1 Malaysia: A cruel joke?
APRIL 27 – It never ceases to amaze me how simple and trusting we Malaysians are.
We have heard all these promises before. Pak Lah, the Mr Clean and Mr Nice Guy of Malaysian politics proclaimed his great mission of fighting corruption after 22 years of unprincipled and largely unaccountable governance under Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
We lapped it all up, initially at any rate, and believed every word the spin doctors spewed out about Abdullah Badawi.
It was not too difficult a job for Abdullah Badawi, or anyone else for that matter, after Mahathir, to look ethically spotless, clean and pure as the driven snow.
Badawi, with his religious credentials, gave every appearance of being the reformer that this country had been praying for. Alas, his leadership proved a total let-down for Malaysia.
What began as a journey full of hope and promise turned very quickly into a national nightmare. Abdullah, who skippered the good ship MALAYSIA, was in truth an incompetent and inept rating playing at being Admiral of the Fleet.
We discovered soon enough that he could not tell north from south and a sexton from a pair of compasses. We had to put up with his erratic command, watching with increasing anxiety as he set the ship adrift aimlessly, with no prospect of ever making landfall.
Now let me move away from naval to boxing metaphors, and I hope I am not mixing them in the process.
Abdullah had come to lead us laden with his own strange stock-in-trade. It was a mix, in no particular order, of Islam Hadhari that he himself could not explain to save his life, the memorably inane “Work with me and not for me” catchphrase, and the almost absurdly messianic anti-corruption clarion call that he had used to fool the entire nation.
I am embarrassed to admit, on reflection, that he had me fooled from Day One.
Abdullah was persuaded by close family members and advisers that he was doing a brilliant job, and this was what he wanted to hear.
He believed that he had what was needed to punch above his weight. He did not realise until too late that the Islam Hadhari as he had postulated it was no match for the reality of Umno politics with its long-established culture of money politics (for which, read grand corruption), in-fighting and back-stabbing.
Soon enough, he found himself out-pointed at every turn by his own seconds, Najib and Muhyiddin, whose protestations of eternal love and loyalty made with a straight face before the disastrous March 2008 elections seemed the height of black humour.
They pushed all the responsibility for the electoral failure to him, and with indecent haste, distanced themselves from him. They turned collective responsibility on its head. This was their interpretation.
And now, they are now leading Malaysia.
I am recalling the Abdullah years as a way of reminding ourselves not to be tempted into swallowing the “right noises” that Najib is making, hook, line and sinker.
He is apparently good at developing popular policies on the trot, and all his reform promises seem to flow so effortlessly and glibly off his silvery tongue and that worries many people who are looking more for substance rather than form.
His 1 Malaysia is a case in point. How does Najib propose to give practical effect to his excellent concept given the reality of Malaysia’s race-biased policies of racial discrimination?
Does he not see a contradiction? Is he clear in his own mind what he is talking about? For now, it remains a slogan and, without a clear vision of what 1 Malaysia is intended to be, it could well turn out to be nothing more than a grand illusion.
Does he really believe that he has what it takes to reconcile Umno’s pathological obsession with bumiputra rights on the one hand with the principles of inalienable equality for ALL Malaysians on the other?
1 Malaysia without complete equality of opportunity is nothing if not a cruel and dishonest practical joke.
So, until Najib sets out his plan for 1 Malaysia that accords with the conditions for a truly “Malaysian Malaysia” (with apologies to Lee Kuan Yew), I suggest, in a manner of speaking, we do not put the champagne on ice as it could be premature.