. Mahathir himself is not spared this burden; hence his being easily hoodwinked by the put-on piety and humility of his chosen successor, Abdullah Badawi. Even Mahathir’s subsequent enthusiasm for Najib to replace Abdullah was based less on Najib’s talent, more an expression of Mahathir’s gratitude to Najib’s late father for having “rehabilitated” Mahathir into UMNO.

Yes, Mahathir was once kicked out of that grand old party back in 1970 in the aftermath of the deadly 1969 race riots. Those early leaders of the original UMNO were wise and prescient.

Rehabilitated he was, and with his subsequent ascent to the top post, the country now bears the burden of his follies. We will continue to do so long after he is gone, such was the damage he inflicted upon the country.

The currency devaluation was painful enough, especially to the poor. We still bear it today. Judging by past performances, this upcoming leadership contest would again assault our sensibilities, especially of Malay culture. Forget about our budi bahasa (gracious) and halus (soft) ways.

Those previously found guilty of “money politics” (that’s corruption, to the rest of us) like Isa Samad and Khairy Jamaludin would again be elected to top positions. So too would former Selangor Chief Minister Khir Toyo, except that he is now serving time for corruption. Incidentally Khir Toyo is regarded as “clean” by his fellow UMNO members. As for Isa and Khairy, the former is now put in charge of the multi-billion ringgit FELDA, the latter, a cabinet minister. That too, is part of Mahathir’s legacy.

One might quibble about Khairy for he once bragged about being Mahathir’s vocal critic. However, Mahathir’s legacy is the overall negative culture he fostered in UMNO Baru. In any other culture or jurisdiction, that young man would not even be nominated for dog catcher. That speaks volumes to the degradation of UMNO Baru.

That is Mahathir’s legacy, its destructiveness is pervasive and permanent precisely because it is less obvious.

Mahathir’s scathing and relentless criticism of his successor, Abdullah Badawi, cannot hide the obvious fact that he (Mahathir) was responsible for the mess. He appointed Abdullah. Similarly, Mahathir was highly instrumental in Najib replacing Abdullah. Mahathir’s excuse of there being no one else is just that – an excuse. Two successive dud appointments to the highest office of the land, another of Mahathir’s ugly legacies!

Mahathir never tires of reminding us about Petronas Twin Towers, the gleaming highways, and the KLIA, all built during his administration. He also used to brag about Putrajaya, the multibillion-dollar new capital city. Not anymore. Yes, Putrajaya sports some futuristic bridges but it must be the only capital in the world that does not have any foreign embassies. As for those bridges, they must be the only ones to be erected where first they had to dig a lake so they could be water underneath those bridges!

It is pathetic that after having served as the nation’s longest serving chief executive, Mahathir could point only to those physical monuments as his legacy. We have to constantly remind ourselves that the deterioration of our institutions (especially our schools and universities), the pervasiveness of corruption, the soiling of our culture (especially Malay culture), and the erosion of the trust we have in each other are very core of his legacy.

It took the Soviets generations to free themselves of the grip of Stalin’s ghost. It took the Chinese decades to recognize and then overcome Mao’s malignant feng shui. How long will Malaysians, Malays specifically, take to escape the hantu of Mahathirism? Will we ever?

Reflections on Ramadan: Beyond The Fast

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Reflections on Ramadan:  Beyond The Fast

M. Bakri Musa

 

[Presented at the South Valley Islamic Community’s Iftar, Morgan Hill, Ca, July 13, 2013.]

When giving talks on religious topics especially during Ramadan, it is customary to quote generously the Koran and hadith. In deference to those who are far more knowledgeable on matters hadith and those whose tajweed are exquisite when reciting the Holy Book, I will depart from tradition. I do not wish to strain their patience!

Instead I will share my perspective on Ramadan drawing on three insights:  one, my earlier experience as a surgeon in an Oregon lumber town; two, the findings from a landmark experiment in social psychology; and three, comparing Ramadan in Malaysia to America.

 

Surgeon in Oregon

As a young surgeon in Oregon, I treated many workers with severe injuries from the huge local sawmill. To better understand their injuries, the manager kindly took me on a tour of his factory.

Those massive logs were effortlessly thrown by giant cranes onto steel conveyors with the ease of your tossing away used chopsticks. Then the logs were spun around by rollers with stubby studs to be de-barked, much like a housewife peeling carrots. Then high-speed circular saws would slice through the logs back and forth, reducing them to pieces of lumber. If not for the bone-shaking floor vibrations, the high-pitched sound reminded me of a plugged-up vacuum cleaner.

Those pieces were then mechanically sorted and then forced through yet more spinning saws to be cut into specified lengths. Finally they were subjected to human touch and scrutiny as they rolled towards the finishing line, pieces with splits, nodes and uneven cuts having been shunted aside. Then they were stacked and carried into a special room to be “cured.”

This curing room was quiet and cool, its humidity, temperature and airflow strictly controlled. The lack of noise and vibrations was instantly felt; it was a tranquil oasis in marked contrast to the rest of the mill. On the factory floor we shouted and hand-gestured; in the curing room we whispered and cupped our mouths. Even the rhythm of our walk changed, from brisk noisy strides to soft silent steps, as in a mosque. We feared disturbing the sanctity of the room.

The manager told me that after the stresses of being cut, pushed, spun and thrown around, the lumber needed “rest time” so they could withstand the inevitable subsequent stresses at the construction sites or furniture factories. Without this curing, the lumber would readily bend, splinter or even break, soiling the factory’s brand.

If an inanimate object – wood – has to be “cured” before it faces its next phase of stresses, imagine how much more humans would need this time and space. This is what Ramadan means; a “time out” so we could pause and reflect. After all we too have been through the mill in our regular daily lives!

Plants and trees too need this change of pace. The forced dormancy of the long cold weather ensures a full bloom come spring, and with that a bountiful harvest. Winter is the plants’ Ramadan.

 

Children and their Marshmallows

My second insight comes from the Stanford marshmallow study on preschool children. They were each given a marshmallow, with instructions that should they refrain from eating it for 15 minutes, they would be rewarded with an extra one. As expected, some devoured theirs right away, others took longer. Nonetheless there were those who successfully restrained themselves and were thus duly rewarded. The study shows that individual differences towards instant gratification could be discerned very early.

If that was the only conclusion, the study would not be regarded as “one of the most successful behavioral experiments.”

Years later when those kids were of college age, the lead experimenter, prompted by anecdotal accounts, decided to do a follow up study. It turned out those “impulse controlled” children (those who successfully deferred devouring their treats) did better academically as well as disciplinary-wise in school. Indeed, the ability to delay eating marshmallows was a better predictor of scholastic achievement than IQ tests or parent’s educational level!

This insight is fully leveraged by enlightened educators. The largest operator of charter schools in America, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), emphasized character building as well as a rigorous curriculum. It is remarkably successful despite its students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This marshmallow study has other vast implications. If a culture is predisposed to immediate gratification, its members would not likely save. Low capital formation (from lack of savings because of this propensity for immediate gratification) leads to economic stagnation. Malays would do well to ponder this.

The marshmallow study also helps explain why those who acquire wealth through inheritance, lottery, or preferential treatment rarely keep it while those who acquire it through hard work do. The latter have self-discipline – key to their success – and more importantly, to maintaining that success. Again, a point for Malays to ponder!

If the ability to delay devouring marshmallows for fifteen minutes among preschoolers is strongly associated with later academic and other successes, imagine the good if we could delay it for the entire daylight hours! That is the value and significance of Ramadan; to instill self-discipline and acquire the habit of delayed gratification.

That this trait could be detected as early as the preschool age suggests that it is more “nature” than “nurture,” or stated differently, more genetic than environmental. This is reinforced by an earlier study by the same psychologist (using candies instead of marshmallows) comparing Black and Indian (subcontinent) children in Jamaica. As a group, the Black children had difficulty restraining themselves. Another significant variable was the absence of a father in the house. Surprisingly, socio-economic status was not a factor.

In Jamaica there are significant differences in the economic, educational and other achievements between those two ethnic groups. I wonder what the results would be if the Marshmallow study were to be done on Malaysian children! Of course one would have to substitute pisang goreng instead! But then the UMNO folks would insist that Malay children be given two bananas right away, and be rewarded after successfully restraining themselves for only five instead of the full fifteen minutes!

In a recent twist to this classic study, the children were first “primed” before participating in the marshmallow experiment. They were randomly assigned into a “reliable” or “unreliable” group. In both, the children were each given a bag of crayons with instructions that if they were not to open it until the supervisor returned, they would be given, in addition, a bigger and newer set.

For the “reliable” group, the supervisor would duly return, and as promised the successful children were rewarded. For the “unreliable” group however, the adult would return but apologize profusely for not being able to bring the promised bigger and newer bag to those who had been successful.

This crayon experiment was again repeated, this time using stickers. This done, the two groups were tested as per the original marshmallow study.

Nine of the 14 children in the “reliable” group successfully delayed eating their marshmallows, as compared to only one in the “unreliable” group. Children in the “reliable” group also waited longer (four times more) than those in the “unreliable” group before eating their treats.

This suggests that we can train our young to delay their gratification; meaning, we can effectively instill self-discipline at a very young age. This tilts the balance towards “nurture” over “nature,” contrary to the Jamaican data. For this training to be effective however, you must first establish an atmosphere of trust. The children must first have faith in their adults.

Relating to Ramadan, when we encourage our young to fast, we are training them to delay their gratification; we are instilling self-discipline.

There is yet another valuable insight to the marshmallow study, and it comes not from the quantitative data rather from directly observing those children. The “impulse controlled” kids were busy actively distracting themselves as with singing, sitting on their hands (lest they be tempted to grab the marshmallow), closing their eyes, or kneading their skirts, analogous to mythical Greek sailors stuffing their ears with bee’s wax or Ulysses tying himself to the mast to restrain themselves from the call of the Siren song.

Relating this to Ramadan, it is easier to fast if we are working or otherwise occupied. Indeed, the Koran and hadith exhort us not to sleep or idle ourselves when fasting. That would be makhruh (non-meritorious).

 

Fasting in a Muslim Versus Secular Society

Last, I draw from my experience of Ramadan in a religiously- obsessed Asian society, Malaysia, versus in an essentially secular Western one, America.

In Malaysia, the moral squads are out in full force during Ramadan. If you are caught not fasting, you will be paraded around town in a hearse (to remind you of death), quite apart from being fined, jailed or even whipped. Never mind that you may be a diabetic or had just stepped off a trans-Pacific flight. This cruel punitive streak, alas far too common, is the antithesis of the Ramadan spirit.

Malaysians must fast; it is the law and not as it should be a matter of faith and personal conviction. Consequently the spiritual value is often missed, or worse, corrupted as manifested by culinary extravaganzas and ostentatious piety. Malaysians simply rearranged their gluttony from daytime to nighttime. Where is Ramadan’s spirit of restraint?

Fasting in America poses its own challenges. Your co-workers having their usual lunches and the ubiquitous tantalizing food commercials aside, there is the matter of the seasons. When in Canada and Ramadan was in midsummer, I wrote my father of my theological dilemma. He gently reminded me that fasting is not Allah’s torture test and that I should therefore follow Malaysian time. My late father grasped intuitively the essence of Ramadan. May Allah bless his soul for that wise and practical counsel!

Obsessed with the rituals, Malaysians have reduced fasting to a series of acts to accumulate religious Brownie points. Fasting is more than a ritual; it is a process. As important as fasting is, the greater import is where it would take us. It should take us to heightened faith and greater compassion. It should take us deeper into the revelation of the Koran, for it was during this holy month that our Prophet Mohammad, s.a.w., first received his revelation from Allah.

Fasting is good not because the Koran says so, rather fasting is good and that is why the Koran exhorts us to observe Ramadan.

Deciding Who to Vote For: Part 4 Hung Parliament Not Necessarily Bad

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Deciding Who To Vote For In the Next Election

M. Bakri Musa

www.bakrimusa.com

 

 

Downstream Analysis:  A Hung Parliament Is Not Necessarily Bad

(Last of Four Parts)

 

Many fear a hung parliament as they think that would lead to chaos and uncertainty. Yes, there may be both but neither is inevitable. On the contrary I see many potentially redeeming aspects that could benefit citizens, the permanent establishment, and yes, even those politicians.

 

For citizens, seeing these freshly-victorious politicians brazenly jockeying for positions would be both instructive and revealing. It would be quite a sight to watch them behave worse than hookers. At least hookers are consumed with satisfying their present customers first, and would solicit new ones only after they have done that. More importantly, they do both discreetly. Those politicians on the other hand would be openly and lustily auctioning themselves to the highest bidder without even a promise of satisfactory performance to their current customers – citizens who had only recently voted for them. Those politicians would whore themselves brazenly. What matters to them would only be the price their new customers would be willing to pay, regardless how filthy and disease-ridden they are. Damn the consequences, for them or the nation.

 

The jockeying would be intense, shameless and endlessly shifting, threatening both Barisan and Pakatan. It would not be below MCA for example, to align itself with DAP and throw their weight behind Pakatan, demanding an outrageous price in return. Or MCA could demand a stiff price for remaining in Barisan. Not to be outdone, as alluded earlier, PAS could bolt Pakatan and align itself with UMNO in an ugly chauvinistic attempt at reviving Ketuanan Melayu. UMNO would sell its soul to get PAS support, and PAS in turn would readily sign a pact with the devil given the right price. There would be only one certainty; our politicians would finally be exposed for all their corruptness and hideousness. In the end unfortunately, citizens and Malaysia would be paying the terrible price.

 

Perhaps the nation needs such a sordid spectacle to jolt it into realizing that elections have consequences, and that the politicians and leaders we have today are far different from the earlier generation that brought us merdeka.

 

On the other hand, our politicians may well surprise us. Without being unnecessarily Pollyannaish, a few might discover that politics is after all a noble profession, and at its best and essence, a fine exercise in the art of compromise in order to get things done for the good of all.

 

At the very least a hung parliament would prompt us to be more prudent on our voting and not be so casual with this important exercise of democracy. If that would also encourage otherwise thoughtful Malaysians to offer themselves as candidates, then the whole exercise would not have been futile.

 

A hung parliament would also have a salutary effect on the permanent establishment. The last time there was a similar debacle, in Perak following the 2008 elections, the permanent establishment including the sultan, did not acquit themselves well. Who could forget the spectacle of the Speaker being hauled out of the Assembly desperately clinging on to his chair, or the Raja Muda, the Sultan’s representative, being forced to cool his heels in an adjacent room while waiting out the mayhem? It was not pretty. The stench stained all, and stayed to this day.

 

You can be certain that this time, with the real possibility of Barisan being toppled, members of the permanent establishment would be more circumspect for their own selfish reasons. Thus I do not expect blatant displays of partisanship as we saw in Perak. To add flavor to that, the King today, Sultan Halim, was the Sultan of Kedah when PAS took over from UMNO. Thus working with a non-UMNO chief executive would not be a novelty for him.

 

Once we have established this fact at the federal level, all the other sultans at the state level would follow suit. They would, out of concern for their own survival, no longer be so blatantly partisan. That can only be good for them and the country.

 

A hung parliament is nothing to fear; it is just another though less clear-cut expression of a Barisan defeat. Stated differently, a hung parliament is a not-so-pretty Pakatan victory.

 

 

Deciding The Next Election – Part 3 of 4: Pakatan Victory Best For Country

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Deciding Who To Vote For In the Next Election

M. Bakri Musa

www.bakrimusa.com

 

 

Downstream Analysis:  Pakatan Victory Best Outcome

(Third of Four Parts)

 

The best outcome would be a decisive Pakatan victory. This is the only way to effect much-needed change, specifically to end the current culture of corruption, cronyism and rent-seeking that is enmeshed and fast becoming the fabric of our – specifically Malay – society. Again addressing those under the sway of Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu, Malays will never advance until we get rid of this destructive culture, of which UMNO is the prime enabler.

 

I am heartened that more than half of PKR’s candidates are new, with a substantial number of young faces. We can only bring about change with new personnel. Najib considers recycled and rethreads as fresh. How can he ever hope to transform the country with the same tired, tainted, and tattered team? It is significant that he has resurrected Isa Samad, the character suspended from UMNO a few years ago for “money politics!” Truly scraping the very bottom of the barrel! Rest assured that tainted characters like him will be in Najib’s cabinet.

 

Malaysia’s myriad problems would not miraculously vanish with a Pakatan victory; they may well get worse, at least in the short term. After the long drought years, it would only be human to expect Pakatan leaders and their patrons to treat their victory as durian runtoh (bountiful harvest) and get carried away with their excesses. It is to be noted that there are more family squabbles during the good times than during the lean.

Expect them to behave like the long-deprived family that had won a big lottery just before Christmas, Hari Raya, or Chinese New Year. Expect greedy squabbles on who would get the more expensive presents, the bigger duit raya, or more generous ang pows. Likewise, expect predictable fights over who would be Deputy Prime Minister, specifically whether he (or she, though unlikely) should be a Malay, and fights over critical portfolios like Finance, Education, and Home Affairs.

 

I am confident that under Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership, Pakatan would overcome these expected teething problems. Many still harbor doubts about him. However, I have tremendous faith in the human capacity to change. Anwar today is a much better person and an immensely wiser leader then he was 15 years ago. He has been through a dramatic reversal of fate, been literally battered, and survived nearly six years in jail until his conviction was overturned. Lesser mortals would have been crushed but Anwar emerged stronger with his reputation enhanced.

 

Anwar is not dumb. His years in solitary confinement have taught him a thing or two about fate and human nature. He is now well-tempered steel, not easily corroded, and able to withstand the tempest, exactly the kind of leader the country needs.

 

The chief of police who battered Anwar was finally convicted and jailed. It is significant that Mahathir and others in UMNO have yet to express regret much less condemn the despicable performance of this chief of police. That reflects the ethos of Najib, Mahathir and UMNO. That will never change; hence the need to get rid of them.

 

The religiously inclined, more pious or less worldly-driven PAS leaders would be a positive influence. They would impress upon their Pakatan colleagues to regard their victory not as a cause for celebration as with a Hari Raya, but the beginning of a long difficult stretch, as with the start of Ramadan. Their victory should call for restraint, patience, and generosity; a time for shared sacrifices, not a fight over the spoils of victory. There will be plenty of time to celebrate later, when they have successfully completed their fast (their programs bearing results).

 

There would also be the inevitable temptation to reward old stalwarts for their loyalty and past efforts. Yes, by all means thank and honor them but the nation now needs a new beginning. We need new leaders. It would be a tough sell but that has to be done, and done gently, firmly, and with class as well as magnanimity. The torch has passed on to a new generation. It is time for the elders to step aside, tough though that may be for some.

 

The more human and thus likely response from them would be, “Finally it is our turn!” Those seniors would then look upon the younger leaders not as the next generation of torch bearers but usurpers. “We have struggled for decades and now these upstarts are grabbing the rewards from us!”

 

Were the older leaders to react that way, it would be a tragedy for them as well as the party and country.

 

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new, / And God fulfills himself in many ways” (48,49) wrote Tennyson in “The Passing of Arthur,” “Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” (50) That newness after the election refers not just to a new party but also a new generation.

 

Those seniors should instead heed this Tennysonian wisdom:  “When every morning brought a noble chance, / And every chance brought out a noble knight.” (38,39) The 2013 election will be a new morning for Malaysia, and with that our chance for a new noble knight. We should seize upon that.

 

There are other potential dangers, of course. If perchance PAS were to win big relative to the other members of Pakatan, then expect its leaders to overreach. They would want to immediately implement hudud and declare an Islamic state. That would fatally split the coalition and be a tragedy for the country.

 

With its sizeable victory PAS could be the de facto ruling party. Its members could threaten or be bribed by UMNO to “return to the fold.” Historically PAS was an UMNO splinter group. UMNO would not hesitate to throw its non-Malay partners MCA and MIC under the bus, if that be the condition imposed by PAS. UMNO would do anything to hold on to power.

 

If that were to happen, non-Malays have every reason to be worried. I do not expect another race riot. Malaysians are now too smart and too far developed socio-economically to fall for such chauvinism. Instead what would happen would be a massive brain drain and capital flight out of the country. This time those highly educated non-Malays would be joined by Malays, at least those who have qualifications recognized outside of Malaysia. Those Malays have seen Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan; they have no wish for Malaysia to be like those countries.

 

An UMNO-PAS coalition would survive; the demographic supports that. The nation however, would not, at least not in its current form.

 

Lastly, a Pakatan victory will have a salutary effect on UMNO. Presently it is burdened with corrupt, incompetent and sclerotic leadership. Despite Najib’s much-ballyhooed and increasingly futile “transformation” and “change or be changed” exhortations, the party is incapable of reform and self-renewal. Deprived of the loot from having lost political power, a defeated UMNO would quickly implode. That would be the bad news for the party.

 

The good news is that only the honest, competent, and committed would be left. They would rebuild UMNO slowly and painfully, inspired by its past glories. The example of Mexico’s PRI cited earlier is instructive.

 

There are fear mongers out there intimating that we risk another horrific May 13 with a Barisan loss. The irresponsibility factor aside, such fears are misplaced. If Malays are easily swayed by frothy mouths like Ibrahim Katak, then we have a far greater problem. Non-Malays are smart enough not to be bothered by characters like him. The Ibrahim Kataks could easily be bought out and effectively silenced by a few cheap directorships.

 

What I fear more is not a Malay versus non-Malay riot, rather a vicious and protracted intra-Malay conflict. Intra-communal conflicts have always been underestimated. Syrians now suffer much worse then when their country was at war with Israel. Further back, the communists in China killed more Chinese than they did the invading Japanese. Malays now are more deeply polarized along social, political, and religious lines. The fact that our leaders across the spectrum are blissfully unaware of these simmering fault lines makes them all the more dangerous.

 

The recent Lahad Datuk incursion in Sabah was widely viewed as an “invasion.” Stripped of the nationalistic jingoism and militaristic bravado, it was nothing more than an intra-ethnic fight. What startled and frightened me most about the incident was that the most virulent and violent sentiments were expressed not by non-Malays but Malays. Not a single person, least of all a Malay, had suggested any peaceful solution. It took a foreigner in the person of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to urge an end to the violence and to encourage dialogue for a peaceful resolution.

 

I view the current racial taunting and fear mongering as nothing more than Barisan’s crude and ineffective tactic into scaring Malaysians from voting for the opposition.

 

Next:  (Fourth of Four Parts) Downstream Analysis:  A Hung Parliament Would Not Be Bad

Barisan Win No Victory For Malaysia

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Deciding Who To Vote For In the Next Election

M. Bakri Musa

www.bakrimusa.com

 

 

A Barisan Win is No Victory for Malaysia

(Second of Four Parts)

 

There can only be three possible outcomes to the next election:  Barisan to win with a comfortable victory; Pakatan Rakyat to prevail; and a hung parliament. A comfortable victory is one where the expected hopping of a dozen or so successful candidates would not materially affect the political balance. A hung parliament is where the buying or the shifting of allegiance of a handful of elected members would significantly alter the political balance.

 

Contrary to the pronouncements of many, the worst possible outcome would not be a hung parliament but a Barisan victory. The best possible outcome would be for Pakatan to secure that majority. A hung parliament is not the worse but then also not the best possible outcome either.

 

I begin with Barisan being returned to power, not with a supra majority for not even Najib Razak is predicting that, not in his wildest dream. In his speech dissolving Parliament, he implicitly conceded the possibility of defeat. Only his fanatic supporters are fantasizing big victory, but only after they have been high on their free tapai (fermented rice).

 

If you relish precious public funds being squandered through bloated contracts (think of the scandalous “commission” that slimy “Datuk T” secured for the non-existing crooked bridge) and outright pilferage (as with the “cow-gate” scandal and the Scorpene submarines that would not submerge), then expect more of the same with another Barisan victory. Only this time the scale would be even more outrageous both in scope and amount, difficult though that may be to imagine. Barisan, and UMNO specifically, would look upon their victory as approval if not vindication of their corrupt and wasteful ways. That is what Najib meant by not changing horse midway. He and his cronies wish to remain on their gilded saddles.

 

With a Barisan victory we would never get to the bottom of the “cow-gate” scandal or the outrageous civil settlement between Khazanah and ex-Malaysian Airlines’ boss Tajuddin Ramli. Consider that had Barisan won Selangor in 2008, that Khir Toyo character would still be its Chief Minister and not the convicted criminal that he is today. There are many Khir Toyos at the federal level; only a Barisan defeat would expose these scumbags. Only with a Pakatan victory could they be held accountable and be prosecuted.

 

For those expecting political stability as their reason for voting Barisan, that delusion would quickly be shattered. There is little chance for Najib to better his predecessor’s performance of 2008. If they started to scheme for Abdullah’s downfall before the total votes were tallied in then, this time the power struggle to replace Najib would be even cruder, more vicious, and utterly destructive. Forget about the old Malay budi bahasa (niceties); it would be the Mat Rempits gone amok, complete with the roar and gore.

 

After the 2008 electoral fiasco Muhyyiddin unhesitatingly turned on his erstwhile patron, Abdullah Badawi. The temptation for Muhyyiddin to topple Najib post-election 2013 would be irresistible. Being seven years older than Najib, this is the only opportunity for Muhyyiddin to do it. By the time the next general election comes he would over 71 years old, a spent force.

 

Muhyyiddin’s body language all along could barely conceal his contempt for Najib, both the man and his policies. So expect Muhyiddin to launch an even more emboldened and naked challenge. I disagree with veteran UMNO observer Abdullah Ahmad who noted that Najib would more likely to be challenged by younger leaders, not Muhydddin. It would only appear that way, at least initially.

 

This vicious do-or-die battle between Najib and Muhyyiddin would have all the trappings of classic class rebellion of feudal times, between orang bangsawan (aristocrats) and orang hamba (peasants). Expect the royal class to be actively involved; no marks for guessing which side they would favor.

 

At the personal level, it would be a brawl between a street-wise pugilist who has survived many such encounters, versus a soft-cocooned brat long used to having his way by hiring others to do the dirty work for him. The irony this time is that Najib would be at the receiving end of those calculating leaders who weigh things on what they would gain personally, an art Najib had perfected throughout his political career.

 

The junior members of Barisan, the Chinese and Indian parties as well as those from East Malaysia, would be reduced to being anxious spectators and helpless prey. Prey because their members would be vulnerable to tempting offers to switch side. There would be no political stability, instead endless scheming and changes of alliances. The ensuing looting of the public treasury to finance such shenanigans would be on an unprecedented scale.

 

Najib’s ballyhooed promise of transforming his administration is just that – hot air. He will again field his sclerotic ministers and they will all be back in his cabinet. Nothing would have changed.

 

We are already getting a preview of Barisan’s shenanigans during this campaign with Najib furiously bribing voters with our (taxpayers’) money! Make no mistake, after the election he will be expecting and collecting his dues. That would be the ugly scenario that awaits a Barisan victory.

 

The RAHMAN prophecy has it that the “N” refers to Najib; he would be the sixth and last UMNO Prime Minister. If Barisan were to return to power this coming election, then that RAHMAN prophecy would have an even more ominous meaning. It would mean the end of Malaysia as we know it. As National Laureate Samad Said put it, this is our only chance to spare Malaysia such an awful fate.

Next:  (Third of Four Parts) Pakatan Victory Best Possible Outcome

Who To Vote For In The Next Election

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Who To Vote For In the Next Election

M. Bakri Musa

www.bakrimusa.com

 

 

Elections A System for Checks and Balances

[First of Four Parts]

 

When he dissolved Parliament on April 3, 2013, to make way for a general election, Prime Minister Najib advised us to “think and ponder appropriately” before casting our votes.

 

We can practice two mental exercises to help us “think and ponder appropriately.” One, imagine the best and worse possible consequences of our vote, that is, perform a “downstream analysis” of our decision. Two, reflect on the greater role of election as an effective bulwark against abuse of power by those in authority.

 

I will discuss the broader role of elections first. Subsequent essays will be a downstream analysis of the only three possible outcomes to this election:  Barisan Nasional returning to power; Pakatan Rakyat to prevail; and a “hung” parliament.

 

The most effective check on those in power is the knowledge that they could be replaced in an election. The more this is a reality and not just in theory, the more effective is this critical role. Elections serve as periodic useful reminders.

 

Even where elections are fair and free, but if the same leaders and party were to be re-elected over and over, they would sooner or later succumb to sclerosis and abuse of power, regardless how competent and well meaning they were initially. It is the rare leader who could escape this all-too-human tendency. We must have actual periodic change in government through elections, and not just the promise.

 

With rigged and fraudulent elections, or where the process is merely illusory, as with having only one candidate per slot (Russian elections of yore and the election of UMNO President), the less effective they would be in keeping those in power accountable. Saddam Hussein bragged that those who did not like him could always vote him out, but Iraqi elections under him were a sham. Had he kept those elections honest, he would have discovered his people’s true sentiment much earlier, and the price to both him and his country would have been considerably less.

 

The British decided through elections that their popular and effective wartime leader Churchill would not be the best person to lead them during peacetime. They wisely concluded that he would quickly turn the Cold War into a “hot” one, as reflected by his hawkish and haughty Iron Curtain speech.

 

Yes, the British were grateful to him for leading and inspiring them during the war, but that gratitude could be expressed in many other ways. Elections are for selecting the best future leaders, not for expressing gratitude for or rewarding past performance, no matter how exemplary.

 

Foremost and at the practical level, election is a way to pass judgment on the incumbent. It is not, as some have suggested, a contest between the incumbent and challenger. It is for the incumbent to prove that he deserves another term independent of the merit or capability of the challenger. The incumbent’s performance is a matter of record, and can be readily scrutinized.

 

If the incumbent has proven to be less than capable, then he should be voted out even if the challenger is thought of as potentially not up to the task of taking over. The argument would be that the incumbent has proven himself incapable while the challenger is only regarded (meaning, only potentially) as such. There is the possibility that our initial assessment could be wrong and that the challenger would prove otherwise. There are many ready examples of previously underrated candidates later shining in office; Harry Truman being one.

 

The first and only question voters must ask before casting their votes in this next election is whether the current Barisan government is deserving of another term. All other matters, as whether other parties are capable of taking over, are irrelevant and besides, conjectural.

 

Consider three critical areas:  economy, education, and level of corruption. Barisan’s economic leadership is passable. It is exemplary only when compared to that of Zimbabwe. Granted, by the figures Malaysia outperforms America and Western Europe (and even Singapore), but remember those countries are already cruising at high altitude. We are still ascending. We need faster growth. We should compare ourselves to China and Panama. Even Ghana and Laos surpassed us last year.

 

More pertinent especially to those under the sway of Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu, is the aggregate economic performance of Malays. After nearly six decades of UMNO rule, we still could not achieve our modest 30 percent goal.

 

Then there is education. No one, not even the Minister of Education himself, is satisfied with our schools. Those who can afford it have long ago abandoned the national stream. Again looking from the Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu angle, only poor Malays are stuck with that rapidly declining system. Consequently, while a generation ago I could still find many Malays at the leading universities of the world; today Malays there are as rare as honesty among UMNO politicians.

 

The much-heralded growth of the private sector in education is not a sign of health rather the contrary. It reflects a deteriorating public system. Alberta and Singapore do not have robust private-sector education because their public systems are so much superior.

 

Talking about corruption, well, there is no point dwelling on it anymore. We are past the tipping point; we are now where Nigeria was in the 1980s. The only way to stop corruption is to deprive UMNO of power. The recent Court of Appeal decision granting one Eskay Abdullah, an UMNO strongman and a member of the slimy “Datuk T’s” trio, his RM20 million “commission” on the aborted crooked bridge in Johor reflects the rot in UMNO. We cannot blame non-Malays for seeing that as the characteristic of contemporary Malay politics and ethics.

 

Elections are like multiple choice tests, to pick the best candidate from the list offered The incumbent always argue that his past performance had been superior or at any rate better than what his opponents could ever hope to achieve; the challenger offers the promise of a brighter future. Voters have to balance the risk of changing horse midstream versus being stuck with a lame one to face an incoming flood.

 

Malaysians already know how lame our current horse is. Worse, it has a voracious appetite that is severely taxing us, literally and figuratively. This next election is an opportunity for Malaysians to send this lame one to the glue factory and hitch our ride on a new vigorous steed.

 

There is only one effective way to teach those who have long been in power and grown arrogant into believing that they are destined to rule forever, and that is to vote them out of office. Then even if their successor were to prove less than satisfactory, it would still have served a salutary lesson on both.

 

Mexico’s PRI of today is a much superior political party and led by a much younger, more capable and decidedly less corrupt leader than it was a decade ago when it was booted out after having been in power continuously for the preceding 71 years.

 

Those who believe that UMNO is “rotten to the core,” no amount of calls for transformation and reform from within or without would be as effective as throwing the party out.

 

Malaysia has another equally important reason to see regular changes in government. Stated briefly, it is to teach our sultans specifically and the permanent establishment generally the important lesson of being politically neutral. They cannot bank on or be overly cozy with the ruling party. That our sultans and civil servants have yet to learn this crucial lesson of democracy was demonstrated by the ugly political mess in Perak, and to a lesser extent in Selangor and Trengganu following the last election.

 

It is also for this reason that I am optimistic of a smooth transition at the federal level with the coming general elections should Barisan be booted out. We are fortunate to have Kedah’s Sultan Halim as Agong, not because he had that role earlier, rather his recent experience with the smooth transition from UMNO to PAS in his home state following the 2008 election. His performance then shamed his brother rulers in Perak (especially), Selangor, and Trengganu.

Our sultans and members of the permanent establishment too need frequent reminding on the need to be politically neutral and to be professional about it.

 

Next:  Second of Four Parts:  Downstream Analysis – A Barisan Win is No Victory for Malaysia

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #7

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

 Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #7:  Touching on the economy, while to date Malays have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that insignificant. They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How can we achieve this target?

[The original appeared in www.suaris.wordpress.com on February 27, 2013
MBM:  To begin with, which mortal has declared that Malays are entitled to 30 percent? In which verse is it so written? Why 30 and not 60 or 20? Queried thus, it is obvious that the figure 30 percent is only the figment of someone’s imagination, or more correctly, fantasy. Whether we control 20 or 60 percent of the economy would depend entirely on our efforts and initiatives, not based on some written parchment.
            I agree that our achievement thus far, and not just in economics, is far from satisfactory. It is in fact pathetic when you consider that UMNO, meaning Malays, have been ruling the country for over half a century. Whom can we blame – leaders or citizens?
            Economic development depends of us, individually and as a society, having and running successful enterprises. A successful enterprise requires three essential capitals. Most are familiar with only financial capital – money. More important, and we do not emphasize enough, are human and social capitals. We provide literally billions in financial capital, but because we ignore the other two, our enterprises often fail or do not succeed well.
            When I began my private practice in America, I did not have any money but because of the value of my human capital was high (being a surgical specialist), I had no difficulty borrowing from the bank. That reflects the primacy of human over financial capital. When your human capital is high, financial capital is not an issue.
            The bank was not shy in lending me money even though I was a recent immigrant to America and had no friends or family to guarantee the loan. That reflects the high quality of America’s social capital. The bank had faith in the system that I had received my medical credentials legitimately and not through corrupt or nefarious means. Consequently it had confidence in my competence and thus potential success as a private practitioner.
            Had America’s social capital been low and I could obtain my license through corrupt means or through a degree mill (there was a time in America in the not-too-distant past when that was possible), there would be no assurance that I would be competent. My patients too would sooner or later discover that I was a fraud or a physician in name only.
            If American society has low social capital, the banks would not readily grant loans especially to a recent immigrant (pendatang as it were), non-white person (not an American Bumiputra, to put in Malaysian perspective), or someone who shares the religion as Osama bin Ladin. I might not repay the loan on the basis that interest payment is sinful!
            Compare America’s social capital to Malaysia’s, especially Malays’. Could a competent Malay engineer who is a member of PAS get a loan from Bank Islam or land a contract with the UMNO government?
            Jamaluddin Jarjis, former Malaysian Ambassador to United States, related how he had difficulty securing a loan from local banks to start his engineering consultancy firm in the 1970s even though he had a PhD in engineering from McGill, an elite university. Now that he is an UMNO strong man, they line up not only to lend but also give him money! That reflects the low quality of our social capital.
            A few years ago a student at a leading American university had her scholarship withdrawn because her father was active in PAS. Again, that reflects our low social capital! A society with high social capital values the individual’s talent and ability; a society with low social capital values who and not what he knows.
            The problem of financial capital is readily solvable; not so with human and social capitals. If we do not elevate the value of Malay human and social capitals, there is no hope for us regardless how generous the quotas or lucrative the contracts we reserve for ourselves. We could kiss goodbye the 30 percent goal, or even the 20 percent!
            To enhance our social capital, we must separate as far as possible the incestuous relationship between politics and economics. Granted, we cannot fully divorce the two as they are inextricably linked, but politics in Malaysia generally and Malay society specifically interferes with or more correctly poisons the other sectors especially economic.
            Our academics are less scholars and intellectuals, more UMNO activists. Peruse their resume and intellectual output. No wonder they are caricatured as Professor Kangkong (pseudo scholars). The tragic consequence is not just the plummeting of the quality of our universities but a whole generation of young Malaysians are wasted.
            If we do not have qualified local or Malay experts, don’t hesitate in getting foreigners. Even America has many foreign professors. In all my school years in the 1950s I had only one Malay teacher (other than those teaching me Malay). Likewise at university, as I studied abroad. Yet I did not feel in anyway deprived academically or felt less Malay. Nor was my education inadequate or that I have fallen under the sway of foreigners.
            I care only the competent and diligent to teach our students. There is no pride if they were taught by incompetent or less diligent Malay professors. Where is the pride of being operated by a Malay surgeon if you have to suffer the consequences of his inadequate skills? What pride is there if a Malay engineer were to design our bridges but there is more water flowing over than underneath them?
            A society with high social capital values the expertise and talent of the individual, not his race, tribe or political views.
            Consider the many government-sponsored enterprises like FELDA aimed at helping Malays. I would expect such entities to be led by competent individuals with at least an MBA and vast corporate or private sector experience, not discredited politicians and retired civil servants. Isa Samad, FELDA’s head, has zero private sector experience; he could not even run a roadside coffee stall. What is his legacy after leading Negri Sembilan for decades?
            To enhance our social capital we must value the competent and industrious regardless of their political sympathies (UMNO or PAS), religious preferences (hijab wearers or fond of gowns and jeans), or the singers they admire (Ito or Siti). We must also not be tolerant of those who are corrupt, incompetent or have repeatedly abused our trust in them no matter how much they praise us, or bribe us with our own (taxpayers’) money.
            In short, a society with high social capital practices meritocracy. I purposely avoided using that term as it is so often confused with or limited to mean only paper qualifications and test scores. Its true scope is much broader.
            On another front, a society with high social capital saves diligently and is not wasteful. The act of savings goes beyond simply putting money in the bank and being prudent. It reflects an ability to think and plan for the future. Those who do so are more likely to thrive. A society with high savings rate has ample “capital formation” to finance economic development, as exemplified by the Japanese and South Koreans.
            When Datuk Onn and Za’aba talked about “correcting” Malays, they meant that even though they were not aware of the concept of social capital. There is nothing wrong with Malay society; we need only enhance our social and human capitals.
            If one has high human capital but lives in a society with low social capital, one could always migrate to where the social capital is high. Every year thousands of Chinese, Indians and Europeans leave their native land to do exactly that.
            The quality of human capital is dependent on health and education. The first is obvious; if you sickly, you are not likely to be productive. The second is related to enhancing citizens’ skills, ingenuity and diligence. Consider Proton; while manufacturing cars it could also train mechanics. Once the value of their human capital is enhanced, then only provide them with the necessary financial capital so they could open their own workshops. Do so and within a few years we would see Ahmad Auto Repairs and Mahmud Motorworks mushrooming in Malaysian towns. Who gets the franchise to operate Petronas stations at present? Politicians who have no idea the difference between struts and carburetors!
            Likewise with contracts for canteens in schools and public buildings; those should be given to graduates of MARA catering programs. Once they have completed their training (thus have enhanced human capital), only then provide them with the financial capital and contracts. Once they are successful as canteen operators they would expand into their own restaurants and catering services.
            Every year the government gives out for free valuable state land. Who gets them? UMNO operatives who are loath to get their fingernails dirty. Why not give those land to agricultural graduates of UPM?
            Enhance our human and social capitals; the two are far more crucial than financial capital. If we ignore developing our human and social capitals we might as well kiss goodbye our 30 percent goal. Any other pursuits are but fantasy.
Cont’d.:  Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays # 8: You have written much on improving our education. Is the present system capable of preparing Malays for the future? If not what should be done to improve, replace and overcome those deficiencies?

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #6

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 6.   What is your view on PAS and its leadership? Do you think that their policies and struggles would usher or obstruct Malay/Muslim development in our country?

 [The original in Malay appeared in www. Surais.wordpress.com on Feb 20, 2013.]

 MBM:  The leaders and policies of PAS do not impress me. That however, is irrelevant. More pertinent is that those leaders and their policies will cause Malays and Muslims to regress. Whether we would enter Paradise under PAS, only God knows, and He is not telling me or anyone else.

PAS has two fundamental flaws. First, it is confused on whether to be a political party, meaning one that aspires to one day hold power and lead the country, or a religious entity. The two are not necessarily incompatible but PAS has yet to choose which one has the greater priority. The price for this blurring of objective is that the organization does not excel in either.

Second, PAS is not democratic. The highest and ultimate authority lies not with its members, as it should be, rather an unelected Council of Ulamas. Worse, that council is restricted only to ulamas. Where is it written that only ulamas have the ability, wisdom or privilege to lead?

In a democracy, the ultimate power must lie with voters or members. Were PAS to govern, would its ministers be answerable to Parliament or the Council of Ulamas? Which body has the higher and ultimate authority? According to our constitution, it is Parliament; to PAS, the Council of Ulamas.

This is no small matter. Consider the current crisis in Iran where its unelected Majlis Syura is in conflict with the elected Parliament. I have no problem with the Ulama Council being merely advisory. The Ulama Council must respect and defer to Parliament. There is no place for anointed leadership in a democracy. Sovereignty lies with citizens.

On another level, PAS is consumed with labels rather than content. Its leaders are obsessed with hudud and the Islamic State but fail to declare what they mean by those terms. Which Islam state do they hold up as a model? Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Likewise with hudud; as non-Muslims are spared, criminals would be punished based not on the crimes they commit rather their faith. A Muslim committing adultery would be sentenced to death by stoning; a non-Muslim would suffer only the fury of their spouse. A Muslim caught stealing would have his hand chopped off; a non-Muslim would suffer merely a fine or jail sentence. Is that just? If it is not just, it cannot be Islamic. PAS has yet to address let alone reconcile this conflict.

The party’s greatest weakness is that its leadership core singularly lacks management talent. The skills needed for running a modern state are very different from that of being an ulama. The training, academic qualifications and experience of our ulamas are very narrow. They have never been exposed to the behavioral sciences, while their understanding of modern science and technology is abysmal. Their mindset is equally circumscribed.

As for their political skills, PAS leaders have not shown the ability and aptitude for cooperating with like-minded players, specifically their fellow partners in Pakatan even on already agreed-upon goals. They behave little kids; play ball my way or I’ll take it away. They view compromise as a sign of weakness. They forget that politics, as Bismarck wisely observed, is essentially the art of the possible.

Kelantan reflects the management talent or lack thereof with PAS. After leading it for decades, cholera, which has been wiped out elsewhere, is still endemic. Low level of public health is directly the consequence of managerial ineptitude. The people of Kelantan, overwhelmingly Malays, remain the poorest in the nation. Again that reflects the limitations of a PAS administration.

I have tremendous respect for Tok Nik Aziz as an ulama but voters elected him to be chief minister, not chief ulama. He should be humble enough to acknowledge his significant limitations as an administrator. That is his major weakness and fault. Had he been aware, or humble enough to be made aware of, he would have sought competent advisors.

Consider Reagan, revered as one of America’s greatest presidents. He readily acknowledged his intellectual and managerial limitations but he was very confident of where he wanted to take his nation. So he recruited the most talented and accomplished individuals to his cabinet so they could help him achieve his goals.

There are many such Malaysians, Kelantanese specifically. Why couldn’t Tok Aziz co-opt a few of them? Perhaps they could not recite the Koran and do not wear big turbans and flowing robes but if they are competent executives, that should be good enough. Frankly I could not care less even if they were not Malays or Muslims. You want someone to make sure that the rubbish is picked up regularly and the welfare of citizens taken care of.

PAS is obsessed with the Islamic State. Many, and not just non-Muslims, disagree with that. Yet PAS remains stubborn. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful and productive if PAS leaders were to understand and appreciate the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm and outright opposition? The greatest fear is that Malaysia would become another Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even Tok’ Aziz’s wife would oppose that. Imagine, women not allowed to drive!

How do your allay their fears and make them see your viewpoint? One thing is certain. If you label them as apostates or kafirs, that would surely alienate them.

PAS should focus on content and not be consumed with labels. Work with your Pakatan partners to get rid of corruption, abuse of power, and those laws that denigrate the human condition. Those are all wrong from the Islamic perspective. Do that and we that much closer to an Islamic state. To me, an Islamic state is one where there is peace, justice, prosperity, free of corruption, and abuse of power. Never mind the label.

Clearly UMNO today has strayed far from our Islamic ideals. Corruption, cronyism, and abuse of power are the antithesis of things Islamic. They cannot be mollified with the building of ornate mosques or having gala Maulad Nabi parades.

The upcoming general election will be a choice between a party that has a wee bit of competence in statecraft but is riddled with greed, corruption and abuse of power among its leaders, UMNO, versus another that is sorely lacking in managerial capability but whose leaders are pious, honest, and not obsessed with materialism, PAS. Which would one choose?

Of course we all would like the choice of competent, honest and efficient leaders, but Allah has not given us that.

Elections are like multiple choice tests, you select the best answer from the list given. Given the choice we have, I would unhesitatingly pick PAS over UMNO. We can easily train someone to be better executives or help them by supplying those talents. It would be considerably more difficult if not impossible to change someone’s inner core of greed, corruptness, and repeated breaches of faith. Leaders with those ugly traits would continue to get worse, if given the power and opportunity.

This upcoming election is an opportunity for Malaysians to deny the corrupt, the cheaters, and the greedy that power and opportunity.

Cont’d:  Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #7:  Touching on the economy, while to date Malays have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that as insignificant. They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How can we achieve this target?

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #5

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #5:  It appears that you are cynical towards things labeled “Islam.” Many feel that you do not subscribe to conservative Islam as practiced by the vast majority of Muslims rather the basic teachings of our faith. What is your comment?

 [The original was posted on suaris.wordpress.com on Feb 13, 2013.]

MBM:  I am a Muslim, by birth and through practice. I believe in God and Muhammad, s.a.w, as His Last Messenger, as well as the five pillars of our faith. That of course is the belief of all Muslims.

What is the essence of the teachings of our Holy Koran and Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.? Command good and forbid evil! That is repeated many times in our Koran and hadith. That too is agreed upon by all Muslims.

That is the “golden rule” of our faith. I am less interested in labels, those can be easily printed. Content is something else. If a state does not subscribe to the creed of doing good and forbidding evil, then I do not consider it to be Islamic regardless of the label. It is easy to carve the names “Allah” and “Muhammad” on arches and buildings; likewise for leaders to don overflowing robes and huge turbans.

The question is whether corruption, bribery, and abuse of power are deemed “avoidance of evil.” Likewise, if leaders ignore the sufferings and deprivations of their citizens, could that be considered “doing good?” When I make judgment on whether a state is Islamic, those are the crucial factors, not how often the leaders have been to Mecca or how exquisite their recitation of the Koran.

A Singaporean once asserted that his country is more Islamic than neighboring Indonesia. In Singapore there is no corruption or abuse of power by its leaders. Citizens too are well taken care of and not poverty stricken. Poverty invites impiety, goes an ancient wisdom, and impiety in turn leads to infidelity to our faith. Visit nearby Riau and the wisdom of that observation would be readily self evident. The abject poverty there assaults your sensibilities. We cannot blame those poor Indonesians. The Chinese too were like that when they were plagued with poverty in their not-too-distant past.

Based on the foundation of our faith – command good and forbid evil – it is hard to dispute the view of the Singaporean.

I do not quite understand the meaning of conservative versus liberal as applied to Islam. While I understand the meaning of those two words in their original English, in Malay those terms have acquired diametrically opposite meanings. That is why I refrain from using either.

It would be more meaningful if I were to give an example of an Islamic society and leader I hold in high regards and compare both with another I would be very hesitant in emulating. It is not my place to say which one is more Islamic and would enter Paradise. Only Allah knows that, and He is not telling me or anyone else.

 

There are fewer than 15 million Ismailis in the world, about the same number as Malays in Malaysia. Those Ismailis do not even have a country of their own, but their power, influence and contributions to the world generally and Muslim community specifically far exceed their number.

 

Ismailis emphasize the giving of zakat (tithe), and with that money they build schools and universities, as well as invest in companies that among other things manufacture pharmaceuticals. The Aga Khan University Hospital in Pakistan was built only in 1985 but it is already a well known center. The Ismailis could not care less whether their women don their hijab; they are more concerned that their women be trained as doctors, teachers and engineers so they could contribute to society, to be makhlok soleh (exemplary beings).

Compare them to the Talibans in Afghanistan. Taliban means students, but those students are busy burning schools and splashing acids on young girls wanting to go to school. Taliban youths are busy leaning how to use C4 explosives and high-powered AK47 rifles; young Ismailis are busy solving problems in science and calculus.

A society reflects its leaders. The leader of the Ismailis is the Aga Khan. Yes, he is wealthy, raises thoroughbreds, and his father was once married to Rita Hayward, the famed American actress. The current Aga Khan however, graduated from Harvard; he leveraged his networking with American intellectuals to entice them to teach at the universities he built in Asia.

The leader held in high regards by the Taliban was Osama. He too was wealthy and qualified as an engineer from a Saudi university, but he expended his wealth and skills to destroy buildings and kill people.

Who better “command good and forbid evil,” Aga Khan or Osama? I let readers determine whether Malay society today is closer to the Ismailis or the Taliban. Again, I leave it to readers to decide whether the Ismailis or Taliban we should emulate.

We are obsessed with hudud and hijab while drug abuse and abandoned babies are rampant in our community. Why should we emphasize hudud and not zakat? We should be mandating zakat on every Muslim including the sultans. It is one of the five pillars of our faith; hudud is not.

If everyone (save the poor) pay their zakat (2.5 percent of their assets), and then we employ the smartest economists and investment bankers to manage those funds, there would be no end to the good those would bring. That is exactly what the Ismailis are doing, building schools and hospitals with their zakat. What are the benefits of the Taliban’s zakat? If we emphasize hudud, many would end up with their hands chopped off. Who will feed them and their families?

We best demonstrate our Islamic values by not tolerating the corrupt and incompetent, as well as those who have abused our trust in them. Our Koran commands thus.

Yes, we have to accept Islam in its totality; we do not have the privilege of picking and choosing only those parts that please us. The crucial question is why should we emphasize hijab and the chopping of hands but tolerate rotten education and gross corruption? What should be our priority? That reflects our values.

Consider education. Hamka once said that God gave us two Korans; one, the Koran we are all familiar with; two, the universe outside and within us. For the first, Allah had given us a prophet in the person of Muhammad, s.a.w., to guide us in studying it. For the second, God had blessed us with an intellect so we could reason and distinguish between good from evil, truth from falsehood. We have an obligation to study both Korans.

Scientists elucidating the secrets of the polio virus could be viewed as studying this second Koran. The result was the discovery of a vaccine that had spared millions from the devastating disease. That is “doing good.” The Taliban however, view the vaccine as a poison perpetrated by the infidels. Consequently polio still afflicts many in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Again based on the golden rule of our faith, is that “doing good?”

In the early centuries of our faith, our ulama did not differentiate between worldly and religious knowledge. Both ultimately originate from God. Those ancient ulama were also proficient scientists, competent physicians, and skilled mathematicians. They were as diligent in studying this second Koran as the first. Today’s ulama however, totally ignore this second Koran. To them it is not worthy of study. The ummah takes their cue from the ulama; consequently, Muslims have not contributed our share for the betterment of mankind.

We should be concerned with such critical issues as how to educate our young so they could make their rightful contributions to society. Do good in this world and God will look kindly upon you on the Day of Judgment. He is after all Most Just!

Consider this ahadith (approximately translated):  A prostitute was admitted into heaven because she once saved a dog dying of thirst by giving it water. Do you think such women wear hijabs? Another ahadith has it that a man was admitted to Heaven because he once removed a thorn from a road. If that deed was worthy of admission to Paradise, imagine the rewards for someone who actually built the road, meaning, the engineers!

Again, we best demonstrate our Islamic values by building safe roads and bridges. There is no point carving “Allah” and verses of the Holy Koran on such structures if our architects and engineers are incompetent, and the roofs they designed and build would collapse in the first storm and injure many, or if their bridges have more water flowing above than below!

A few years ago there was a public debate between Datuk Asri Zainal Abidin and Astora Jabat on tajdid (reform in Islam). I admire both individuals; they are among the most thoughtful. However, in that three-hour debate, they argued on the minutiae of hudud, on whether a woman’s hair is considered aurat and thus must be covered. Only towards the end did a brave soul ask why we should be bothered with hijab when our nation is crippled with rampant corruption. His query was never addressed. We must reform Islam so we could address pressing social problems that now blight our society. Don’t be obsessed with hijab.

The typical religious discourse on radio and television or at our mosques and universities is unidirectional, from speaker to listeners. The bulk of the time would be consumed with excessive salutations and endless quotations of Koran and hadith. When both are cited, discussions would have effectively been shut down. The Koran and hadith should be the beginning, not the ending of a discussion.

Consider the ahadith that says the community would be divided into 73 sects, only one of which is true and genuine. The remainder 72 would presumably be headed for Hell. How we interpret that hadith has consequences. If every ulama feels that his is the only true sect, then he would have a messianic zeal to correct the rest, with the rationale of helping them enter Heaven! That’s what motivates those Taliban to splash acid on schoolgirls.

Statistically speaking, you have only one chance in 73 to be correct, less than 1.5 percent! That probability should humble and motivate us to learn from the others in the hope that one of them is the one true faith!

I am blessed to live in America with its freedom. I can read Shia and Ahmaddiyah literature without being harassed by religious officials. There are none in America! In Malaysia, I would be jailed without trial, treated just like the communists of yore. Would such a stand conducive to peace and understanding or breed suspicion and enmity among Muslims?

Like Astora Jabat, I do not subscribe to any figh (sect). I do not as yet know which of the 73 sects is genuine. What I do know is that piety, justness and wisdom are not restricted to any community. I can still learn from the Shias, Ismailis, Salafis and Wahabis, among others, on the truth and beauty of our faith.

On the Day of Judgment, we would be held accountable for our deeds on this earth. We could not give the excuse that we were merely following the teachings of this ulama or that. Our faith is blessed not to have a defined clergy class. We have to think for ourselves. We decide whether to follow the ulama who command us to hate non-Muslims and consider those Muslims whose politics we disagree with as infidels.

Back to the beginning, my understanding of Islam is simple and straightforward:  Command good and forbid evil. The rest are but examples and illustrations.

 

Cont’d:  Suaris Interview The Future of Malays #6:  Continuing on, what is your view on PAS and its leaders? Will their policies and activities usher Malays forward?