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.
lah ‘Jib! (You are finished, Najib!) You are just another Pak
Lah! Malaysia cannot afford two consecutive incompetent leaders as it enters
the 21st Century. The precious and critical first decade is already
latest “Pak Lah moment” came when his Chief of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar,
threatened to arrest Mariam Mokhtar for sedition over her article, “One
Ideology, Two Reactions,” posted on Freemalaysiatoday.com on November 29, 2013.
Mariam dared to highlight the highly favorable treatment Aishah Wahab, the
woman allegedly held as a slave by her Marxist master in London, received from
the Najib Administration versus the visceral contempt it heaped upon Chin Peng,
leader of the defunct Malayan Communist Party.
suggested that the Najib Administration’s generous gesture to Aishah was more
on exploiting the favorable publicity surrounding that London slavery case.
had better watch out,” the Chief warned, “or we will go after her!” The “her”
is of course Mariam.
Jantan kampung betul! (a real village
bull!), as we say in the village when referring to such petty bullies. The
Chief of Police should display his manhood where it would really count, as with
confronting the Singaporeans spying on Malaysia, those intruders at Lahad Datu,
or the alleged treachery with the loss of Pulau Batu Puteh. Those are the real and
menacing threats to the nation’s security and stability, not the eloquent
writing of a young woman!
Najib and his officials are threatened by Mariam’s ideas. Najib is stuck in the
time warp of the old feudal ways, unable to grasp the new reality of a porous digital
age. He and Khalid should be complimenting Mariam for her ability to write
well, and in English, as well as her courage to express her views.
and Khalid have a better grasp of English, they would have discovered that
Mariam’s earlier essay in Malaysiakini.com,
“Three Slaves and the Rakyat,” on the same case had more punch. In that piece she
noted that while the three London women were imprisoned for three decades,
Malaysians have been “metaphorically imprisoned for the most part of 56 years,”
adding that the three women were shackled by “invisible handcuffs,” just like
is doubtful,” Mariam continues, “if many Malaysians realize the similarities
between themselves and those three women.” Now that’s powerful stuff, but Najib
and Khalid missed Mariam’s well-chosen metaphor and imagery!
Mariam! Your voice is being heard at the highest level, and widely too as
judged by the outpouring of comments both articles elicited. Keep writing! I
hope the police chief and Najib’s other top officials would continue widening their
reading repertoire beyond the UMNO newsletters The New Straits Times and Utusan
is not the first writer to be intimidated by the authorities. She does not need
to be reminded of the horrible experiences of Kassim Ahmad, Syed Hussein, and
Raja Petra, among others.
have nothing to offer Mariam except my best wishes, and I wish her that, and
much more, as with her continued success in writing. I can however, pass on the
advice from that great Indonesian writer, the late Ananta Prameodya Toer, a man
who had endured much from his government.
“Orang boleh pandai setinggi langit,” Pramoedya
wrote in Rumah Kaca (The Glasshouse), “tapi selama ia tidak menulis, ia akan hilang di dalam masyarakat dan
dari sejarah.” (Your intellect may soar to the sky but if you do not write,
you will be lost from society and to history.”
assured that when the collective “invisible handcuff” gets unshackled, as ultimately
it will, Malaysians owe a huge debt of gratitude to brave individuals like
Mariam Mokhtar. As for that police chief, only his family would remember him,
or if remembered by others, he would prefer not to be. Look at his many ‘illustrious’
predecessors; one jailed for punching Anwar Ibrahim, another a defendant in a multimillion-dollar
lawsuit, and a third rewarded by being chairman of a casino. That character apparently
Ultimate Pak Lah Moment
Back to Najib’s other Pak Lah moments, the
supposedly pious and humble Pak Lah squandered millions of taxpayers’ funds to
renovate Sri Perdana before he deemed it livable. This from a man who only a decade
earlier did not even own a house! Najib however, bested Pak Lah on this front. Najib
burned over two million ringgit a year
just on electricity. When citizens complained, he haughtily defended his wasteful
ways by suggesting that his official guests should not have to dine by candle
light! He must have the whole United Nations delegates as his guests, and every
likely Najib must have really turned down the thermostat and then had the
fireplace roaring to simulate the English ambience of his student days so he
could cuddle up to Rosmah.
should remember the advice he received from his prime minister father when he (Najib)
and his brothers were clamoring for a swimming pool at the old Sri Perdana. “What
will people say,” Najib quoted his old man as saying in turning down their
there is the ultra-luxury, custom-fitted Airbus jet. Even Queen Elizabeth and Prime
Minister Cameron do not have one. Pak Lah was severely criticized for his excessive
use of that expensive toy. At least his wife (the first or second) did not get
to use it in her personal capacity. Today we have Mrs. Najib (the second) jaunting
off in it, oblivious of the cost to taxpayers. I do not know which is more reprehensible;
Najib requesting the approval from his cabinet for his wife’s use of the jet or
the cabinet approving it. This at a time when he warned the country is on the brink
Badawi burdened Malaysia for over five years; the nation is still paying for
his many follies and general incompetence. Many claim that Najib is worse than
Pak Lah; that is being petty. When you score is already a miserable F, it does not
really matter whether it is also F-minus.
at this week’s (December 2, 2013) UMNO General Assembly for Najib to execute
yet another Pak Lah moment – reading his “own” pompous self-congratulatory pantun (poem). Do not expect however, for
the delegates to even mention let alone review this critical issue of his glaring
incompetence and profligate ways.
it behooves Malaysians to ensure that this burden of Najib inept leadership comes
to an end soon. Malaysians must force Najib to perform his ultimate Pak Lah
moment – resign!
Sudah lah ‘Jib! You haven’t got what it takes to
lead modern Malaysia.
by the recent national election and overwhelmed by mounting problems, Najib
resorts to the typical tricks of third-rate Third World leaders. He travels abroad
frequently to distract himself and Malaysians, and when at home he bribes his
way through problems.
loss in the popular votes during the last election was only the latest
expression of this lack of confidence in Najib’s leadership. The man has been
coasting on the memory of his illustrious father, Tun Razak. For that reason Malaysians
have been too generous in giving Najib a pass for so long.
cannot go on; the nation can ill afford it. There will be a splendid opportunity
for the nation to be rid of his leadership without having to wait till the next
national election, and that will be the upcoming parliamentary budget debate. All
we need is for a handful of Barisan MPs (12 to be exact) to see through this
character so he can be ejected from the Prime Minister’s seat. He does not
Back to Najib’s third-rate Third World leadership tricks, his
most recent – and most expensive – was the junket that took him through San
Francisco on his way to New York. That was literally around the world. Rest
assured there will be many more such trips in his ultra-luxurious,
custom-fitted full-sized Airbus jet, burning the rakyat’s precious ringgit.
saving grace this time was his uncharacteristic prudence financially in landing
his jet at Oakland instead of at the exorbitantly expensive SFO. Najib however,
more than made that up by staying at the Fairmont Hotel in a suite that would
have pleased the likes of King Saud.
1960s, traveling extensively abroad was also the favorite refuge for
Indonesia’s Sukarno. It was left to his ministers back home to tell the rakyat
to eat rats and thereby simultaneously solve two problems – widespread starvation
and rat infestation.
recently there was the example of Tunisian leader Zine el Abidene, now
languishing somewhere in the Saudi desert with only his ill-gotten wealth to
sustain him. Meanwhile he faces a death sentence at home and the Interpol has a
search warrant for him. As for his wildly extravagant and obscenely
ostentatious wife, a former hairdresser, she too has long ago abandoned him. She
is also on the Interpol list for money laundering. Take a glimpse of her during
her heyday; she has the uncanny resemblance of someone familiar to Malaysians,
and not just in facial features.
fate in contrast was less severe. At least he died and was buried in his native
land. Something for Najib to ponder!
far from being Sukarno’s Indonesia. That however, is setting a very low bar. It
tells us how far we have fallen that the two countries are now often mentioned in
the same sentence. While Malaysia is also infested with rats, Malaysians are
thankfully not starving. Instead what we have are even more rapacious rats continually
raiding the people’s Treasury. The biggest of all is Najib.
Bribing His Way Through
With his unrestrained access to the Treasury, Najib’s mode
of problem solving is to bribe his way. He bribed Malaysians with his multitude
of expensive 1-Malaysia giveaways. Just before the election his largesse became
more targeted, as with his instant generous grants to Chinese schools and
special allocations to East Malaysia. Those bore his trademark of lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu (You
scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours).
bribees everywhere, the Chinese eagerly took the money and ran. Come election
time however, they readily saw through what was going on and unhesitatingly dumped
Najib. Najib the briber was reduced to lamenting loudly of the Chinese tsunami.
Najib mistook the Chinese to be like UMNO Malays, readily bought with only a
few million devalued ringgit. In the end Najib was left scratching himself.
Malaysians were sufficiently grateful for the bribe to vote for Najib, only to
be rewarded post-election with a court order banning them from using the word
“Allah!” I hope that their Barisan representatives in parliament will now stage
their own mini tsunami and flush away Najib.
Malays too are complaining. Again Najib resorted to his favorite trick of
bribing, a few billion here and there under the bombastic package of Memperkasakan Ekonomi Bumiputra (MEB – Strengthening
Bumiputra Economy). Malays this time have shrewdly anted-up their price,
learning from the Chinese. Thus Malays this time are less than enthusiastic with
the only few billion thrown their way, even though that is real money.
that the whole purpose of the New Economic Policy and all its iterations for
the last four decades had been to enhance the economic status of Malays. Obviously
had the NEP been successful, we would have little need for this MEB.
for Najib, even the dumbest ass learns eventually. Malays have smartened up and
realized that this MEB will just be another massive and lucrative bribery
scheme for UMNO cronies. Their beneficiaries may be Malays, the pseudo as well
as wannabe, but they do not represent our values.
are, MEB notwithstanding, this time Malays are no longer mudah lupa. Like the Chinese, Malays (at least the lucky ones) are
becoming shrewder and will readily take the money and then run. Rest assured that
come the next election, there will also be a Malay tsunami.
sooner! The recent UMNO election produced more malcontent losers who will be skipped
by the gravy train. They will be grouchy enough to take their frustrations out on
of various persuasions have already pronounced Mahathir a loser in this UMNO election.
One sure way to make a grouchy loser more so, and thus likely to strike back,
would be for the winners to gloat. Abdullah Badawi too gloated after his spectacular
2004 national victory.
Back to Najib
the briber, he is finally learning a painful lesson. That is, bribees, be they
national or party voters, continue to escalate their price tag, especially if
they know their targets are soft and lucrative. Najib is one such target.
despicable with Najib is that he is using our
money to bribe us, after he takes his
usual generous cut of course! When you bribe a cop, you are using your own
hard-earned cash, not anyone else’s.
It is not
just Malaysians that Najib is bribing. He thinks the rest of the world too is easily
bribable. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, Najib was all over the global
media giving high-profile interviews. Alas those “interviews” were nothing more
than “informecials,” paid crass commercials masquerading as legitimate news
being embarrassed, Najib still revels in the “glory.” That was his mode of
operation. Malaysians were of course embarrassed, as were such media giants as CNN
and BBC once they realized they were being duped. The “journalist” involved was
duly fired, after earning his
millions from Najib. Back in Malaysia, the consultants who thought of the idiotic
scheme were rewarded with even more lucrative public relations contracts. For
them, it was truly “endless possibilities” as well as endless profits with
their desperate-for-praise client, Najib.
recent trip to America, Najib was back in his old form. He addressed the
Commonwealth Club of San Francisco and Harvard Club of New York, among others. Bribing
is illegal in America, except where it is nicely wrapped as “lobbying.”
bribe money has to come from somewhere. Even the Saudi Treasury is finite.
Watch this upcoming budget; Najib will once again squeeze the rakyat, this time
with his Goods and Services Tax together with his scheme for “rationalizing”
subsidies. He will again bribe his way by offering in return, a puny reduction
in the income tax rates.
GST is the
most regressive, meaning it imposes a disproportionately heavy burden on those
least able to afford it. What Najib gives away in sens (pennies) as with his income tax reduction, he will haul back
hundred-fold more through GST.
I hope that
our parliamentarians especially in Barisan will finally see through this man’s façade
and terminate his tenure once and for all, for the good of Malaysia. Muslims
have just celebrated the Eid Qurbani (Celebration of Sacrifice). It is time to qurban Najib for the good of Malaysia.
Then the nation can celebrate!
happens unless Allah wills it, that is, guide Najib to see the light, if not
him, then those parliamentarians.
Malaysia cannot afford
Najib Razak’s continued inept leadership. As UMNO has failed to terminate his
leadership, and the next election is too far away, it is now up to Parliament
to do the necessary. Najib, who is also Finance Minister, will table his budget
on October 25, an opportune time for Parliament to pass a no-confidence vote on
the budget – and hence his leadership – thus forcing the son of Tun Razak (TR-1)
to resign. MPs have a far greater duty beyond loyalty to their leader, and that
is loyalty to their country.
With the Will and Guidance of Allah, SWT, Najib can spare himself this unprecedented disgrace and simultaneously
relieve his fellow parliamentarians of this distasteful chore by ceding the
Prime Ministership to Tengku Razeleigh (TR-2). By gracefully withdrawing now,
Najib could return later to lead his party for the 14th national
election, and would be a better leader for this voluntary hiatus.
Should Najib contemplate being stubborn,
he should remind himself of similar parliamentary
practices resulting in the ejection of his contemporaries. In August, British
MPs denied Prime Minister Cameron his motion to intervene in Syria. This defying
the leader is also not alien to UMNO. TR-1 did it to Tunku Abdul Rahman, albeit
in a soft, subtle way. The wise and sensitive Tunku readily saw the signals.
A parliamentary no-confidence vote would not affect
Najib’s UMNO presidency. The constitution does not mandate the leader of a
ruling party should also be prime minister. That is only tradition, tenable
only as long as he has Parliament’s confidence.
As UMNO has the largest parliamentary representation, it
is appropriate that one of its members should be the Prime Minister. There is no
better choice than TR-2. He is a glittering gem to the sparkle of pebbles that
is the current UMNO leadership. He also has the exquisite synthesis of talent
Rest assured that TR-2 would not be preoccupied with
reelections and the consequent pandering to various constituencies, Najib’s
destructive obsession. He would focus exclusively on running the country. With no
children, TR-2 would have no grandiose pretensions of starting a political dynasty,
yet another preoccupation of current leaders.
Malaysians can be assured that TR-2, like TR-1, would
pick only the competent and untainted to be his ministers and advisors. They would
reflect the man; his team would be the antithesis of Najib’s. TR-2 has no need for
courtiers or cheerleaders.
Unlike Najib, TR-2’s executive and leadership abilities have
been tested inside and outside of government. Malaysians can be assured that
there would be no freelancers or lone rangers in TR-2’s team spouting out offensive
racial taunts. Najib on the other hand could not restrain the extremist ulamas on
his payroll who think that the marriage of a Muslim to a non-Muslim is invalid.
Najib is not up to par even when compared to his
lackluster predecessor, Abdullah Badawi. With Abdullah, Malaysians within and
beyond his party clearly expressed their disapproval; some politely, others
less so. The man recognized this and wisely withdrew.
Dissatisfaction with Najib is palpable even or especially
within his party. However, he is a stubborn mule, and with as much insight. He
must be told in no uncertain terms by Parliament that his leadership is wanting.
As a dumb mule responds only to a big stick, anything less would not do it.
Relieved from running the country, Najib could focus on
ridding UMNO of its fortune seekers. They mock the party’s aspiration of Agama,
Bangsa, Negara(Faith, Race, and
Country). There is nothing Islamic or Malay about corruption, cheating and the
plundering of our nation’s wealth. There is no reflected glory for Malays to
see UMNO leaders grow glutton on hogging the public trough. Malaysia would be
far better without these scoundrels.
Akin to Post-May 1969
Parliament has the
right – indeed obligation – to terminate Najib’s tenure. Malaysia today has a
critical leadership crisis comparable to the post-1969 period. That too was
triggered by an electoral setback suffered by the ruling coalition. We are
fortunate so far to be spared the associated tragedies and destruction, despite
the incendiary taunting by many.
We cannot allow this dangerous situation to fester lest a
mere spark would trigger an explosion. Already our current racial poison will
take generations to detoxify, assuming it stops right now. Najib however, shows
no inclination or competence to do so. Inter-racial as well as intra-racial –
specifically intra-Malay – relationships are deteriorating rapidly.
As with a fish, this rot begins at the head. The solution
must therefore begin with getting rid of Najib.
As with post-1969, citizens today yearn for a more
representative or “unity” government to de-escalate the dangerously heightened
social and racial polarizations. The unprecedented failure of the ruling
coalition to gain the majority popular votes adds to this demand. Granted, in
our “first past the post” system, the number of seats won would not necessarily
correlate with the popular votes, nonetheless the stunning size of the
discrepancy triggered the angst.
Such a wide discrepancy could still be accepted if the
institutions and personnel conducting the elections were truly non-partisan and
have unchallenged integrity. The Malaysian Election Commission is far from
That 1969 tragedy led to the resignation of Prime
Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. His successor, TR-1, set up a unity government
through enlarging the old Alliance coalition to the current expanded Barisan
Nasional. Such strategy would not be the best route today. The objective of a representative
and reconciliative government would best be served by having the new Prime
Minister invite a few talented opposition members into his administration.
Consider that US President Obama, who secured a far stronger mandate than Najib,
has an opposition Republican Chuck Hagel as his Defense Secretary.
TR-2 is TR-1’s protégé. No one else, least of all Najib,
could claim that. The late TR-1 was a sharp spotter of talent. He put TR-2 to
set up and lead Pernas when he (TR-2) was only 32 years old, and four years
later, Petronas. At Petronas, TR-2 took on the powerful global oil companies
and pioneered unique and highly profitable production-sharing contracts with
the oil majors that later became the model for other state oil companies.
Malaysia continues to reap the bounty from that brilliant and courageous
Unique among UMNO leaders, TR-2 has cordial relationships
with the opposition; he has the credibility to execute a “unity government”. TR-2
could spot talented MPs from the opposition to be in his cabinet in the manner
Those ministers from the opposition would serve as
individuals and not as representatives of their parties. They would continue to
serve until such time they could no longer support the government’s policy
pertaining to their respective portfolios. The opposition is blessed with many
bright members. It would be a great shame not to tap their talent.
Such an initiative would break the current incestuous
coupling of party positions with governmental appointments, and go a long way
towards “cleansing” UMNO of its “fortune seekers.”
Decoupling would also relieve ministers of their party’s
chores. The duties of a minister are onerous enough. American cabinet
secretaries for example, are freed of these extraneous burdens. Consider this
UMNO election season. For months now, those UMNO ministers and government
appointees have effectively abandoned their official duties; they are busy campaigning.
UMNO is the single greatest contributor to public corruption
because of the close nexus between party and government. Decoupling would sever
this sinister link.
Those party positions now held by ministers would become
vacant, allowing greater upward mobility for the members. At another level,
those senior party leaders would provide a much-needed system of checks and
balances on their party’s governmental appointees. Currently there are no such
checks and balances.
TR-1’s unity government was instrumental in quickly
restoring normalcy post-1969. Today we need Parliament to strip TR-1’s son,
Najib, of his leadership to pave way for TR-2 to lead a new, invigorated unity
government. We may contemplate the irony, but the action is an absolute
Najib Razak could spare his fellow parliamentarians this
distasteful chore by resigning and paving the way for TR-2. Such an action
would portray Najib as someone thinking of the country ahead of himself, the very
definition of a patriot. It would also be a great tribute to the memory of his
father, Tun Razak.
In San Francisco recently, Prime Minister Najib confidently declared
“to make corruption part of Malaysia’s past, not its future.” The man’s
delusion never ceases to amaze me. The reality is of course far different; corruption
defines the Najib Administration.
if Najib is serious, then he should heed Tengku Razaleigh’s call for Najib to
declare his assets. Otherwise it would
be, to put it bluntly in the vernacular, “Cakap
kosong je ‘Jib!” (Empty talk only!)
Razaleigh’s suggestion, if implemented, would do far more good than all of Najib’s
lofty declarations of “changing organizational as well as business cultures” or
creating “a new governance and integrity minister” and “elevating the
anti-corruption agency.” Malaysians have heard all those ad nauseum, not only from Najib but also his predecessors.
doing what Tengku Razaleigh had suggested Najib still aspires higher, he could begin
by getting rid of those tainted individuals in his administration. Then if he
is really committed to clean and effective governance, he should select only
those with unquestioned integrity and solid accomplishments to be his new ministers
As Najib is
slow to grasp concepts, let me elaborate on those three simple suggestions.
asset declaration. Najib does not need yet another highly-paid consultant
advising him how to do it. There are plenty of effective models out there,
including one recommended by the OECD. The simplest is the one used by American
officials including the president, cabinet secretaries, and Supreme Court
judges. It covers their spouses and all dependent children.
President Obama’s, available publicly at:
The simple eight-page report lists his assets and income, transactions during
the year, gifts received (he had none), liabilities (his home mortgage), and
contracts he is a party to (his old faculty appointment).
effective! As the declaration is filed annually, citizens could tract any
sudden ballooning of assets, income, or extra-generous gifts that could prompt
further enquiry, as well as monitor contracts and activities that could pose as
potential conflict of interest.
his senior officials go further; they release their full income tax returns
If Najib were
to do likewise, rumors of his wife buying million-ringgit rings and getting
extravagant gifts would not have arisen, indeed they were baseless.
If Najib’s ministers
were also to declare their assets, then we would not have the silly specter of
a cabinet minister feigning ignorance of her husband’s quarter-billion ringgit
government-funded business, as Shahrizat tried to do recently. The pathetic
part was that she truly believed that the public would buy her swiftly-concocted
declaring his assets, if Najib aspires for a clean administration, then he should
remove those tainted individuals in his administration. Since Najib is blind to
reality, I will help him identify such proven
glaring is Isa Samad, former Negri Sembilan Chief Minister. Dispensing with his
lackluster tenure as the chief executive of that state, the man was found
guilty of “money politics,” UMNO’s euphemism for plain ugly corruption. Meaning,
he is corrupt even by UMNO’s lax standards, assuming the party has any!
system with even a semblance of integrity, slimy characters like Isa Samad
would have been jailed. In China,
they would be executed. Yet Najib appointed Isa to helm the billion- ringgit
Felda Global Holdings, a GLC. One wonders why Najib is so enamored with this
character. The more intriguing question is why the powerful hold Isa has on
is Ali Rustam, also a former Chief Minister (Malacca). Like Isa, Ali too was
found guilty of money politics. At least voters in his state were wise enough to
boot him out. Now Ali is eyeing for the UMNO Vice-Presidency, as is Isa. Watch
it, Najib will also do an Isa on Ali, that is, appoint him to a senior lucrative
position, making a mockery of Najib’s aim of making corruption history.
Then after getting
rid of the Isa Samads and Ali Rustams Najib still harbors even higher
aspirations, like wanting a crisp and efficient administration, then he could entice
capable Malaysians to join his team.
I suggest co-opting
Keadilan’s Rafizi Ramli. This bright young man has done more than anyone else
to heighten public consciousness of corruption at high places. Rafizi shamed
the anti-corruption agency. Appointing Rafizi would also go a long way towards
a “unity” government. Only the likes of Shahrizat would not welcome his
At the very
least Rafizi’s appointment would significantly lower the average age of Najib’s
cabinet as well as drastically elevate its collective IQ!
other end of the experience spectrum is Tengku Razaleigh. He is from Najib’s
own party too. If Najib is deeply serious about and truly committed to memperkasakan ekonomi Melayu (enhancing
Malay economy) as he asserted recently, well, the Tengku has been there and
done that, and remarkably well too! Look at Petronas and Pernas. Malaysia’s
finances were robust during his tenure as Finance Minister.
Yes, at one
time he helmed the once powerful Bank Bumiputra, now long gone. If Tengku’s
detractors want to taint him with that scandal, remember this. Tengku Razaleigh
is one of the few if not only public figures to have successfully sued for
libel the venerable Financial Times
when it tried to implicate him.
Tengku Razaleigh would give the Najib Administration some adult supervision. Better
yet, Najib should seize the opportunity and take a sabbatical, just like what
Lee Kuan Yew once did. Take a temporary leave from UMNO and Malaysia; learn
about the real world beyond government. Najib would learn that there is a vast
other universe out there not dependent on public paychecks or political
speech during his recent San Francisco trip, Najib chided his critics
especially those residing abroad who “criticize the country but they do not
have any idea on how to contribute to the country.”
not only slow in grasping concepts but he is also not a careful reader. We do
not criticize Malaysia, only his inept leadership. Nonetheless since Najib has
asked for specific ideas, here is one.
Take an extended
sabbatical. Let someone like Tengku Razaleigh take over. Three or four years hence,
in time for the next election, resume your prime ministership. Meanwhile learn as
much as possible about the much bigger and considerably more wonderful world
beyond UMNO. You will be a more effective leader for that, and Malaysia would
be a much better country, both while you were gone and after you return.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
my comparing him to Reagan, no matter how unfavorably, only feeds Najib’s
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
deserves better than to be saddled with Najib Razak.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
is Mahathir’s legacy, its destructiveness is pervasive and permanent precisely
because it is less obvious.
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!
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!
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.
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?
[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.
Returning 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.