Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has been faced with a barrage of criticism of late. But he can turn things around to his advantage if he makes the right move.
WHEN things are not going right, humans have a tendency to find fault.From our lacklustre economy, eroding social well-being to the pathetic state of our politics, some are almost convinced that they have found the root cause – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Hence, the arguments focused on why, when and how he should step aside. To his many critics, Abdullah is a failure. He has let the country down.
This is a damning accusation of a man who is helming the most important and powerful position in the country.However, due to the fact that Abdullah is the most powerful and influential man, he has the rare opportunity to prove them wrong. How can Abdullah make his reformist dream come true?
Pundits agree that Abdullah started on the right step but soon made many missteps. His vision of focusing on soft developments e.g.mindset change, public sector prudence, GLC reforms, enhancing human capital and improving inter-ethnic relations, was farsighted and reasonable. However, before even turning this vision into reality, Abdullah had developed “double, and even, triple-vision” .
Some of these visions even contradicted one another.For example, Abdullah introduced his unique concept of Islam Hadhari (Civilisational Islam) and incorporated this into the 9th Malaysia Plan, a socio-economic blueprint which previously was untainted byreligious influence.
In Malaysia, we have a long-standing problem, that is, inconsistent policy implementation. As a result, Abdullah’s sincere interpretation of the Islam Hadhari concept not only aroused the wild imagination of his Muslim officers but was also misinterpreted by non-Muslims as an agenda to further Islamise Malaysia.
Coupled with teething inter-religious problems such as apostasy,inheritance matters regarding converts, on the use of the term “Allah”by non-Muslims and others, Abdullah was seen as a hardliner instead of a reformist.
By the second half of his tenure, Abdullah had completely gone against his original vision. Pressured by his chief critic, Tun Dr MahathirMohamad, Abdullah launched a series of initiatives – each bolder andbigger – in an attempt to stamp his legacy.
Initially, the premier announced the end of mega projects but in his first term launched five regional economic corridors costing a total of RM1.1tril over the next 18 years. Politically, he allowed for racist and opportunist elements in his party to run wild. Afraid of being further alienated and worried over losing power, he even defended and sang their tune on numerous incidents. This is where he must accept blame.
Immediate steps must be taken if Abdullah does not want to go down the slippery road of being branded a failure and a non-starter.Known throughout his political career for being a moderate and a consensus builder, Abdullah must now realign his vision and leadership direction.
He cannot afford to contradict himself and allow others to dictate policies on his behalf. He must quickly recognise that by being more liberal, accommodative, open-minded and fair he will win support from middle-path and multiracial Malaysians. This group of Malaysians deserted his coalition in the last general election and the revival of Barisan Nasional hinges on their support. Umno is weak when Barisan is weak.
His chief critic understood this possibility and will try to lure Abdullah to take the extreme path of Malay supremacy and senseless ethno-nationalism.This chief critic says the government is weak because it listened to the demands of non-Malays (who are also Malaysians), terming them as extremist voices.
Taking this path will deem Abdullah a failure, which is what his chief critic and other like-minded people would like him to be. Hence, apart from being able to identify the right people to assist him realise his reform agenda, Abdullah needs to listen to his own voice and conscience.
He must “walk his talk” that he is the Prime Minister for all. Indulging in sectarian interest will make him no different than his predecessor.
Post-election, his administration has started initiatives on a number of good reforms. Parliamentary proceedings are now broadcast live, MPs, regardless of political affiliation, are given constituency development allocation, the Internal Security Act is being reviewed, judges sacked have been paid gratuity, etc.
Abdullah needs to maintain this momentum. He should strive to do more especially when the country is obviously still suffering from the strain and migraine of the last authoritative administration.
If Abdullah can muster enough political will to free the media, fix and empower the judiciary, clean up and re-energise the police force, strengthen independent institutions such as the ACA, Election Commission, Special Complaints Commission, turn around GLCs, drop racist policies and ensure the public sector is competent and apolitical, he can still carve a special mention in the history of Malaysia’s nation-building as the foremost reformist prime minister.
These feats are achievable and Abdullah must believe in his ownability to make them happen.
Malaysians, I am sure, will not let him walk alone if he truly demonstrates that he will walk his reformist talk.