Longing For Enlightened Leaders
M. Bakri Musa
Before Malaysians grant Prime Minister Najib’s request for a mandate in the coming election, we should examine his performance during the past four years. It has been mediocre, satiated with slogans, and drifting amidst an abundance of acronyms. If Malaysians are satisfied with KPI and PEMANDU, or One Malaysia This and Two Malaysia That, then expect more of the same, this time with ever incredulous inanity and flatulent fatuousness.
Najib has not demonstrated any ability or inclination to clean up his administrative house. An early indication of his second term performance is this. Thus far no cabinet minister has voluntarily withdrawn from being an electoral candidate. As Najib will not drop them, if they win they will end up in his cabinet again. Nothing would have changed.
A wisecrack definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. That is true only if you let the same cast of incompetent characters carry out the task after they have clearly and repeatedly demonstrated their inability to do so. Pick others more competent and diligent, and the result may well surprise you. It would be far from insanity.
The best advice a science teacher could give a student who repeatedly fails to perform an experiment is to suggest that he pursues music instead, where “practice, practice, practice!” (doing the same thing over and over) may take him to Carnegie Hall. Likewise, the kindest gesture to Najib after he has clearly demonstrated his inability to lead would be for Malaysians to force him into another line of work, by not voting him and his party in.
After over half of century in power, what has UMNO, a party that claims to champion Malays, achieved? Malays today are even more morally corrupt, deeply polarized, and economically disadvantaged than ever before. Those are not my observations. I am merely summarizing what Mahathir, a man who led the country and UMNO for over two decades, said.
Take any social indicator – rate of incarceration, drug abuse, families headed by single mothers – and our community is over represented. Our educational and economic achievements are nothing to be proud of; they are an embarrassment. Yet UMNO Supreme Council members parade their ‘doctorates’ from degree mills as genuine intellectual achievements. The sorry part is that their colleagues believe them! Spouses and families of ministers brag that their luxurious condominiums are the fruits of their entrepreneurial flair where others see those as reflecting the corruption and cronyism of the system.
Current UMNO leaders are like that inept science student; it is time to force them to pursue other lines of work, anything other than leading us. Voters must be like the strict teacher; flunk the student who repeatedly fails to perform his assigned task. Letting him continue would not do that individual any service; it would only be detrimental to the rest of the class. Voters must flunk these corrupt and incompetent UMNO leaders by voting them out.
Not A Lost Cause
This does not mean that UMNO is a lost cause; nothing is. Even the most unseaworthy sloop could through imaginative and skilful craftsmanship be brought up to Bristol condition. The operative phrase or caveat is “imaginative and skilful craftsmanship.” Is Najib imaginative and skilful?
I never underestimate the ability of an individual to learn or change. The diminutive, uninspiring and uncharismatic Deng Xiaoping was well in his 70s when he assumed power. He then took his giant nation in a radically different and far better direction.
Unlike Deng, Najib is far from being diminutive physically, but he exceeds Deng in being uninspiring and uncharismatic. Again unlike Deng whose path to power was littered with the carcasses of personal and political tragedies (his son was paralyzed by Red Guard goons and Deng was once paraded in a dunce cap on the streets of Beijing), Najib’s ascend to the top was well paved – by others.
Deng was tempered by life’s bitter lessons; Najib’s the beneficiary of its many blessings. If Najib considers that a handicap and an excuse for his underperformance, then he should look up to another transformative leader of modern times, Franklin D Roosevelt, for inspiration. Roosevelt, whose name means a field of roses in Dutch, was born into privilege. Yet he uplifted the lives of Americans especially the poor through his New Deal initiatives. His progressive redistributionist policies earned him the sobriquet, “traitor to his class.”
Najib’s name is equally rosy; it means wise, intelligent, or high birth in Arabic. Like Roosevelt, Najib was also born into privilege though not on the same scale as FDR or today. Corruption and cronyism were not yet the norms when Tun Razak was Prime Minister.
Going back to Deng, Najib too spent his formative years as a young man abroad, in Britain, to Deng’s Europe. When Deng left, his father asked him what he hoped to learn. Deng replied, “To learn knowledge and the truth from the West in order to save China.”
I do not know whether Najib had a similar conversation with his father, but one thing I do know. Tun Razak sent all his children abroad to escape the very Malaysian system of education he was championing! Hypocrisy is a good word to describe such a stance. That is one trait Najib inherits from his father.
I risk flattering Najib by mentioning him in the same sentence with Deng and FDR. My doing so merely reflects a longing on my part for a leader who could inspire us.
Najib could initiate change now to give us a hint that he is indeed capable of being a “transformative leader” as he so frequently bragged, and not be content with merely mouthing slogans. He could announce his “shadow” cabinet should Barisan be returned to power. Better yet, revamp his cabinet now and pick his new team to go into the election so citizens could have a reason to vote for Barisan and not merely against Pakatan.
Malaysians do not expect miracles or demand a super team, merely capable and honest ministers. It is not a tall order. Begin by getting rid of those stale politicians in his cabinet. If they haven’t yet made their mark, they are unlikely to do so in the next few years.
Characters like Nazri, Rais and Hishamuddin are like durians that have remained unsold for far too long. They are tak laku (unsellable), not even good for making tompoyak. All they do is stink the place up and lower the value of what few remaining good durians Najib has. Nor are his junior ministers, the next tier of leaders, any better, as exemplified by the recent idiotic utterances of one Dr. Mashitah. She is supposedly better educated, sporting a doctorate of some sort.
I could add a few more names including that of Muhyyiddin, but that would only be divisive. After all he has as much claim and legitimacy to the top post as Najib. Instead why not join forces and together pick the new dream team.
While he is at it, Najib should also pick a new Attorney General and anti-corruption chief. If Najib were to name individuals with impeccable credentials and professionalism to those two offices, then those old tak laku durians he dropped from his cabinet would not dare create trouble for him.
Najib’s address to the UMNO General Assembly later this month will reveal whether he is content with another session of sloganeering or serious about transforming his party and country. The greater significance is this. By indulging in the former and naming the same old nincompoops to his cabinet and top positions, Najib soils the reputation of our community. It gives the impression that the Nazris, Raises, Mashitahs and Hishamuddins represent the best our race is capable of producing or that we are bereft of talents. The shame reflects on all of us.