Does Najib Really Care for the Country?

As far as I’m concerned, Najib gave himself away.

By Kee Thuan Chye

Just the other day, I was engaged in a debate with a couple of friends about whether Najib Razak cares for the country.

They were insistent that he doesn’t. They reasoned that he was interested only in preserving his selfish interests. That included making as much as he could from his position as Prime Minister.

I rejoined by saying that surely, no one would want to take on the stresses of being the leader of a country merely for the sake of self-aggrandisement and material gain. He must also want to do something for the country, like taking it to greatness as he perceives it. Even if we don’t agree with his vision, the fact that he has one indicates some kind of caring. I said I found it hard to believe that any leader who had some decency in him would just reap whatever he wanted from the country and be content to let it go to ruin.

In Najib’s case specifically, I said he must have some primordial connection to this land he was born in, some love for tanah tumpah darahnya. He must subscribe to the notion of this being tanah Melayu, the land of his forefathers and his people, the only such land in the world. What’s more, he has pedigree. He is the son of a former prime minister. Would any son of a country’s former leader want to do worse than his father and be compared unfavourably?

Would he not instead be concerned about his future legacy as prime minister, how he will be judged in history? If he didn’t care and thereby allowed the country to go to the dogs, he would be spat upon by future generations of Malaysians. It would take an unfeeling and ego-less person not to worry about this. I don’t know if Dr Mahathir Mohamad feels anything about the possibility of his being reviled in the future historiography that will be written on his tenure as prime minister of Malaysia, but if I were him, I would be very concerned – even though it’s a bit late to undo what has been done.

Najib has a living example to learn from. He is already seeing the tremendous wave of Malaysian anger and resentment at Mahathir’s past doings, a wave that is swelling bigger by the day. Would Najib want to experience the same?

Judging by the policies he’s been unveiling since a year ago when he took office, one can see that Najib is making attempts to bring reform. Of course, he is doing it mainly for his own survival and that of his party, Umno, but somewhere in there, isn’t there an element of personal caring for the well-being of his country? Isn’t there a whit of sincerity in it? Isn’t there even a little bit of decency in the man?

I would like to think so. I would like to think that his New Economic Model, despite its flaws and lack of an action plan (that may be available only in June), is sincerely geared towards saving our economy and giving every Malaysian a real stake in this country. I would like to think that his Government Transformation Programme, despite its unlikely attainability – at least not within a short time – given the huge and unwieldy areas it covers, will change mindsets and bring about greater efficiency in the provision of public services.

I would also like to believe that he is sincerely committed to his mission of bringing about 1Malaysia, but I find myself being increasingly sceptical of it because it remains a slogan without substance. In the context of 1Malaysia, Al-Jazeera recently asked him whether he considered himself a Malay first and a Malaysian second, like his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, did a couple of days before. Najib replied, “Technically, if we talk about the Constitution, I am a Malay but I am comfortable being a Malay in a Malaysian society.” This is waffling. Why bring up the Constitution’s definition of a Malay? That was not part of the question. Why say “Malay in a Malaysian society” as if to draw attention to a distinction between the two? Most important, why did he not come right out and say that he considered himself a Malaysian first and a Malay second?

As far as I’m concerned, Najib gave himself away. I’m now convinced that he’s not truly committed to 1Malaysia. Which brings me back to what my friends said in our debate about him. They, too, don’t buy his 1Malaysia slogan. But more than that, they were adamant that he doesn’t care for the country because he showed disrespect for the rule of law over the Perak issue.

“How can you care for your country when you don’t care for the rule of law and the country’s institutions?” they said. “How can you rob the people of the choice they made as to whom they wanted for their state government?”

Inevitably, my friends proceeded to talk about the ensuing court battle between the aggrieved party and the newly installed government over who should legitimately govern Perak and gave me a further earful about how the process exposed further erosion of the country’s institutions.

They talked about the manipulation of institutions that included not only the judiciary but also the mass media and the MACC, that seems to be gunning for after almost every Opposition leader. They talked about the corruption that continues to prevail and the lack of will to eradicate it. Those who are hauled up are merely the anchovies, not the sharks. They even talked about the Altantuya case and questioned if justice was being truly served. Why had the two police personnel sentenced to be hanged for the murder said nothing about who gave them the orders to kill the Mongolian woman? Why hadn’t their motive for the murder – if they had any, to begin with – been established in court?

And so it went. By the time they were done, I began to question myself all over again: Does Najib really care for his country, our country? I’m not so sure any more. I suppose you could pursue your selfish interests and still care for the country, but if at the same time you defile the country’s institutions, that’s a serious breach. That’s like not caring for something sacred.