M. Bakri Musa
In the few months that he has before assuming office I would have expected Prime Minister-in-waiting Najib Razak to be focused on forming his new leadership team and formulating his major policies. Instead there he was in Perak smirking with renegade state politicians who had crossed over to his Barisan coalition. Najib looked like a mischievous monkey handler who had successfully enticed a couple of wily monyets from the neighbor’s coconut tree to his.
In these perilous times Najib is more a slimy backroom political operative consumed with concocting shady deals than a national leader ready to steer the nation through tough economic and other challenges. This latest and unneeded upheaval in Perak only adds to Malaysia’s already muddled political climate, and comes at a time when the nation can ill afford this distraction. Najib is oblivious of the evolving global economic disaster and its inevitable impact on Malaysia.
These handlers too behave like the monkeys they keep. After finishing his latest act in Perak, Najib stayed away. The monkey handler’s interest, like that of the monkeys they keep, was only in creating mischief. Once that is achieved, then he is gone so as to avoid getting entangled.
Initially Najib had planned to join in the Chinese New Year celebration in Ipoh to soak in what he expected would be a sea of public applause to his latest monkey act. Instead because of the unanticipated sea change in public mood, Najib wisely skipped the event. At least he knew when and where he would no longer be welcomed.
Najib should remember that Abdullah Badawi rode into office with the highest approval ratings, and an untainted “Mr. Clean” image to boot. Yet today, less than five years later, Abdullah is being pushed out of office, and his legacy is anything but clean. Najib has yet to assume office and already his approval rating is under 50 percent, and his public image severely tainted by assorted sordid scandals. His public portraits are now being used for stomping muddy shoes. Rest assured that these are only the beginning.
A Chinese proverb has it that it takes three generations to destroy an enterprise. The first starts it; the second builds on it; while the pampered third squanders it. Najib Razak is determined to truncate that process. He is set to destroy a once proud and successful organization – UMNO – which his late father was so instrumental in starting and building.
Najib will bring UMNO down with him, as prophesied by some ancient soothsayer’s “RAHMAN” theory of leadership. The challenge is to ensure that UMNO’s inevitable implosion under Najib would not also take Malaysia down with it.
Our Cultural Burden
If not for his family and political pedigrees, Najib Razak would today be like thousands of other Malays with similar qualifications, nothing more than a midlevel functionary in the civil service or one of the many Government-linked companies.
He was just old enough when his father died to benefit from the generosities and tributes of a nation in need to express them in gratitude to a great patriot that was his father. Remembering the father’s many great deeds, the nation could not do enough for his son; hence Najib meteoric rise.
The dilemma with having your path smoothed out for you is that once you reach the top, there is no one there to grease the trail ahead. From then on you are on your own, and you ill prepared for it.
It is our cultural tradition that such generosities and tributes are showered almost exclusively upon the first-born son. The assumption is that he is the carrier of the father’s traits. This of course is not unique to Malay culture; nor is there a biological basis to that assumption.
I wish we had not been a slave to our culture. By all means shower our gratitude to the late Tun Razak’s family, but then let us be more prudent and choose the smartest or most promising from among his five children to groom, not necessarily only the first born.
Tun Razak’s other sons are way head and shoulders above Najib. The youngest, Nazir, is a banker. Even though he is not a politician, nonetheless his public utterances reflect not only a first-rate mind but also someone very much aware of the many challenges facing our nation. He has also put forth novel ideas on solving them. Unfortunately, Najib is culturally constrained from taking advice from his youngest brother Nazir.
Last year Nazir suggested granting amnesty to corrupt individuals in return for their confessions and making good their loot, prior to implementing tougher laws. To say that it was a radical idea would be an understatement but on reflection, there is considerable merit to his suggestion. At the very least we would get a measure of the magnitude of the problem and its infinite variations. That could help us design better laws and ways to combat the scourge.
Recently Nazir chastised the leadership for not going beyond orthodox fiscal stimulus and monetary measures to meet the current economic crisis. He suggested re-examining the New Economic Policy, with particular reference to minimizing its drag on the economy. He also called for greater collaborations with the emerging giant economies in the region, specifically China, India and the Middle East. Most of all I like his idea of attracting foreign talents, especially into the education sector.
These are the kinds of innovative thinking we yearn from our leaders, not their endless monkeying around with fence-hopping politicians. In chastising the “leadership,” Nazir has shown that he is not constrained by our cultural norms; he has in effect criticized his oldest brother’s leadership.
There was this story of a peddler of hats who one day fell asleep under a tree in the heat of the day. When he woke up, his hats were all gone except for the one on his head. On looking up he saw the monkeys in the tree with hats. The peddler tried all manner of tricks to induce those monkeys to part with their newfound toys, but to no avail. In disgust he threw his hat to the ground and stomped off. In the finest “monkey see, monkey do” mode, the apes did the same, and that was how the peddler recovered his merchandise.
A generation later it was the peddler’s son who fell asleep under the same tree. He too lost his hats to the monkeys. Remembering the lesson imparted from his father, the young man threw his hat to the ground. At which point the monkeys laughed at him. “You are not getting your hats back,” they scoffed, “we learned your trick from our parents!”
When Najib enticed those monkeys of politics to Barisan, he stole a play from Anwar Ibrahim’s game book. Anwar may rightly feel flattered by Najib’s imitating, or more correctly, aping. However, like the hat-peddler’s son, Najib may have learned his lesson well but what he may not realize is that those political monkeys too had learned their lessons! They are making a monkey of Najib.
When you have a bunch of monkeys and an equally mischievous as well as irresponsible handler, there is no telling what lasting damage they could inflict. It is time to let Najib out of his monkey business and free those monyet under his keep to once again roam the jungle where they belong. If out of habit they still hang around us waiting for their bananas and making a pest of themselves, then we should kill a rooster or two. That would scare away those monkeys.