Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why Abdullah is clinging on

SEPT 22 - A question that is being asked again and again since the March general elections is: Why doesn't Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi just quit?

He did promise Malaysians improved policing, a better judiciary system, and better rule of law, opening up the media, reducing corruption, etc.

Sadly, under him, crime has jumped, the judiciary remains shaky, the tough Internal Security Act law had just been unleashed again, the mainstream media is used to spin stories not write facts, and corruption seems to have gotten worse.

Added to these - race relations and the economy have also taken a beating.

There are actually good reasons, from his perspective, why he does not want to step down quickly.

* Umno is in a mess, with the ground angry, confused and scared of losing power.

* The civil servants are in disarray too on whether, and how far, they should help these four Pakatan states or not.

Four, and not five, because after 18 years under Pas, federal civil servants in Kelantan know how to play the game.

But one word, perhaps, sums up what he why he wants to stay on: Legacy.

(Of course, there is also a very good reason why he SHOULD step down also - namely, so that Umno could re-unite under a stronger leader, Deputy PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak).

But look at it from Abdullah's point of view - he cannot afford to step down now as he would be forever seen as the prime minister who did almost nothing.

Yes, he launched all those corridors. Yes, he did somehow, and without having real control, did open up the media space.

But he would want to go down in history as having achieved something tangible, something solid even.

Don't we all? Put yourself in his position - would you leave when you see things are not right?

He sees himself as a responsible person who should put things right first.

The unkind view would be that he did not want to step down because the people behind him want him there so that could remain in power too.

And that those who wanted to cling on include his family who are allegedly also profiting from his staying in power.

But to appreciate how Abdullah looks at himself, let us look at the contributions of the past prime ministers, and the titles given to them by some people:

No. 1 - Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Father of Independence

For whatever his detractors may say after the 1969 race riots, he did get Malaysia its independence.

You cannot talk about Malaysia's independence without showing that famous picture of Tunku shouting 'Merdeka' while a couple of white men dignitaries sat behind him - power handed over smoothly.

No. 2 - Tun Razak Hussein, Father of Development

The second prime minister, set up the New Economic Policy in 1971.

He is the father of deputy prime minister, Najib Razak, the man who could be prime minister very soon.

The policy has been much abused today by Umno, but it certainly helped to raise millions of middle class Malays.

The NEP backed poor Malays with financial aid so they could study abroad or locally, gave them top jobs (even though they might not be the most qualified), and even handed them cheap shares as Chinese companies which wanted to list on the stock exchange must have 30 per cent Bumiputra partners.

Of course, the Chinese and other minorities are angered by this, but it did help raise the middle class Malays today.

And Tun Razak, in trying to eradicate poverty among Malays, pushed Felda (Federal Land Development Authority), a legacy that helped Malays to own millions of hectares of plantation land - mostly palm oil and rubber. Some call him Father of Development.

No. 3 - Tun Hussein Onn, Father of Unity

He stood firmly behind the unity of the races and how to work the economy to achieve this, earning him the title Father of Unity.

He launched Amanah Saham Nasional (ASN), or the national unit trust scheme.

He also pushed the concept of Rukun Tetangga (Neighbourhood Watch scheme), where villages and residents of in town areas take turns to guard their neighbourhood. It was quite multi-racial in nature, in that neighbours from the various communities worked together in this scheme, from what I remembered.

No. 4 - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Father of Modernisation

He led for a record 22 years. He changed Malaysia from a rural economy dependent on rubber and tin to an industrial nation and the 17th biggest trading nation in the world.

Father of Modernisation is an apt title for him.

Though it must be noted (and many have these days) that the press was increasingly muzzled, and the judiciary lost its independence during his time.

And corruption in politics, like corruption in business, and the cosy ties between business and politics, just grew and grew.

Still, to many 'men-in-the-street' types, it was during his premiership that middle class Malaysians owned houses and two cars.


Now let us return to why Abdullah is not quitting.

He had said he will contest the December Umno elections and wanted to exit only in mid-2010, and that too under pressure.

He might now not contest the December polls and might quit before that.

Reverse a few days earlier, and people would remember him saying he wanted to 'put things right' before passing on the baton to Najib.

Obviously, he does not want to be known only as the fifth Prime Minister, the first one that did not have anything to show for it. The Premier with no legacy.

How then would they remember him? Making a joke that he would be remembered as Father of Kamaluddin and Father (in-law) of KJ, is easy enough.

Kamaluddin is his businessman son, while KJ, Khairy Jamaluddin, is his politically-ambitious son-in-law.

So Abdullah does indeed need the two years to 2010 to stamp his name on policies and issues.

But from what Malaysians have seen in the last five years, few people seriously think that he can do anything at all.

They say: If he could not and did not achieve anything while he was strong, how could he do it now when he is much weakened?

And today, sadly, almost everyone has started their countdown to his exit.

- Singapore Straits Times

source: Why Abdullah is clinging on Malaysia Today