Sunday, September 28, 2008

Malaysia's Leadership A Trinket

The latest UMNO shenanigans effectively reduced the party's (and thus the country's) leadership to a Sunday market trinket, to be haggled between a desperate discredited seller trying to get the best possible deal, and a bankrupt buyer who has only his incumbency to offer as currency.

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

M. Bakri Musa

Tengku Razaleigh, in referring to the tussle between Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, said, "… [W]e are embarrassed at the sight of two grown men playing this endless children's game of 'yours and mine' with the most important responsibility in the land, oblivious of the law, oblivious to the damage they are doing to the nation." The Prince's observation on the damage wrecked on Malaysia is spot on, declaring that Malaysia had been reduced to a banana republic and a laughing stock

What Abdullah and Najib do not realize is that the value of the trinket they are frantically bargaining over keeps dropping. While the two are consumed with striking a deal between them, they fail to notice that Anwar Ibrahim is on the sideline, ready and willing to take over, thus effectively reducing the two protagonists and their trinket to irrelevance.

Meanwhile the important business of running the country is neglected. They have been consumed with lobbying their followers, as well as engaging in hours of "four eyes only" meetings, haggling over when, how, and at what price the trinket would be handed over. They are oblivious to the nation's compounding problems, from the massive public health hazard of contaminated milk products imported from China to the American credit crunch that will soon spread around the world.

It is time to make these two characters irrelevant. It is time to let this desperate drowning duo strangle each other and sink to the bottom of the cesspool they have created for themselves.

Our priority is to make sure that they do not drag the nation down with them. This responsibility falls heavily on those leaders of the opposition, in particular Anwar Ibrahim. He has to be ready to take over and make the necessary preparations now, especially with regards to policies and personnel.

The Price Keeps Dropping

Right after the March 8, 2008 electoral debacle, Abdullah declared that he still had the people's trust. Then with confidence borne out of ignorance a la the village idiot, he asserted that he would serve his full second term. He even intimated that he might lead his coalition to its third electoral victory in 2013!

Such detachment from reality! It was merely out of courtesy (that is the trademark of our culture), and respect for the highest office of the land that Abdullah was not laughed off the stage. Unfortunately he mistook that as acceptance, if not rousing endorsement, aided by his cronies, advisers, and family members feeding his fantasy. The world knew better.

On the surface Abdullah did seem to have a mandate. After all, his coalition secured a comfortable though not the usual two-third majority in Parliament. On closer scrutiny however, his Barisan coalition barely scrapped through the popular vote, while many of the seats won were only with the slimmest of majority. That election also saw five states, including some of the most developed, repudiating Abdullah's leadership.

When the rumblings of discontent over his leadership became louder, especially after his coalition's thumping at the Permatang Pauh by-election, Abdullah was forced to lower his bid, but just a tad. He now thought he could satisfy his detractors by agreeing to hand over power by June 2010. He set it far enough ahead such that should circumstances shift, he could conveniently change his mind. Abdullah was counting that people would not see through his not-so-sly scheming.

Again, he misjudged the public, and his party's mood.Following a ruckus September 2008 UMNO Supreme Council meeting in which a few finally caught on to the reality and spoke up, albeit tentatively and a little belatedly, Abdullah lowered further his asking price. Now he did not rule out on an earlier transfer, clarifying that the June 2010 date was meant to be the latest when he would quit.

That pacified the dissidents, including the outspoken Muhyiddin Yassin and the hitherto "Iron Lady" Rafidah Aziz. They were an easily-mollified bunch.

Then following the gathering of his clan, and undoubtedly convinced once again by them, Abdullah backtracked. They prevailed upon him that his leadership was worth more and that he should hold out for a better price. That triggered yet another volley of dissatisfaction.

At a special meeting of the Supreme Council last week, presumably to discuss specifically the leadership transition, Abdullah was given an ultimatum. He must decide by October 9, 2008 on whether to defend his leadership. The alternative presumably would be to quit.

To an average observer with a modicum of commonsense, that was just another nice way for the council to say, in the grand Asian tradition of "saving face," that it no longer had confidence in Abdullah. Abdullah however is thick-skulled and a tad slow on the uptake. Besides, another round of meetings with his clan and they would convince him that indeed was not the intent of the council. "Flip-flop" Abdullah listens to whoever has his ear last.

More to the point, that council's decision was meaningless. If Abdullah were to decide not to defend his position at the now-postponed UMNO convention, the country would still be faced with a leadership crisis and uncertainty for the next six months. Everyone would be consumed with positioning themselves. No effective government work would be done as every UMNO politician would be busy politicking.

On the other hand, if he decided to cling on, it would still create a leadership uncertainty, and there would still be heavy intrigue and campaigning. Nothing would have changed. Our nation's business would still be unattended.

Abdullah has again abused our traditional Malay culture of halus, the subtle way. The gullible Muhyiddin went so far as to describe Abdullah's latest "decision" as "magnanimous!" No word from the "Iron Lady." As I said, they are easily satisfied. I wonder how long before UMNO Supreme Council members realize that they had once again been had by him.

As for Najib, he is burdened with his own considerable baggage. He would like that trinket be handed over to him as if it were his due, and without contest, all in the name of party unity of course. Contest means having to scrutinize his record, which is not pretty. In fact it is sordid.

If only there were some jantans in UMNO Supreme Council, they would have long ago given Abdullah an ultimatum. Resign or we push for a "no confidence" vote! That is the only language Abdullah understands: direct and brutal. There cannot be any subtlety or he will pretend to miss it.

It does not take a jantan to do that, only some responsible adults concerned about the lack of leadership and the country being left adrift. Absent that, rest assured that come October 9, Abdullah will again waffle, and UMNO Supreme Council will have to find yet another face-saving device to spare some modicum of respect to someone who clearly no longer deserves any.

I could not care less about those UMNO Supreme Council members except that they are also the leaders of our country. That is the scary part. If they cannot stand up to a limp Abdullah Badawi, how can we expect them to face up to a President Bush, China's Hu, or even Singapore's Lee. That is what terrifies the heck out of me, as it should all Malaysians.

Meanwhile Malaysians are reduced to watching the bizarre haggling over an increasingly worthless trinket between their two top but desperate leaders. We all should be embarrassed by that, not just Tengku Razaleigh.

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