Between Obama and Najib: A Malaysian reflects on leadership

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Obama is as good as Najib in not walking the talk, but at least, he behaves as president of the whole United States, unlike Najib who panders to his Umno support base, observes Teo Chuen Tick.

President Obama’s last state of the union address triggered these reflections.

No, I am no Obama fan – but I suppose, like many Americans in 2008, I too was influenced by his slick ‘Change’ slogan.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Obama has shown he is as beholden to the lobby groups and big corporations as any other US president.

But he is a good speaker, and even though his ideals are not met with action on the ground, his ideas in his last State of the Union speech found some resonance with me, given what is happening in our country.

“Every three weeks, we [the USA] bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.”

I wonder about our own country. Are policies in place to cut our dependence on fossil fuels? We are blessed with plentiful sunshine throughout the year. So the fact that our country has not made good the possibility of solar power as an alternative source of energy points to a lack of direction at the top echelon of the political leadership.

Yes, I remember reading of the nepotism and cronyism involved in the earlier award of solar licences in our country. So again it points to the endemic problem here. Those in a position of power are perceived to be misusing their power to enrich themselves, their family members and their cronies. The result: the country is all the poorer.

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“That’s why I’m sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.”

Our education budget is getting smaller under Najib while those rent-seekers in the prime minister’s office are receiving increasingly larger allocations. Something does not quite gel with country’s sense of priorities. Are our community colleges getting the resources, including suitable personnel, to prepare their students to take up responsible roles in society?

“…we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.”

Do we have this sort of enlightened leadership in our community colleges?

“… trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are also fair.”

The TPP comes to mind. By most accounts from neutral analysts, it is Big Pharma and Big Corporations that will benefit. But one must admire Obama for selling it in a positive light to US citizens.

“…intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community and help folks build the fastest networks so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”

Our country meanwhile is bogged down by protectionism and policies that have made our internet access one of the most expensive but slowest in South East Asia. We had spent billions to prepare teaching software and hardware for our classrooms. But due to pure political shortsightedness, much of those billions appear to have been lost .

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“In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.”

This is being honest and not being hypocritical. But look at Malaysia’s foreign policy with respect to Israel. Still being hypocritical by not recognising Israel, yet having trading ties with that entity.

Don’t get me wrong – I am no pro-Israel lobbyist. I am in fact very disgusted with how that country, born from the embers of the holocaust of World World Two, can now mistreat the Palestinians so badly. In politics, when it suits the Umnoputras, we see them using the Israel bogeyman to gain political points against the DAP.

“We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many…”

The American president acknowledging this weakness in their electoral system – supposedly the bastion of democracy in the western world. But here, why has the Election Commission so far refused to make voter registration simpler and more easily accessible.

“…we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, to help our neighbours, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.”

What noble ideals.

In our country, we have a prime minister who alienates a section of the populace – “Apa lagi Cina mau” – just because, his propaganda machine had fallen flat on an audience who have had their eyes opened to the shortcomings of his administration. He forgot his role as the prime minister of a nation and has since shown his partiality to his Malay support base.

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I make no bones about it. I am pessimistic about the direction our nation is taking. Even if one can ignore the moral decadence of the top leadership, we see not the sort of enlightened leadership or idealism as spoken by Obama.

Yes, Obama is as good as our prime minister in not walking his talk but at least, he behaves as president of the whole USA; not just his Democrat audience.

Teo Chuen Tick, a retired teacher trainer, is interested in political developments in Malaysia. He became an Aliran member as part of his ‘retirement project’ to give something back to society.

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