Monday, 13 April 2009

"Hail To The Chief"?

So it has come to pass; the R.A.H.M.A.N. prophecy is finally complete with the "N" attaching itself to "Najib"! I suppose we could have been worse off...we could have drawn say, Nazri or Neuman (Alfred E.) but we definitely could have been better off. Imagine if "N" were perhaps, "Nelson" (of Mandela)!!!

Anyway, "M" Bakri Musa had this to say about "N"...ajib:

The Last UMNO Prime Minister
by Dr M Bakri Musa (Morgan-Hill, California)

Newly-sworn Prime Minister Najib Razak created buzz when he released 13 prisoners detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and lifted the ban on Harakah and Suara Keadilan, publications of the opposition parties. He also promised “a comprehensive review” of the ISA, a statute long abused to silence the government’s critics.

Malaysians long yearning for a change applauded him. There were skeptics, of course.

Alas that was last week. This week the hopes of those citizens were cruelly crushed when they saw the real Najib with the announcement of his new cabinet. Far from being a team that would wow Malaysians, Najib’s cabinet was, as Tunku Aziz put it, “a team of recycled political expendables.” And a bloated one at that!

The skeptics were right; Najib’s earlier act was nothing but a big and cruel tease.

This roster of “political expendables” was the best that the man could offer, from a leader who only a week earlier warned his party that it should “change or be changed.” When given the ultimate freedom to choose his own team, Najib stuck to the tried and true, or what he thought to be so. So this was Najib’s brave version of “Berani Berubah!” (Dare to Change!).

Najib is incapable of change; there is nothing in him to suggest otherwise. He could not even recognize the need for one, much less respond to it. Change would be totally out of character for the man. Far from welcoming or be invigorated by it, change would threaten him.

Unfortunately for Najib, Malaysia has changed. Incapable of change, he is doomed to be changed come the next general elections, from Prime Minister to Leader of the Opposition. He will be our shortest serving chief executive, our Gerald Ford. Ford was the unelected American President who assumed office following Nixon’s forced resignation over the Watergate scandal. Like Ford, Najib too was not elected to the highest office. Ford was subsequently rejected by voters; the same fate awaits Najib.

For Malaysia, that would truly be a wasted decade, with the first half already being squandered by Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.

The True Najib

Najib is the obedient first son, the loyal subordinate, and the traditionalist aristocrat. He even inherited his father’s ancient tribal title, Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar! How quaint in this 21st Century! His career path has been straight and narrow, on a track that had been conveniently laid down for him by others who felt indebted or grateful to his illustrious father.

Najib has never shown a talent for striking new paths. Even his ascendance to the Prime Minister’s office was paved by others, in particular Tun Mahathir and Muhyiddin Yassin. Najib must remember that a favor offered is a favor owed.

Just as he was the obedient son, Najib was also the dutiful and loyal subordinate. His blind obedience to Abdullah Badawi drew the wrath of Tun Mahathir. As for experience, Najib has been dependent on paychecks from the public purse all his adult life. He never had to meet a payroll; he has no idea of the trials and challenges of that endeavor; nor does he appreciate the sense of accomplishments and independence of those who have.

This is not the profile of a leader capable of making radical changes that Malaysia so desperately needs now.

Unfortunately the track Najib is on now ends at his office. Ahead, for him and the nation, is uncharted territory, with steep hills to climb and wide canyons to traverse. Turning back is not an option, as that path so carefully crafted by earlier leaders is now destroyed for lack of maintenance and prudent use.

That Najib is now portrayed as an agent for change is more a tribute to his highly-paid public relations operatives and the all-too-eager-to-please toadies in the mainstream media. However, you could pedal a dud only for so long; sooner or later the ugly reality would emerge and the bubble burst.

When that inevitability happens, beware! Voters react with vengeance when they feel that they have been hoodwinked by their leaders. Ask Najib’s immediate predecessor, Abdullah. The by-election results since the last general elections are portends for Najib and his party.

Totally Inept and Inadequately Prepared

Najib assembled his cabinet only last week. Even then he spent that limited time talking with leaders of his Barisan coalition instead of with potential candidates. He is clearly being negligent. He knew he will be Prime Minster months ago; he should have been interviewing and short-listing candidates all along. Being unopposed as president of UMNO and thus freed from having to campaign, he had plenty of time to preview his choices prior to last week.

I am particularly concerned with the choice of his deputy. Did Najib have a private session with Muhyiddin before selecting him? Nowhere is it written that UMNO Deputy President should also be the Deputy Prime Minister. Najib is trapped by tradition.

Najib should have done a “Khairy Jamaluddin” on Muhyiddin, that is, keep him out of the cabinet and make him focus on rebuilding the party. God knows, UMNO needs intensive rehabilitation as much as its Youth wing, if not more so. Dispensing with Muhyiddin would strengthen Najib’s image as a reformer, quite apart from taking the sting out of having singly excluded Khairy from the cabinet.

Najib gave the very important Education portfolio to Muhyiddin. Is Najib assured that Muhyiddin agrees with him on the major policy issues, in particular the highly contentious matter of continuing the teaching of science and mathematics in English? Muhyiddin is unusually quiet on this.

It is equally hard to be enthusiastic on the rest of Najib’s team. This is what happens when you choose your cabinet based on pleasing others, especially those whom you owe favors.

Najib struggled to get his team, just like Abdullah and Mahathir before him. Like them, he too found the pickings slim as he fished only in the same polluted and shallow puddle of UMNO and Barisan. He did not have the courage to venture beyond.

Najib unwittingly revealed much in his first few days as Prime Minister. Thanks to his PR team, Najib managed to sound very positive, at with his promise of “a comprehensive review” of the ISA. That sent orgies of praise for the man in the mainstream media and elsewhere. The more perceptive (or skeptical) would note that he specifically did not mention anything about repealing it.

Then there was his announcement on the release of the 13 ISA prisoners “with immediate effect.” In Najib’s lexicon, “with immediate effect” means at least three days later! This shows how much he is in tune with the actual workings of the civil service.

If I had been Najib’s communications director, this is what I would have done. Knowing how easily our civil servants could screw things up, I would first check with the Home Ministry, specifically the Chief of Police and Prison Director, to arrange for the release of the prisoners. Send them to the nearby rest house at government expense if their families were not yet ready to receive them. I would then alert television stations and other news media so they would be there to cover it.

Only after assuring myself that all those meticulous preparations are in place would I have Najib make his announcement. Imagine the dramatic impact when the split screen on the nation’s television screens would also show the prisoners being released as he made the announcement. It would also showcase the crispness of Najib’s new administration. Had he done so, he would have been spared the embarrassment of his orders being delayed for days because of – you guessed it! – paperwork!

On the day Najib announced his new cabinet, the judge in the long running Mongolian model murder trial rendered his judgment. Najib had been trying hard to ignore the grizzly tragedy, but it kept cropping up at the most inopportune time. His strategy is to stonewall, banking that the success of his policies would make citizens forget the gruesome crime.

Najib is gravely mistaken in this. Even if his ethics were beyond reproach, Najib would find his policies a tough sell. Conversely, if he could clear up those sordid allegations (assuming of course he is innocent, a huge supposition) he would find that with his personal credibility now enhanced, the public would more likely buy into his policies. Stonewalling is no strategy.

As it now stands, Najib is doomed to be the last UMNO Prime Minister. He will not be even a “one-termer.” He will go down in history as our shortest-serving Prime Minister. Worse, it will be recorded for posterity that he was the Malay leader who brought down a once glorious organization, UMNO, an institution his late father was so instrumental in setting up. All destroyed in just two generations; the first to build it, the second to destroy. Truly a very Malay story!

For those who warmly applauded Najib on his first few days in office thinking that his was the dawn of a new day for the nation, I hope they would translate their disappointment into effective action. Deliver to Najib his own KPI (Key Performance Index) at the next general elections. It will be less than four years away; plenty of time to lay and grease the track for Najib’s (and UMNO’s) exit.

Sim Kwang Yang had this to say:

Sizing up the new PM

So we Malaysians have a new prime minister, a new cabinet, and a new administration.

From the way the BN controlled mainstream media cover the event, you would think that the whole country is exploding with joy at the arrival of a new Messiah and his twelve apostles.

Inevitably, the press will publish “positive” response from the BN component parties, business leaders, community leading lights, and the odd selected men and women on the street.

I have lived to watch five prime ministers come and go. Najib Abdul Razak is my sixth PM. To call him “my” PM is a little awkward, for I did not vote for him, but the convention of linguistic usage has to be observed.

Thanks to alternative media like Malaysiakini, my cynical “anti-social” voice has found a perfect platform. But my cynical voice is not born from any form of destructive nihilism, but from my idealistic dream of what Malaysia could be.

From that seemingly paradoxical position of idealistic cynicism, let us proceed to evaluate the early days of the new premiership of Najib Abdul Razak.

Please do more

Hardly has he warmed the PM’s seat in Putrajaya when Najib announced lifting the suspension of the two opposition publications, and the release of 13 ISA detainees, including two of the Hindraf group.

A reform-minded prime minister according to my cast of idealistic cynicism would release all ISA detainees, shut down the infamous Kamunting Camp, and declare an intent to abolish the notorious ISA altogether.

Detainees who are suspected of real crimes against the state would be charged in court of course. By that standard, the new PM has failed.

The new political top-dog in Malaysian politics has announced that he wants to see a freer press, for reporting without fear of the consequences. That sounds noble.

But noble declaration of intent does not make for an open democratic society. He would do more to meet the aspiration of the new Malaysians by initiating legislative change to all the stupid laws that has curbed freedom of speech and stifled our national soul for the past half century in Malaysia.

The official Secret Act and the Seditious Act will have to go. The publications laws will have to be amended so that the publishing licenses of major media do not have to be renewed annually. I would like to see a new law banning political parties from owning any media organisation, but that would be detrimental to the freedom of speech of political entities.

As long as opposition parties can be given the chance to own media organisations, then we will let market forces to determine their fate. Can we be assured that under the new PM, opposition parties can also own and publish major daily newspapers? If not, then the new PM is not reform minded. He fails in my idealistic/cynical book.

Then there is this proclamation of the new PM for a One Malaysia.

It is an attractive slogan. Many Malaysians are dreaming of the day the Malaysians will live as one people, equal despite their differences, enjoying the fruit of their labour without having to climb the high mountain of racial discrimination.

The zero sum game of the NEP has to end, and the government will help all Malaysians based on need, and not on creed. The people of Sarawak and Sabah are particularly in need of help from the federal government.

But the new PM’s One Malaysia is an empty slogan, devoid of bone, meat and blood. It sounds good, but it lacks content. Is it just spin, or is it a real reformist declaration of doing away with all the exclusivist divisive and debilitating policies of Umno in the past 50 years?

(He has even launched a One Malaysia website, but would I even begin to log on it to check? Naw, it is probably manned by cyber mercenaries anyway.)

If the idea of One Malaysia is going to flourish, then the idea of Ketuanan Melayu has to go. The BN race-based parties will have to be dissolved and merged into a single multi-racial party.

Otherwise, I will just watch this shouting of the One Malaysia slogan just as another creation of the PM’s spin doctor, like Dr M’s “Efficient, Clean, and Trustworthy government” of 1982, and Pak Lah’s vacuous “Islam Hadari” when he took over the helm from his predecessor. They are catchy but empty slogans, and nothing more!

What about his much touted “mean and lean” cabinet?

Out of the 28 ministers, 19 are from Umno. MCA gets 4. All the other component parties including MIC and Gerakan share out the rest with one each.

This is a reflection of the twisted ethnic power sharing so often touted by the Barisan Nasional. The new cabinet is an Umno dominated cabinet, just like many old cabinets in the past. It will formulate and implement Umno’s Ketuanan Melayu policies first and Malaysian policies afterwards.

Note how all those key cabinet positions like finance, defence, home, agriculture, works and education are all held by Umno. As the top administrative institution of the country, it gives the impression that the other BN component parties are there as decorative window dressing to the delusion of power sharing only.

Sabah gets four and Sarawak gets two inconsequential cabinet posts. So much for One Malaysia and national integration!

Recycled politicians

It is notable that some eleven senators had to be sworn in to fill out the ministerial and the deputy ministerial positions in the new cabinet.

It seems as if there are not sufficient talents in the current crop of MPs in parliament for the new PM to choose from. Once again, BN personalities rejected by the voters in the last general election can be recycled into political circulation through the Senate backdoor.

Then this new PM simply cold-shouldered the newly minted Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, while appointing Dr M’s son to be a deputy minister!

For as long as I can remember, this is the first time an Umno Youth chief has not been made a member of the cabinet.

What the new PM did there was like toeing a thin shaky line. He would do well not to antagonise Dr M, but he too must be his own man one day to leave his own legacy to posterity. In the days ahead, Dr M may just become toxic asset to the beleaguered Umno.

While the list of the new cabinet was announced, we are told that a Chinese language net portal The Merdeka Review was banned from covering the PM’s press conference without any reason given. There is a freer media for you!

Nah, I do not see how Najib can become a reformist PM at all.

He was elected MP when he was 22 or 23. He became a minister when he was 24, and has been in the Umno political mainstream ever since.

In all those three decades of his unimpressive career in government, when was the last time that you heard something inspiring or original from him? When was the last time when you heard some proclamation of a major policy that could change Malaysia?

He has been so entrenched in a corrupt and repressive system that his worldview must have been shaped by all those senior bureaucrats who surrounded him all those long years. The bamboo curtain of the Malaysian officialdom must have shielded him from the daily reality of the ordinary people on the ground. Does he know what the retail price of a kilo of grade 3A rice is to-day?

He is the product and a survivor with a political system that has brought Malaysia to the moribund state that we are in to-day. To expect him to reform the Malaysian institutions of state is like asking a fat man to lift himself into the air by his shoe laces!

Judging by what Najib had done in recent months in Perak, plunging the state into a political impasse and a constitutional crisis, his ascension to the highest political office of the land is no cause for celebration, and plenty of reasons to worry for the uncharted seas ahead.

Then again, he could be the last Umno BN prime minister in the history of Malaysia.


What else is there to say? "Be very afraid!!!"

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