(Update: Published in Malaysiakini on 13 Oct 2008. Click here for the online version)
Tun Dr. Mahathir’s legendary ability to lead needs no introduction at all. His feat in developing Malaysia makes even Julius Ceasar’s pale in comparison. However, just like other great leaders the world has ever cradled, many are not blinded to his misjudgment in ruling the country for more than two decades – as it is unavoidable for he is only human.
Passing the baton of the premiership to Abdullah was one of his grave mistakes.
When Tun handed over the premiership to Abdullah in 2003, the rest of the Cabinet nodded in approval, without an iota of doubt vis-à-vis Tun’s decision-making ability. It did not occur to them, back then, Abdullah would send BN deeper into misery with his indecisiveness and unfulfilled reforms.
Abdullah, at the shift of the premiership, shined like a beacon of hope towards a more democratically progressive Malaysia, post Tun’s era. Five years later, his poignant picture in the media, stating “work with me, not for me” reduced to nothing but a false sense of hope to the nation.
Abdullah is single-handedly responsible to the lack of economic progress in the country as opposed to Tun’s era. His pledge to nip corruption in the bud remains undone as he packs his bag to leave office in March 2009. The same fate falls on Abdullah’s lackluster economic corridors.
The mighty Barisan Nasional spearheaded by Abdullah – and first time after the Independence in 1957 – was badly trounced upon in 2008 general election losing five states and its parliament’s two-third majority. Facing the furor invoked by Pakatan Rakyat, led by Anwar Ibrahim, BN’s performance after the election has been less than desirable.
Recently, BN’s ship sank deeper when Abdullah decided to invoked the draconian Internal Security Act against Raja Petra Kamaruddin, Teresa Kok and a Sin Chew journalist, ironically, just a day after the government decided to release the suspension on ‘Malaysia Today’ – Raja Petra’s controversial web portal, read by millions of Malaysians.
Many akin the recent ISA spat to Operasi Lalang in 1987 when opposition leaders and non-governmental body’s representatives were arrested, major dailies were suspended in a concentrated effort to nub protest against Tun after he renounced the legality of UMNO and subsequently formed UMNO baru, which he helmed without further resistance until his self-imposed retirement.
But what we must not forget: no journalist was arrested or “questioned” during Operasi Lalang.
Raja Petra and Teresa Kok were held for supposedly being a ‘national threat’ to the country, toeing among others, on that sacred racial line which divides the multiracial Malaysia. While Teresa was being released after a short detention, Raja Petra was sent off to Kamunting to serve a two year detention sentence without being accorded a fair trial or the right to defend himself.
For decades, we have been forewarned to steer clear from the sensitive racial issues for fear of resurrecting the ghost of May 13, 1969. The subliminal message to stay united beyond the color of our skin have been drummed into our ears via poorly-composed ‘muhibbah’ songs and the very ideology of ‘perpaduan’ blasted on the government-owned media throughout the eighties and early nineties.
We were almost certain that if we dare question the difference we have and the government we elected, May 13 would revisit the nation.
However, Malaysia has proved herself to be an adult nation, capabale of making her independent choice, when days and weeks ahead of the most memorable general election saw nothing but normalcy returned in our lives. The voice of people never got any louder.
While Abdullah is ready – or rather shoved forward to be ready – to pass the baton to Najib, many more UMNO stalwarts are now vying for the deputy-president’s chair, a seat of which falls vacant as Abdullah decided not to contest in UMNO’s party election in December, paving way for Najib to sit at the helm of UMNO should he wins the presidential post in the same party election. The vacancy will ensure a bitter fight within UMNO: a society notoriously known for its stiff rule of hierarchy and money-politics.
Leading a country which upheld tradition and respect for the elderly, Abdullah’s most blatant faux pas was ignoring the retired lion in Malaysia’s political landscape, Tun Dr. Mahathir. If Abdullah heeds Tun’s concern and criticism – the way Singaporeans still listen to their senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew – Abdullah would have left UMNO on a better platform.
Leaders must remember that Malaysians have grown with time; their political opinion is no exception.
While is it unfair to gauge Abdullah’s performance in such a short tenure, he undoubtedly, goes down in history as a pleasant Prime Minister but forced to leave office to shoulder responsibility for BN’s dismal performance in 2008 election.
UMNO must now change or perish.