When BN leaders fail to lead, “think alternative”

When political leaders fail us after 53 years of governance, Christopher Barnabas says it’s time we start to “think alternative” and vote for change come GE13 to bring in a new set of leaders.


“To be able to lead others, a man must be willing to go forward alone”, said Harry Truman. This is obviously missing amongst BN leaders today. The times when they try to create some vision for the country, they get seriously nervous about public sentiments and votes, fearing to move forward alone (if need be) in articulating the vision and getting the rakyat to buy into the vision. Let’s examine some highlights of the leadership qualities within Umno/BN.

In a recent Malaysian student summit in KL, Umno youth chief Khairy agreed with Khalid Samad of Pas that the politics of ideology should be the way forward, and rejected the stand taken by Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali that racial politics is the future of Malaysian politics.

It was certainly refreshing to hear Khairy’s statement, but the contentment did not last long as Khairy went on to say that that majority of Malaysians may not agree with this stand (which I disagree judging from PR’s success in March 2008 and subsequent by-elections).

If Khairy believes strongly that racial politics must be abolished, shouldn’t he be taking the lead in educating the groups that favour racial politics? He could very well start with many leaders in Umno, MCA, and MIC as they represent today the epitome of racism and racial politics. He let fear stop him, instead of having the confidence in propelling himself forward as a leader to explain the urgent need for reform.

Earlier, during a temple relocation incident, Hishamuddin defended the infamous “cow-head” protesters by saying that people should be allowed to have avenues to speak out publicly, somewhat endorsing the disgraceful acts by these extremists.

While Hishamuddin’s flip-flop demeanour in allowing freedom of expression is questionable – his position on the arrests of activists participating in the recent anti-ISA candlelight vigils in PJ and Penang is a case in point – he failed miserably in standing out as a leader in advocating religious tolerance, which the country so badly needs. What transpired thereafter (mosque, churches, and temple being vandalised) could have been avoided if only some leadership qualities were in place.

READ MORE:  Memorandum persefahaman antara kerajaan dan PH adalah diperlukan (Malay/English)

Some months back, Najib made a presentation to foreign investors in Singapore about the New Economic Model, articulating “market friendly”, “merit-based”, “transparent”, and “needs-based” policies. Being present at this event, I found it stimulating to hear that finally, Umno is embracing change.

However, the excitement was short-lived when he presented a different view during the closing ceremony of the Malay Consultative Council (MPM) congress at PWTC in May, stating that the NEM was merely a preliminary proposal and the policy has not yet been finalised. It was an amazing about-turn from his earlier speech in Singapore, surely a result of his fearing to take that leadership role in pushing for transformation when it matters most for the country. Amazingly, they still wonder why FDI dropped by over 80 per cent last year…

The 1Malaysia vision, introduced soon after Najib took office in April 2009, was meant to unite and regain the country’s moderate image after decades of racial politics that divided the nation, caused entirely by his own BN coalition.

His deputy, when asked during an interview regarding this vision, replied that he had to be Malay First, failing which his supporters would be upset that he had put nationality above his race.

While the 1Malaysia vision by itself makes absolute sense for a racially divided country like Malaysia, isn’t this an opportune time for Muhyiddin to speak up as a respectable leader and advise fellow Malaysians of all races that it is time national unity precedes everything else? Even if he fears walking alone when confronted by his followers, a true leader must confront fear and move ahead to convince his supporters of this vision – if he truly believes in the vision of 1Malaysia, that is.

READ MORE:  Yesterday, today and tomorrow…

While we ponder over the enormous sum being paid to lobbyists to get some Umno leaders to meet President Obama, it may be pertinent to quote from his book, The Audacity of Hope, where he said that “there is not a black American and white American and Latino American and Asian American – there is the United States of America. I have no choice but to believe this vision. As a child of a black man and white woman, born in the melting pot of Hawaii, with a sister who is half-Indonesian, but who is usually mistaken for Mexican, and a bother-in-law and niece of Chinese descent, with some relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac, I never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of RACE or measuring my worth on the basis of TRIBE”. If only our leaders would embrace such beautiful values and beliefs, instead of embracing Hollywood celebrities while on trips to the west. 

And finally, our friends from MCA are learning to speak up – though it back-fired big time! Some days ago, Dr Chua Soi Lek stated that some of the most corrupt countries in the world are Muslim-majority countries. This statement, coming from an immoral politician himself, representing a party that is behind possibly the biggest financial scandal in Malaysian history, seems utterly baseless and disgracefully aimed at misleading the people.

Let it be clear, dear doctor, that the Muslim faith cannot be equated with corruption, but rather it is the massive money politics that is enshrined in Umno and BN component parties that is the root cause of the colossal corruption that has engulfed our country. Pas spiritual head Nik Aziz has shown us how a Muslim-led state government can be run efficiently and relatively free from corruption.  Perhaps, the same can be said of Azizan in Kedah and Nizar in Perak.

It is also obvious that Pas has learned its lessons (regarding hudud laws and an Islamic state) and has evolved into a plural and moderate party that is well accepted by Muslims and non-Muslims (who may even accept a Pas PM, if need be), while Umno has adopted a more intolerant and extreme hard-line position after March 2008.

READ MORE:  Yesterday, today and tomorrow…

I could go on with further examples, but I believe I have made my point. We are being led by so-called leaders who fear to lead or those that have been misguiding the people. Our nation is on a downward spiral with massive FDI reduction; we are now merely competing against the likes of Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos.

The judiciary is tainted, the MACC practices selective prosecution, the education system is in total shambles, police brutality and death in custody seem rampant, and the Election Commission’s impartiality (or lack of it) is ever so obvious. Additionally, the cost of living is escalating due mainly to widespread corruption and wastage on mega non-essential spending and subsidies only for the GLCs, while the rakyat are asked to change their lifestyles.

When such leaders fail us after 53 years of governance, I say we start to “think alternative” and vote for change come GE13 to bring in a new set of leaders that, as J Welch describes, dare to “create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it through completion”.

Christopher Barnabas is an Aliran member.

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