Old errors may recur after Najib is replaced


The PM’s successor will inherit a worn-out broom that will not sweep clean, thanks to a system tailored by Mahathir.

Ishmael Lim, Free Malaysia Today

Before the formal borders existed, and before common folk were given the right to choose their leaders, people voted with their feet. If they couldn’t cope with living under a certain regime, they would pack their belongings, sling the pack onto a pole over their shoulders, and off they went. If they wanted their family safe, they would keep moving till they got lucky and found a place where the ruler was benevolent and the people kind. If they wished for a regime change, they had to wait till the ruler died or got removed by war.

With guarded borders, passports and visas, it’s not easy to move across borders anymore. If moving is not an option, then we find ways to make things better. Unlike voting for a political party, we get no choices about our gender, race, where we are born, and the family we are born into. But we do have some control over the rest of our lives.

People can get carried away discussing politics. This supposes that we all want better control over what happens to us and our families. Personalities, issues, policies and parties in that approximate order are the common chat stuff at tea stalls apart from the dhal and roti. The aspect of “leadership” as a commodity has little meaning. So it hardly crops up. People simply expect leadership from a leader.

We seem richly endowed with leaders. But not even one from among the current crop of eligible leaders in the traditional sense is solid enough to fill the top job of PM. That is what Malaysia has become, all quantity and so little quality, and too many leaders lacking talent and skills. Talent as a resource is spread so thinly because we made a strategic choice to emphasise quantity over quality two decades ago, at the height of the Mahathir era.

Having already voted, we are expected to put up with the people we put into power. We have no more part to play in deciding whether PM Najib stays or goes. Our approval or disapproval can still be voiced, but that would be the limit to our role until we vote again three years away. That is still better than voting with our feet to a distant land as refugees.

We have the system to blame for this. Our democracy, which gives us choice over who rules, only decides the party that takes power and not who becomes prime minister.

Haven’t we always lived with and tolerated our leaders in the past and suffered in silence? Apparently, times have changed. Malaysians have found new ways for democracy to deliver their wish beyond the five yearly elections. The mid-term switch is tricky as we are not due for the next change until 2018. All the previous mid-term replacements have been due to resignations or death.

The unhappiness with PM Najib has been getting deeper. What began as muted disapproval of Najib’s management by Umno veterans has now found focus and decibels in the figure of Tun Mahathir. The retired doctor’s entry into the fray has had a huge effect on ordinary folk. His veteran stature lends force and credibility to the message that Najib’s management of the nation is no longer tenable.

Cut from the same cloth

Unfortunately, it underscores a genetic level defect which was built into the system. It only allows the replacement for the post of PM to come from the same pool of Umno sycophants that created and supported the mess. The old mistakes threaten to recur when the successor is cut from the same cloth as Najib.

Mahathir the tinkerer and tailor of this system won’t be around much longer to cushion every crash landing. The system he leaves behind doesn’t always fit the right peg into the right hole. We find ourselves in a crisis because the current crop of Umno leaders, who might by the conventions of succession qualify to replace PM Najib, don’t show much promise of being any better. They have been system in-bred to look to needs of the party and their own jobs before that of the nation. The insincerity of their actions speaks louder than any of their lofty speeches when they defend the absurd with the usual half-truths that defy logic.