January 29, 2016
Eric Loo on Smooth Talking and Tainted Malaysian Prime Minister
I remember an articulate, amicable but somewhat ‘flirtatious’ junior minister in the late 70s. I was then a reporter covering the energy and telco beat. Having covered a few of his press conferences, some of my peers and I wondered if the smooth talker would one day walk in his father’s shoes.
At age 23, and having graduated (?) two years earlier in industrial economics from Nottingham University in England, Najib Abdul Razak became the youngest MP in the country when he won unopposed his father’s seat in Pekan, Pahang in 1976. Two years later he was appointed deputy energy, telecommunications and post minister.
In an emotional tribute at Abdul Razak Hussein’s 40th death anniversary recently, Najib said his father “was not concerned with the trappings of office… the country and his work were all that mattered… and his deep commitment to the development of all Malaysians.” Like many Malaysians, though, watching the video clip, I was not moved.
The Prime Minister had said likewise in a 2012 documentary ‘A Leader’s Legacy: Tun Abdul Razak’: “I have a sense of pride knowing my father passed away in the service of the nation. There can be no other service greater than that.” Indeed.
Fast forward to 2016, these keywords have come to mark Najib’s leadership – Altantuya (Shaariibuu), Scorpene submarines, government executive jets, Rosmah Mansor’s alleged lavish lifestyle, 1MDB debt, RM2.6 billion, falling ringgit, and various scandals listed in the Corruption Tracker.
Najib’s tenure, as portrayed in the alternative news portals, has been stained by more scandals, worsening racial politics and uncontrolled religious fanaticism reflected in the hundreds of IS-supporters arrested, than achieved any of his reformist goals he proudly declared in 2009.
“To achieve our country’s long-term ambitions we need not only policy renewal, but political and institutional renewal,” he told journalists at the start of his prime ministership (Malam Wartawan, Policy, Politics and the Media – A New Way Forward, April 6, 2009).
A Parrot Speaking–Renew Our Democracy
“As I said in my first hours as Prime Minister, we need to renew our democracy, ensuring that our institutions, our parties and our public servants are responsive to the needs of all the people; working for the public interest, not narrow opportunism or political interests. Together, we must establish a new national discourse: on the principles of transparency and accountability; service to all, not just the few; and respect and fairness in the public dialogue.”
Vital to have a Machiavellian streak
A man is only as good as his words. In politics, though, besides the gift for lofty speech, which our prime minister clearly has, and perceived integrity and honour, which the prime minister sadly lacks in the public eye, Najib has proven that it’s as vital to have a Machiavellian streak. Here’s what he said at the last UMNO general assembly:
“We in this assembly must continue to lift the position and place importance to people of Malay descent and other bumiputeras, in their own homeland… UMNO’s efforts over the years have changed the landscape of the Malays and bumiputeras for the better… we have achieved vertical social mobility within just one generation.
“The children of labourers have become ministers; the children of rubber tappers have become deputy ministers and chief ministers; the children of fishermen have become menteris besar; the children of farmers and gardeners became secretaries-general, leading scholars, corporate members and community leaders.”–Janus-Faced Najib Razak
What about the children from non-bumiputera families, Prime Minister? Najib presents a moderate persona on the international stage and assumes an inclusive agenda at regional summits. But unashamedly he projects a messianic disposition at various Umno general assemblies. Portraying himself as the strongman and saviour of the Malays, he said this at the last assembly in December:
“If UMNO is rejected, this country will be ruled by those who are against the Islamic struggle and who reject the Malay and bumiputera agenda… Disaster will befall us. Do we want the future of our children and grandchildren and the Islamic religion to be left to other than the existing Malay and Islamic leadership?”–Najib Razak
Entering office on a cultural transformation reformist agenda, Najib will exit steering the country down the low road of racist politics as exemplified by the likes of Syed Ali Alhabshee who ranted that the Malays are “selling themselves and the pride of their race” to the Chinese if they were to run for election under the DAP ticket.
How do the Syed Ali Alhabshees in UMNO get the audacity to spit such nonsense, if not for being emboldened by the double-speak and chameleon-like leadership of the Prime Minister?
Najib Abdul Razak cannot by any moral standards talk about national unity, and living up to his father’s legacy and lineage (perhaps alluding to his uncle, Hussein Onn, the country’s third Prime Minister) when his conduct, and that of his UMNO minions, continues to manipulate the heartlanders into believing that only under UMNO will the Malays prosper.
A chronic political disease
It’s common for politicians to go back on their words for personal gains, especially come election time. But when cover-ups, spin and lies predominate among the incumbents, it becomes a chronic political disease, terminal in Najib’s case.
The trust deficit in the government, largely caused by Najib’s consistent refusal to condemn the Islamist ideologues, and his manipulative racial politics at UMNO general assemblies will see him go down as a prime minister who gave a new twisted meaning to Abraham Lincoln’s famous phrase ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.’ Perish we may if things continue to slide.
While Abdul Razak’s attempt at national reconciliation in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots was noble and right, the poor implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) since 1971 has created a situation where the politically connected, the Umnoputras, are getting richer, while the heartlanders in the kampung are left scratching for the crumbs.
Like all politicians, Najib would have started his political life as a 23-year-old lawmaker with high ideals to serve the people, to govern for the people, to continue his father’s work, and to make him proud. But like many politicians, the addiction to power and the temptation of wealth can change one’s perspectives, priorities and position in life.
Now, respectfully, I wonder about the Prime Minister’s emotional tribute to his father. Would Najib be thinking then: “Why am I not like my father? Would he be proud of me? Would my leadership over the last six years be any different if my father was around to mentor me? Where did I go wrong? What can I do to get out of this rut? What can I do, bapa?” We should be moved.
ERIC LOO worked as a journalist and taught journalism in Malaysia from the late 1970s to 1986. He is now Honorary Senior Fellow in Journalism at University of Wollongong in Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org