The Perfect Malaysian Leader 

Unwittingly enough, when we talk about politics and government, there is an underlying issue that invariably becomes the focus of debate, i.e. leadership qualities. But have you ever thought of who might be your role model as the “perfect” Malaysian leader?

Jaikol Situn, Barrister-at-Law (Gray’s Inn), LLM, LLB, BA (Hons) 

As the 13th Malaysian General Election looms ever closer on the horizon, party activists, supporters, political sympathisers and ordinary citizens alike are increasingly fixated with the burning question: would BN win again, or would the opposition win enough seats to form a government?

Unwittingly enough, when we talk about politics and government, there is an underlying issue that invariably becomes the focus of debate, i.e. leadership qualities. But have you ever thought of who might be your role model as the “perfect” Malaysian leader?

If you are an UMNO supporter, quite understandably that leader might be Najib Tun Razak, the current Malaysian Prime Minister; but if you are for PKR, you are forgiven for insisting that Anwar deserves that accolade. Whoever is your choice, do you honestly believe that he or she has ALL the crucial leadership qualities that a leader should possess? If you are in doubt, then let me offer you some personal insight as to what might be your “perfect” Malaysian leader that appeals to most if not all.

Past, present and future leaders have never failed to amaze or disappoint us for they have their own strengths and weaknesses. In no particular order, I have listed down several leaders who deserve praise and recognition for their own unique qualities notwithstanding their political allegiance and ideology.


The Vision of Tunku Abdul Rahman

As the “Father of Independence”, nobody can deny the fact that all Malaysians owe it all to Tunku. Taking over the leadership from Onn Bin Jaffar after the Second World War, he led UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) to greater heights as it later became the main component party of Barisan Nasional (BN), the present ruling coalition. Tunku dreamt of a united nation regardless of religious beliefs, ethnicity and cultural background and for the first few decades since independence, his dreams may have come true, the only blemish being the racial riots in 1969.

On balance, he achieved so much. He not only made Malaysia an independent nation but also a respected country paving the way for its modernisation that even Sukarno, the first Indonesian president, was envious of. His vision for Malaysia as a prosperous and harmonious multi-racial society is being craved by all Malaysians until this day whilst the man is still being held in high esteem by many of his subjects.


The Man-Management and Ambitions of Dr Mahathir Mohamed

I think it is fair to say that Dr Mahathir never fails to surprise everybody. He still commands credible clout in UMNO despite having retired from active government service or politics. However, during his tenure as Prime Minister, foes, critics and supporters fear him. He would have made a great emperor or general in ancient Rome. If you are to find a leader with sheer man-management quality (or man-nipulation, to his critics), find no further. He “reinforced” or “redefined” the supremacy of the Parliament, “reviewed” the independence of the judiciary and even made royalties eat humble pies.

What about his ambitions? He wanted to outdo every country in the Asia Pacific Region by building the tallest, biggest or by being the first in everything. So he built KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) twin towers, the tallest building in the world in the late 1980s, the sprawling futuristic city and new capital of Putrajaya, the F1 racing track, to mention a few. Dr Mahathir man-management skills and ambitions are unrivalled.


The Resolve and Patience of Joseph Pairin Kitingan

Across the South China Sea hails a Kadazandusun-Murut leader from Tambunan in the State of Sabah. He is the “Huguan Siou” or Paramount Leader of his community and the current Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah as well as leader of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS). Indeed, his resolve and remarkable patience befits the title of Paramount Leader. He has withstood all forms of challenges and adversities in his political and personal life. Castigated by his allies, and belittled and abandoned by some of his own people, he is a man who is like a bullet proof punching bag that no matter what amount of force you throw at him, he is as serene and calm as the Pagalan River in his hometown. He is not easily drawn into a tit-for-tat tirade over trivial differences. Have you heard him comment or say anything disrespectful or harsh to anybody lately?


The Wealth and People’s Loyalty of Taib Mahmud

Taib Mahmud is allegedly richer than even the Sultan of Brunei and probably the richest in Malaysia thanks to his more than 40 years in power in the oil and timber rich State of Sarawak. This could only be hearsay as we do not have any concrete evidence to support this allegation but in his case you probably would not need any convincing. His stature speaks for itself.

For whatever reasons, support for him seems unwavering. His Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) returns at least or about half of the State and Federal constituencies in every election. This may be about to change, but we are not certain. What makes him so popular amongst his supporters I do not have the foggiest of idea. The only possible explanation is perhaps a love potion that he sprinkles daily upon his people to ensure their love affair is as passionate as ever.


The Tact and Diplomacy of Lim Keng Yaik

When PBS pulled out of BN in 1986, UMNO leaders were so incensed that they branded PBS a traitor alleging “PBS pengecut kerana sanggup menikam UMNO dari belakang(PBS was a coward for stabbing UMNO in the back). Appearing on prime time TV, the late Lim Keng Yaik said, “Walaupun kena tikam dari belakang, PBS boleh cabut balik itu pisau” (Even if PBS had stabbed UMNO in the back, and if the knife is still stuck in the back, PBS can pull it out). He endeavoured to pacify the ruling coalition as well as cherish the healthy relations between the Gerakan party, of which he was the leader, and PBS. He achieved both.

Without him paving the way, PBS would probably not have been re-admitted into BN. On the foreign front, as Minister of Primary Industries in the 1986-2004, amongst others, he successfully promoted and marketed Malaysian oil palm and wood-based products in the face of fierce competitions from soya bean producers and opposition from environmental groups in Europe and the US. Current and would-be Malaysian leaders are well advised to take a leaf from Keng Yaik in the art of tact and diplomacy.


The Charisma of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

When he was the Malaysian Finance Minister in 1976–1984, he used to take centre stage for more than two hours in tabling the Annual Budget in Parliament. I for one was so spellbound by his eloquence, confidence and panache that although the text of his speech was dry and heavy going, I was glued to the TV for the entire live coverage. Dan Reiland defines charisma as a personal quality that is “more concerned about making others feel good about themselves that you are making them feel good about you”. Tengku Razaleigh is pretty close to being such a person. Then again, what can you say, he comes from the royal blood of Kelantan and that is how people view him, in awe of his royal highness, which was both a blessing and a curse.

He had a tough act to follow in the form of another royalty, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who succeeded in becoming PM. But who would have thought that he would take the UMNO leadership by storm in 1987 and actually “won” and almost became PM himself, but for a vote count “technicality” or something.


The Business Acumen of Daim Zainuddin

Daim was the real brain behind the economic success and prosperity of Malaysia during the tenure of Mahathir. As Finance Minister during the period 1984-1991 he regularised the bank and financial institutions and steered the nation’s economy out of trouble during the world recession in the 1980s, amongst others. For long spells, the Malaysian coffers were as sound and solid as one would possibly expect. Due partly to his alleged involvement in various business ventures, corporate leaders and ordinary businessmen look up to him for clues as to the prospects of the nation’s economy.

He was a quiet and shrewd man yet there was one incident when traders misjudged his casual banter as an indication of what the KLSE trend was likely to be heading. Convinced that he was advising them to take up positions, some bought huge volumes of certain stocks that failed to pick up. When confronted by the media, he clarified: “I said bye, not buy”. Hence, if you are looking for a role model as a successful politician and a businessman, Daim should be your man.


The Rhetoric and Boldness of Anwar Ibrahim

Some people are resigned to the fact that Anwar may never become the Malaysian Prime Minister. They could be wrong come this forthcoming general election. When I was at college, my friends and I used to mimic his oratory skills. His rather wide range of terminology often makes his speeches sound more prosaic and sometimes bombastic, still, to the common man or those who are melancholic about the era of Martin Luther King, Churchill, and even Hitler, no insinuation, Anwar’s speeches are so powerful and awe-inspiring that could wake up the dead from the graves, so to speak.

On his other quality, he has always been bold and vocal with his principles and ideology as evidenced during by his early years as a university student and as president of ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia). Ibrahim Ali, eat your heart out. Take it from the guru himself.


The Humbleness and Principles of Niz Abdul Aziz

While other leaders adorn themselves with expensive designer or specially tailored attire, Nik Aziz is just happy to put on his modest religious slacks and headgear. While others spend a fortune building a palatial mansion, Nik Aziz is just content with a kampong-style residence. He must be that down-to-earth that if he walks around the city of Kota Bharu, he is not instantly recognisable even by his supporters unless they actually bump into him. True to his religious principles, he seems to lead a frugal and mediocre lifestyle in accordance with what his Creator has commanded him. His humbleness and strong principles bring forth his integrity as both a political and religious leader. If there is anybody whom you can call a wise and noble man, he is not far off from that description.


The Public Relations of Najib Tun Razak

I cannot remember any Malaysian leader who has gone to great lengths to woo his people by recruiting artists, sportsmen and ordinary people to promote his cause. Najib has been in various adverts, posters and commercials in different roles and attires. His pictures decorate almost every government building and public place.

Politics and critics aside, Najib is in fact an amiable gentleman. His acts have not come easy for him though. For instance, a few weeks ago during the performance of the Korean star, Psy, in Penang, a whole crowd disappointed him by saying no to BN, but he carried on with his acts and pretended nothing untoward happened. He must get a lot of support and encouragement from his wife, Rosmah Mansor, who is equally as enthusiastic in aggressive public-relations campaigns to show that they truly care. Do not be surprised that other leaders would try to copy this trendy style. It has been reported that Anwar has also adopted this strategy.


The Wits and Tenacity of Lim Kit Siang

Lim Kit Siang’s political career as an opposition leader spans over four decades. Always a controversial figure, ridiculed and derided by his foes and critics, he stood by his motto of speaking up without fear or favour in Parliament and in public in the fight for justice and equality. His ISA detention would have broken the will to live of a lesser man, but he persevered and won many of his scoffers.

Where he failed, he has more than made up by nurturing his own flesh and blood, Lim Guan Eng, his son, to carry on with the family struggle and becoming Chief Minister of Penang, a feat that may never be replicated, well at least in Penang that is. This father and son partnership epitomises the Malay saying, “Patah tumbuh hilang berganti” (Even if the plant withers, the shoot grows in its place). This makes him top billing ahead of his closest challenger, Karpal Singh. However, it is both of them that make Malaysia more democratic.


The Intelligence and Brain of Dr Jeffrey Kitingan

Crossing the great watery divide again, Mahathir confirmed in his book “Doctor in the House” that Jeffrey, the younger brother of Pairin Kitingan, is a clever man or something like that. This is the highest complement you can ever have; from your erstwhile adversary and ISA jailor. Then again, despite spending two years in ISA detention, Jeffrey’s brain has never stopped ticking. He may have “wandered in the wilderness” for many years in search of his own dreams, and he seems to have finally found them at long last in what he calls the “Borneo Agenda” (Ask him what it is). I have reliably been informed that he has strings of degrees including a PhD from Harvard University (J F Kennedy, School of Government), a couple of MBAs, a couple of degrees and a diploma. Do you know any Malaysian leader who has got more credible paper qualification than him?


The Style and Looks of Musa Aman

You may now be thinking that I am biased in my role models as the perfect Malaysian leader as I appear to be promoting another Sabahan, as I am a Sabahan myself. But can you tell me a Malaysian leader past or present who has got the style and Bollywood looks of Musa Aman, the current Chief Minister of Sabah? I honestly do not think so. If you are looking for someone who “has all the luck”, do not go past him. If I were the producer or director of a movie, he would do nicely as the double of Sarukh Khan, anytime. His perfectly trimmed moustache and suave pan-Asian looks are lethal enough to disarm and attract any unsuspecting lady out there. With due respect gents, look after your missus.


The Humour of Samy Vellu

What can you say about our old Samy? We not only laugh at him, but laugh with him, with all due respect. His harmless irreverence, honesty and heavy Tamil accent are effective icebreaker for any potentially sticky and tense situation. He could have made a successful career as a stand-up comedian by being himself. Just mention his name, and you cannot help feeling amused and relaxed. Would you want a leader as serious and boring as Kim Jong Ill, the late President of North Korea? I am sure you would not. You would like your leader to be more human and somewhat IMPERFECT after all.

No doubt there are so many leaders that deserve some recognition but in my view, the above stand out among the rest on the basis of the era and environment they were or are in as well as the challenges they were or are facing. You may have you own perception as to what makes a great leader but I am sure you would agree with me that no single leader possesses every desirable quality that we can think of. That actually explains why leaders come and go as we constantly search for the mythical and elusive “perfect” Malaysian Leader.