Abdullah Badawi As “Practise Leader”


M. Bakri Musa

Morgan-Hill, California


March 31, 2008

In his novel Gadis Pantai (“The Girl From The Coast”), Pramoedya Ananta Toer revealed a quaint custom in ancient Malay culture. That is where the lord of the kampong upon reaching adulthood would grab the prettiest village virgin to be his “practise wife.” Then when he becomes sufficiently well honed in his “husbandly” skills or when he gets bored with her, he would toss her out like a piece of soiled rag. He with his now enhanced skills would go on to marry a lady of “proper” background.



I believe that Fate has gifted Malaysians with a “practise leader” in the person of Abdullah Badawi. He is so inept, so spineless, and so lacking in ability to make decisions that he practically invites scorn and contempt. Or in Tengku Razaleigh’s words, Abdullah showed a “stunning ineptness in managing … straightforward functions of government.” Today, in the kedai kopi (coffeehouses) even taxi drivers are not hesitant in ridiculing Abdullah.



Granted, some of the criticisms leveled at Abdullah are crude and clumsy, but then so would the village nobleman’s initial experiences with his “practise wife.” The concern is less with finesse and artistry, more with getting it done! With time and practice, rest assured things would only get better!



Once Malaysians have become accustomed to being critical of Abdullah and are unafraid to criticize or even challenge him, then we would toss Abdullah out, as the village nobleman would of his “practise wife.” Malaysians would then be ready for a proper leader.




Consequences of Uncritical Citizenry


Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein


Fate has blessed Malaysia with capable leaders in the past. There was Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Independence, who successfully led us out of colonial rule without shedding a drop of blood. However, as Malaysians had not yet learned to be good followers, we were not sufficiently critical of him. Thus he got carried away with being the “world’s happiest prime minister” while letting problems fester away until they blew up in his and our collective faces.



The Tunku was succeeded by the able Tun Razak, but his life was tragically cut short by cancer. As such he was spared from being spoiled by an adoring and uncritical populace. His reputation remains intact and unblemished.



His successor Hussein Onn may not have been the most capable but at least he knew his limitations. He was wise enough to voluntarily relinquish his position. He also took his oath of office seriously. Thus he was meticulous and unusually astute in the choice of his successor.



Tun Dr. Mahathir


In Dr. Mahathir Malaysians had a leader of exceptional brilliance, unorthodox convictions, and courageous innovations. He transformed Malaysia . Like any other mortal, he too had his share of mistakes. Unfortunately his uncritical and unabashedly adoring followers were equally blind to his mistakes thus preventing him from recognizing and rectifying them.



Had Malaysians generally and UMNO members specifically been more critical of Mahathir in his choice of a successor, for example, the nation would have been spared the current political muddle.



This uncritical and sheep-to-shepherd dynamics also characterize other Asian and Third World societies. Indonesia was blessed with the charismatic and brilliant Sukarno. He united those polyglot islands into a cohesive nation while bravely taking on the Dutch colonialists at the same time. China has its Mao. However, as their uncritical followers did not rein in their leaders’ initial excesses, those leaders got carried away.



Making Malaysians more critical



Malaysians are excessively deferential to their leaders, rarely challenging or even criticizing them. Our leaders are always clad in the finest fashion even when all they have on is a piece of tattered, stained loincloth. The relationship is akin to that of a flock of sheep and its shepherd, of blind obedience.



That may be fine for a flock of docile sheep but it is hardly the recipe for a progressive society. Nor is it the recipe for a competitive society, or at least one that would merit the adjective “modern.” In such a society, leaders must be held accountable, and followers in turn must not hesitate to hold their leaders to exacting standards. This reciprocal relationship means that followers must be willing and not fearful to criticize and challenge their leaders. That is the best way to ensure accountability. It would also discourage these leaders from being led astray by their blind ambition or abusing the trust we grant them.



Without being unduly Pollyannaish, the only way to make sense of the current political mess is to believe that this is part of a divine design, of Fate providing Malaysians with a “practise leader” in order to better prepare us for a real leader in our future.



Anwar Ibrahim


There are two towering personalities in the horizon that fit my characterization of a real leader: Anwar Ibrahim and Tengku Razaleigh. In their previous incarnations, these two had their share of fawning followers who egged them on to make unwise decisions. For Anwar, it led to his imprudently challenging Mahathir. He (and us) knows only too well the disastrous consequences of that fateful decision. Tengku Razaleigh, again at the behest of his admiring supporters, left UMNO briefly to form the Semangat–46 Party.



The problem is not with Anwar or Ku Li challenging Mahathir, rather that we as a society have yet to deal with or learn the art of challenges and criticisms. Our standard response then was either to split the organization or riot in the streets. Enter Abdullah as “practise leader;” now we have learned at least not to riot, a significant advancement!



I believe that Anwar and Ku Li are now wiser. They would be even better leaders if we let them be, meaning that we should not let our guards down lest they would be tempted to be led astray by their uncritical admirers. On the personal side, I note a certain humility and magnanimity in both Anwar and Ku Li. To them, the travails and weaknesses of Abdullah Badawi truly pain them. To these two nationalists, challenging Abdullah is not a route for the fulfillment of their personal ambition, rather a patriot’s obligation.



To young readers who may not yet quite grasp the “practise wife” concept, let me substitute a sports metaphor. Abdullah is a convenient punching bag for Malaysians to practice on how we should learn to handle future leaders. For now, his ineptness and incompetence make those lessons easy for us, though not for Abdullah.



In Pram’s novel, the young nameless lady who is the nobleman’s “practise wife” returns to her village. Only through her strength of character could she maintain her dignity and respect in her village.



When Abdullah gets tossed out, as inevitably he would, lacking strength of character, the public scorn heaped upon him would be merciless. Abdullah’s predictable humiliation would not arouse any pity from me, but his destroying what was once a fine Malay institution – UMNO – would.



The only redeeming part to the whole ugly saga would be that Abdullah would also bring down with him the “practise pundits” and “practise editors” in the mainstream media, as well as the “practise academics” and “practise intellectuals” in our universities.

Away in Singapore


 Dear Friends,

I will be away in Singapore from today (March 31) and will be back in town on April 2. I will try to blog from there so that my webblog is active. I will also have a short report for you on the ISEAS (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies) seminar on the New Economic Policy (NEP), where I will be one of the panelists.

I am sure my views will be criticised by the media here. But frankly, I believe that we must not live the past, and instead we must move forward into a new era of good governance.

Malaysia is not a hotel. It must be a place where we all can call our home, a place where we belong and there will opportunities for all who are willing to work hard. But we must have compassion for the less fortunate among us. The poor Malaysians need help and given their dignity back; and they must be given the help so that they can be empowered to take care of themselves and their families. This is possible in PKR’s constitutional state (negara madani).

So, Affirmative Action Policy, YES, but NEP, as it is now and has been for the past 37 years, NO. I support Anwar Ibrahim’s Malaysian Economic Agenda because it is the way forward. Let us not be afraid of change, especially when it is positive. There must be “Justice for All”.—Din Merican.

Natalie Wood: My Venus

Guys, she was my Venus. She first came to my attention as the opposite to James Dean in A REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. She was an overnight sensation in my kampong, Bakar Bata by Sungei Kedah, Alor Star, Kedah Darul Aman, where my friend Kawan Wat Siam is now enjoying his retirement.

To all the Venuses who are reading my blog, this song by Frankie Avalon is for you, all beautiful people. Thank you for making our world a great place to be, occasional problems excepted. Enjoy your weekend, and swing it in great rhythm.—Dee Jay Din Merican.

Crisis In Trengganu? What Crisis?

by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar

March 30, 2008

It may be that in all the posturing that is happening within UMNO, within the Federal Government and the Attorney General’s Chamber concerning the events in Trengganu, some of the actors in the unfolding saga have lost sight of the obvious. In the absence of the Sultan, His Royal Highness the Regent of Trengganu has the absolute power and discretion to appoint the Menteri Besar of the state. Put another way, the choice is that of the Regent, and no one else. It is as simple as that.

The Constitution of Trengganu is a document in 3 parts: Laws of the Constitution of 1911, Laws of the Constitution of Trengganu (First Part) and Laws of the Constitution of Trengganu (Second Part). In determining the constitutional position on any matter pertaining to the state, all 3 parts must be read harmoniously. Put another way, all three parts must be reconciled.

It follows, therefore, that in determining the ambit of powers of the Sultan (referred to as Raja in the constitutional documents), or the Regent as the case may be (and for ease of reference, only the Sultan shall be referred to in this comment), reference must be made to all 3 documents.

Chapter Six of the 1911 Laws emphatically provides that His Royal Highness is empowered as the sole authority for appointing ministers and officials. The chapter does not qualify the power of His Royal Highness to do so nor does it set out any criteria by which His Royal Highness is required to exercise his power. As I see it, Chapter Six vests an absolute discretion in the Sultan to appoint ministers and officials. This would necessarily include the Chief Minister or Mentri Besar.

Article 63 of the First Part expressly preserves the prerogatives, powers and jurisdiction of the Sultan except where expressed otherwise in the First Part. This is significant as the absolute power of the Raja to appoint a Mentri Besar is preserved except where otherwise expressly provided.

Article 14 of the First Part provides for the appointment of the State Executive Council including the Mentri Besar. The appointment is made by His Royal Highness. The language of the provision does not detract from His Royal Highness’ power to appoint. Criteria are however provided as follows: the candidate selected must be a member of the Legislative Assembly AND must be a member who in His Royal Highness’ judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly.

The Second Part is silent on this aspect of the powers of the Sultan.

Reconciling Chapter Six of the 1911 Laws with Article 14 of the First Part, two points are manifest. The power to appoint the Mentri Besar is that of the Sultan and only that of the Sultan. In exercising this power, His Royal Highness must choose a member of the Legislative Assembly who in His judgment commands the confidence of the majority of the Legislative Assembly. Put another way, it is the subjective view of the Sultan that matters and not of anyone else. Though expressions of support are factors that should be taken into consideration, the Constitution does not bind the Sultan to act only in accordance with such expressions of support.

Furthermore, it is unreasonable to suggest that all that matters are the numbers. The Sultan cannot be expected, nor does the Constitution require His Royal Highness, to act as a rubber-stamp.

In this context, I am of the view that the Sultan may take into consideration all matters that His Royal Highness may reasonably view as having a bearing on the question of confidence. What if the Sultan formed the view that he was not confident that a particular member who seemingly had popular support would not make a suitable Chief Minister. Statements issued by the Palace indicate the concerns of the Palace over the handling of the Pantai Batu Burok episode as well as events that occurred during the recent General Election by Idris Jusoh. These are matter that are evidently bearing on the minds of those who advise the Regent.

These are considerations of weight that go to the question of confidence more so for the fact that it is glaringly obvious that twenty UMNO assembly-men who have endorsed the appointment of Idris Jusoh may not necessarily be acting in accordance with their own conscience but rather the dictates of the party. There is, in a manner of speaking, a dimension of duress in the saga, made obvious by the threats of disciplinary action that have been leveled against Ahmad Said by UMNO. To this end, it is questionable whether it can be said that Idris Jusoh truly commands the confidence of the majority of the Legislative Assembly.

These factors go to show that there is basis for doubt in the mind of the Regent and the advisory council as to the appropriateness of appointing Idris Jusoh. If so, this doubt may reasonably undermine the belief of the Regent and the advisory council that Idris Jusoh truly commands the confidence of the majority.

Regrettably, the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Attorney General lend to a conclusion that the Regent and the advisory council are expected to rubber stamp the wishes of the majority. Though this may have been how appointments were made in the past, this does not bind the Sultan or the Regent in the present, more so where the past practice may not have been Constitutionally thought through. In the same vein, I would say that there is no basis for the assertion that the Regent is acting unconstitutionally. In the circumstances, such statements verge on being disrespectful.

For purposes of argument, I would go further. Even if the Regent had decided for no apparent reason to appoint Ahmad Said as Mentri Besar instead Idris Jusoh, there would be no basis for challenging the decision to appoint the said person. The decision is solely that of the Sultan and as such, is in my view not justiciable in a court of law. The only recourse for those members of the Legislative Assembly who disagree is to move a vote of no confidence in the Legislative the Assembly. This is clearly envisaged under the Trengganu Constitution (Article 14(6)).

Significantly, if that were to happen, a new State Executive Council would be appointed unless the Sultan is requested by the Mentri Besar to dissolve the Legislative Assembly in which event elections would have to be held. This may not be politically expedient for those who complain.

And perhaps that is what this is all about in the final reckoning.


One would have expected the Attorney-General to understand the laws of the State of Terengganu, but in stead, he was trying to please his boss, the Prime Minister. In some countries like the United States, the Attorney General would have resigned, but not in our case. It is not our tradition, some would say. But it is time we change that culture. We must develop a culture of public accountability. If you fail to give good advice, then you should resign rather than become a tool of some soon to be defunct politician (an adaptation of Keynes).

Alas, the Terengganu saga is over and the people of Terengganu are proud that their Sultan stood firm on the point of law. If the politicians have truly listened to the voices of the rakyat, there was no need for intervention by the Sultan. If there is no controversy, things would have gone on smoothly.—Din Merican