Sunday, April 04, 2010
PM Najib, a tightrope he treads
A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation, said James Freeman Clarke.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who inherited a bruised and tattered coalition from his predecessor, has just celebrated his 365th day in office.
Even before he sat behind the desk that he was groomed for since his youth, Najib was haunted by the spectre of a beautiful woman, so brutally murdered.
Despite his repeated denials, swearing on the Quran, and the authorities finding no concerete links, the spectre refuses to be exorcised, no thanks to the opposition which never fails to remind the people not to forget that macabre episode.
Najib's reputation was dealt a blow, and no coffeeshop chatter about the premier is complete without mention of that lady who was blown up, and how the blood trail leading to Putrajaya was supposedly covered up.
Then again, the public has always been insatiable when it comes to conspiracy theories, no matter how far-fetched it might be.
A media muzzled by their political paymasters as well as a police force and judiciary perceived as being under the thumb of the government, ensure that more coal is shovelled into the furnace of speculation.
C4 explosives and seared flesh aside, Najib had, like his predecessor who promised to net the big fish swimming in the ocean of corruption, made many grand promises after taking oath of office.
Among them is to foster greater unity and a sense of oneness.
However, his critics claim that he has yet to make good on his words, apart from some cosmetic changes, a dab of lip gloss here, and a shade of mascara there.
Even his 1Malaysia brainchild is on the verge of becoming a victim of infanticide, with the opposition casting aspersions on who the real father is. According to Anwar Ibrahim, the DNA matches that of an US-company conceived, born in Israel, concept.
Soon after that, another onslaught was unleashed, with Najib's deputy finding himself trapped between a rock and a hard place with the challenge – race or nationality first?
Stuck in a difficult position
But this is not about whether Najib has delivered or not, but rather why it would be difficult for any individual in his shoes to walk the talk within the ambit of the existing political framework in Malaysia.
Lest we forget, a prime minister is also human, and like us, he too is ambitious and avaricious.
A prime minister is a man first. He does not descend from heaven, cast in a mould of all goodness. Just like the rest, he is susceptible to the very same desires and trappings of this material existence, the difference being that his shortcomings become public because of the public office he holds.
A prime minister is a politician second.
So he has to stratergise his moves carefully. For him each sunset heralds a new chess match, where the pieces have to be moved tactfully in order not to please one segment at the expense of peeving another. Simply put, he walks on a tightrope, balancing precariously between victory and defeat.
His vision pours forth through a pair of vote-tinted glasses. Every child kissed, every hand shook, every donation given and every event graced ultimately boils down to the ballot box.
In the Malaysian context, Najib is Umno president second.
This is indeed a difficult position to be in, when helming a multiracial nation. He is forced to play the role of a “political racist” in his party and a “political non-racist” elsewhere. He is constantly confronted with the problem of – do away with this, and risk raising the ire of one group, keep it in place, and incense another.
Throw religion into the equation, and the situation becomes dicier.
Like a ringmaster, Najib runs a collosal circus. He has to juggle the clowns, who provide comic relief at the expense of the coalition's credibility. The mighty elephants, which he must tame and make kneel at his command. And the lions, which grudgingly partake in the show and into whose jaws, he must insert his head.
In a world that is becoming increasingly globalised and borderless, the Barisan Nasional political structure remains entrenched in the dark ages, and politicians from its race-based parties are struggling to justify their existence.
As one wise man pointed out, racism in this country is institutionalised, constitutionalised, legalised and politicised to the point that it would take an herculean effort to reset the minds of her denizens.
And this is not only with the Malays, he noted. Have a Chinese or Indian prime minister, and the same thing would happen in reverse.
Simply because, no matter what Lim Kit Siang might thunder, for the majority of Malaysians it is still Malay, Chinese, Indian and whatnot first, and Malaysian second. (Not taking into account the sub-ethnic divisions within the ethnic divisions.)
Perkasa, boon or bane?
Imagine the likes of Perkasa, which some allege has been sub-contracted by Umno to tread where others fear to tread under the 1Malaysia sky, taking centrestage before a backdrop of towering skyscrapers, mammoth shopping malls, Formula One races and fancy nightclubs.
Malaysia, it seems, exists someplace between progressive and regressive. To quote the succint description of another wise man, it is a land with “First World infrastructure, Third World Mentality”.
Deviating a little, is Perkasa doing the Malays a service or disservice? Special privileges and NEP are the clarion calls of this pressure group.
But what pride is there in winning a rat race when the triumphant ones are given a headstart?
In the end, the system spawns generation after generation of rats who train to run a certain distance, while the rest train to run the entire length, giving the latter rodents a significant edge in the international circuit, while the former becomes complacent in the absence of true competition.
As noble as the intentions might be, the affirmative actions have only benefitted a few, while a sizeable portion of the Malay community still grapples with trying to make ends meet, a clear indication that the policy has been abused.
Perkasa should instead empower the Malays with the confidence that they can win the race on their own accord, and therefore work harder to discard the so-called “crutches”. They must be transformed into a race which realises that it is “special” not because of the letters in the constitution, but because of merits.
But such a scenario would not bode well for the politicians, for when the “crutches” are dumped into the bin, so would the leaders who provided them. And when the logic of politics is applied, it is easier to lord over those who limp than those who run.
Struggling to stay afloat
Rocked by the waves of such a complex and delicate political framework, Najib's 1Malaysia is struggling to remain afloat.
To his credit, Najib had recently proposed direct membership into BN in order to increase its multiracial composition, which must have left his component party leaders squirming uncomfortably in their seats.
It is a small step, but nevertheless one taken in the right direction and Najib should be lauded for this.
Anything bolder, and Najib runs the risk of stoking discontent in his party and coalition, ultimately paving the way for certain forces to bay for his blood. Some claim this is already happening.
For those who wish to see more radical reforms, do cut him some slack. He is after all, man first, Umno president second, prime minister third.
Happy anniversary and God Bless, Mr Prime Minister.