.. Back in 2004, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised us change. He failed to deliver and suffered the consequences on March 8, after which he reiterated the same promises.
Now, more than ever (amidst the debris of the two scandals), the entire nation can see the extent to which our institutions – the police, the judiciary and the prosecution service in particular – have been weakened and politicised.
We cannot wait for the Umno leadership battle to be resolved and the Prime Minister cannot disappoint us again. Malaysians will not be so forgiving of either him or his party.
He must act and push the conservatives within the Cabinet – Syed Hamid, Najib Razak and Nazri Aziz – to move forward.
Secondly, the government’s credibility needs to be safeguarded. As Shabery Cheek, one of the more open-minded men in the Cabinet says: “credibility is something you build up. But once it’s lost it’s very difficult to regain.”
Given current pathetic levels of trust, the Malaysian government has a lot of work to do.
Thirdly, Umno needs to be brought to heel and disciplined. Many of the current problems faced by the nation are due to Umno’s overwhelming influence within the administration and the inability to control prominent party members, especially the all-powerful division chiefs.
There are a web of relationships linking the party, the civil service, business and the security apparatus. This network needs to be opened up and subjected to more transparency. The backroom deals have to be exposed to the light of day and full media scrutiny.
For decades, Umno has presented itself as the saviour of the Malays and the arbiter of the national consensus. In the past, the party’s leaders – men such as Tun Dr Ismail and Tun Razak – were wise and pragmatic, balancing out the conflicting demands of our multiracial society as they delivered economic growth and prosperity.
However, the party has long since become middle-aged and lazy. The wheeler-dealer businessman in his black SUV has usurped the cikgu ethos of the past. Now, as the Malay proverb says pagar makan padi – the fence devours the rice – the guardian has turned on its charges.
Umno leaders, warlords and their financial backers must learn they are responsible and accountable to the Constitution and the institutions of state. If they break the law they will suffer the consequences.
This is where the reform agenda – the calls for a more open, fair and law-abiding Malaysia are important. We need Abdullah Badawi to remain focused on this agenda.
Get it right and the reform agenda will be his legacy for the future. Get it wrong and nothing else will save him.
As I said, we need to return the Constitution and the institutions of the nation (especially the police, the courts and the prosecution service) to their true position – namely, above the party, halting decades of deterioration.
However, as I said, many in the party don’t consider this to be a priority. For them it’s something secondary – the kind of issue beloved of ‘Bangsar liberals’, spoilt middle class journalists and noisy lawyers – people like me and you – people that Umno leaders felt ‘betrayed’ them on March 8.
Well, I have news for them: we didn’t ‘betray’ them – they betrayed us (fully 49% of the voters opted for the opposition). Interestingly they also betrayed the original culture and traditions of Umno’s founders.
Certainly, whenever I discuss these issues with Umno types they’ll reply – “Karim, the voters in my kawasan don’t care about these things”.
Once again, I have to disagree with them on this point: Umno’s poor showing on March 8 was due to its refusal to acknowledge and address core issues of justice, fairness and equality – issues that we experience across the country when ‘enterprising’ and ‘clever’ Umno leaders suddenly acquire large houses, countless expensive cars and go on lavish foreign holidays.
Still, there are those in Cabinet like Zaid Ibrahim and Shahrir Samad who do recognise these weaknesses and have been trying to convince their colleagues that restoring trust in institutions is a top priority.
Shabery Cheek, for one, has been partly responsible for ‘freeing’ up the media.
As he says, refreshingly: “We need to realise that we do have a track record and culture of service. We needn’t be afraid of openness.”
Such courage – he’s also been willing to debate Anwar Ibrahim head-to-head – has earned Shabery the grudging respect of media practitioners.
Indeed, the ugly face-off between Anwar Ibrahim and Najib Razak is directly attributable to the current imbalance of authority – on the one hand a severely compromised security and legal apparatus and on the other a pumped up executive beholden to no one but the party and its warlords.
This has created an environment riddled with corruption, slovenliness, self-importance and racism.
The credibility crisis is literally eating away at our national consensus. It is undermining our capacity to move forward at a critical juncture economically when leadership and focus is required to guide the nation through a period of unprecedented inflationary turbulence.
The Malaysian people do not trust the security apparatus to act fairly and impartially. Moreover, this failure has emboldened opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to play to the gallery.
He knows that in the absence of a credible legal forum, the court of public becomes the ultimate arbiter of his innocence and/or guilt.
The party of Merdeka has got to come to terms with modernity. Yes, Umno in its earlier incarnation helped bring Independence to Malaya and yes it did ensure the position of the Malays within the Federation.
But the party of the 1950s and 60s is no more. Fifty years on and Umno is symbolised by the late Zakaria Mat Deros’ extraordinary mansion in Port Klang.
The party has lost all sense of propriety and service. The party is focused on serving its own needs. The mass of Malays and Malaysians have been forgotten.