How about asking the right questions on that book on Pak Lah?

Malaysians should read the book to get a better sense of the man who promised so much when he took over from Dr Mahathir in October 2003 and why he ended up delivering so little.

(TMI) – Only in Malaysia. Only in Malaysia, would there be an inquisition on a book assessing the performance of a former prime minister.

Who is the publisher? Are the editors linked to the opposition? Why is Nurul Izzah Anwar launching the book in Singapore? What is the motive behind the book?

Such is the ferocity of speculation and politicisation that the co-editors, academics James Chin and Bridget Welsh, have had to issue a statement clarifying that, A) the book is not Abdullah Badawi’s memoirs; and, B) the book was not put together or sponsored by Abdullah Badawi.

The irony is that the man who has had his five years in office dissected is not the one kicking up a fuss over the book titled “Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia”, even though there were some unkind remarks about him.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who eyed the top job in Umno, wrote in the foreword that “perhaps it could be said, he fell into the same trap as many Third World leaders as he too succumbed to corrupting tendencies of power”.

In a real tizzy over the book are politicians and bloggers linked to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who would like to paint the book as a collaboration between Abdullah and the opposition, and therefore worthy of vitriol and rejection by Umno.

Also in a spot of bother are Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s strategists – the same people who led him to believe that a two-thirds majority was in the bag.

They too are wondering if there is a hidden hand behind the collection of essays and interviews on Abdullah’s years as prime minister.

How about we assess the book for its content and nothing else? That is always a good starting point when reviewing a book.

Without a doubt, the most interesting part of the book is from pages 3 to 38, where Abdullah is interviewed on a laundry list of subjects from the attacks by Dr Mahathir to the dynamics in Umno, to worsening race relations in Malaysia.

The rest of the book contains a couple of other interviews and essays on Abdullah’s performance in office by political commentators and academia.

Malaysians should read the book to get a better sense of the man who promised so much when he took over from Dr Mahathir in October 2003 and why he ended up delivering so little.

Unmistakable throughout the book is the sense that the man was completely overwhelmed by the expectations of the nation. It is akin to promising to win Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal but only having the skill and stamina to go past round two.

Also coming through crystal clear is the in-built resistance to change and reform offered by Umno during the Abdullah years.

This part is important for Malaysians to read and digest because it clearly shows a political elite unable and unwilling to do anything which would upset their place at the buffet line called Malaysia.

No matter who leads the ruling party, and how many slogans he can muster, Umno does not accept good governance, transparency, anti-corruption efforts, inter-faith dialogue.

The party’s entrenched powers detest reform. Abdullah tried it, faced the blowback and walked away with a whimper. Najib Razak attempted it, got singed by Umno and Perkasa and is still licking his wounds.

So how can an obstinate political party that has become so detached from the aspirations of the majority of Malaysians bring light to this hope-starved country?

Can any personality in Umno’s current second echelon line-up of Ali Rustam, Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Hussein succeed where Abdullah, Najib and even the great Dr Mahathir failed?

These are valid questions to ponder as Malaysia celebrates its 50 years of existence.