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The banality of Najib’s leadership

M Bakri Musa  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | When the day of judgement comes to Malaysia, which it inevitably will and I hope soon (as with this May 9 election), Malaysians would be shocked into disbelief to discover the banality of Najib Abdul Razak’s leadership.

How did such a character ascend to the highest office in the land? I cannot accept that Malaysians are that stupid to have let that happen. Yes, there are plenty of dumb and gullible ones but overall Malaysians are sensible folks. Yet there he is, Najib as prime minister for the past long, nine embarrassing and totally wasted years.

Najib did not get there on his own effort. That much is certain.

Others had paved the path for him right from the very beginning. Now that he is prime minister, Najib does not know how to clear the path ahead, much less which direction to take the nation. He is clueless. Time to get another leader. Time to disabuse Najib of his delusion of entitlement.

It is not difficult to imagine what his fate would have been had he not been a “bin Tun Razak.” At best a junior functionary in his backward state of Pahang. Likewise, had he not been born in a deeply feudal Malay culture of rural Pahang in the early 1950s but modern Kuala Lumpur of today, his taking over his father’s hereditary title of “Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar” would be a non-event.

In the kampung however, that title conferred instant aristocratic aura. It roughly translates as “Rich, Exalted Lord Mayor.” Rich and exalted at least by local standards, with vague reference to the mythical prince of classical Malay literature, Inderaputera.

I would have thought that being suave and the product of a British public school he would have found that title quaint, and the elaborate installation ceremony comical, ala an African tribal rite of passage. Yet there he was lapping it up, like that prepubescent Tibetan kid who was anointed to be the future Dalai Lama.

Najib’s seeming suaveness is what my folks back in the old village referred to with undisguised sneer as “moden culup” a veneer of or pseudo- modernity.

Najib would not have inherited that title had his father lived to his expected lifespan. Razak’s premature death also hid his dark side, and Najib got to shine in the reflected glow of his father’s halo.

One of Razak’s many dark sides was his secretiveness. He concealed his mortal illness from his family and the nation. Even on his final but futile trip to London for his medical treatment there was an elaborate ruse to camouflage it.

That could not have been undertaken without the complicity of many, like his pilots and physicians. As a result, his death stunned the nation. Judging by his reaction to the tragic news, even his deputy, Hussein Onn, was kept out of the loop. What a way to treat your second-in-command.

With the outpouring of grief, sympathy was, as expected, showered on Razak’s young family. Najib, being the oldest son, was the main beneficiary. Thus began his fast and smooth glide to the top.

Najib’s first enabler was Hussein Onn who selected him at the age of 23 to take over his father’s old parliamentary seat. Reflecting the enormous reservoir of public sympathy, Najib won unopposed. Hussein went further; he appointed Najib to be a minister soon after.

A sorry ending

From there Najib’s trajectory was fast and steep. The prodigal prince from the jungle of Pahang could do no wrong. Everyone wanted to be on his coattail or be seen as greasing his path. Everyone, from political leaders to religious, and royalty.

Earlier there was Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, himself a protege of Razak. Tengku, then head of Petronas, took Najib under his wings. Tengku was cautious and did not put Najib in a critical position but instead in “government relations.”

Najib’s gratitude to Razaleigh? In a subsequent close contest in 1987 between Razaleigh and Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the Umno presidency (and thus prime minister of the country), Najib switched his support to Mahathir at the very last minute, denying Razaleigh what would have been his widely-expected victory.

Mahathir, too, was Najib’s enabler. As prime minister, Mahathir boosted Najib further, later using him to dislodge Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Najib was only too willing to be Mahathir’s tool. Today Mahathir is Najib’s nemesis.

Unlike all those other enablers, Mahathir at least recognised his mistake, albeit late, and is now trying very hard to remedy it. Let’s hope he succeeds.

Other minor but no less consequential enablers include the current attorney-general who gave Najib a pass in the 1MDB mess. The AG was a Najib political appointee and a former Umno apparatchik; so no surprise there. More reprehensible are the behaviors of the permanent establishment including the top civil servant.

It was widely believed the chief secretary had a hand in the retirement of the former AG who had apparently filed papers for Najib’s arrest over the 1MDB mess.

There are others, the most unapologetic being his party. Umno is now United Mohammad Najib Organisation, ready and ever willing to do his bidding. What a sorry ending to an organisation that was instrumental in bringing independence to Malaysia.

Beyond individuals and institutions, there is that old standby and most effective enabler of all – cash. Packets of ringgit are openly passed out during Umno’s elections. Now that scourge is infecting the general elections.

The ringgit is literally being dispersed at campaign rallies like beads and candies at a Mardi Gras parade. Unlike Umno members who scooped up the cash with unrestrained glee, voters are now increasingly asking the pivotal question: where is the money coming from?

Malaysians could not care less of the future of Najib or his party. Instead, they are concerned about their fate as well as that of their children and grandchildren.

All long to have a leader who is competent, trustworthy, and with a modicum of integrity. That process begins with Najib’s removal in the upcoming election.


M BAKRI MUSA, a surgeon in California, is a frequent commentator on Malaysian affairs. His latest book, The Son Has Not Returned: A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia was released early this year.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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