Saturday, April 18, 2009
I get asked this question quite often. But it isn't very often that the enquirer has the patience or the time to stay around for my response, which involves deconstructing the unquestioned assumptions of conceptual semantics. As far as I know nobody has ever come up with a definition of "God" acceptable to all.
The notion that the physical universe was created by an all-knowing, all-powerful, ubiquitously existing Maker is fairly common, especially amongst the more conservative, more traditional - and therefore less adventurous - thinkers.
fabricated these wondrous forms that are able to self-replicate and perpetuate their own species, ad infinitum.
I'm more inclined to admire the hidden geometries, complex architecture, and ingenious mechanisms underlying these forms which are also discernible in other forms that constitute our physical environment. A healthy appreciation for the miraculous nature of all forms ultimately leads one to focus on the mystery that is oneself.
For each of us is every bit as amazingly designed and constructed as a grasshopper or dungbeetle or seahorse or giraffe or walrus or duckbill platypus or an entire coral reef. The interlocking biochemistries and interwoven electromagnetic patterns that give rise to living forms are at once complex and simple.
Inevitably, one is compelled to marvel at the breakthrough discoveries in recent decades of the fractal nature of the holographic universe - and the curious effect that consciousness appears to have on how it evolves and mutates. It is, indeed, as cutting-edge physicists declare, "an observer-created universe."
Pioneering researchers have detected micro-macro consonances between the subatomic and the supergalactic realms, wherein the essential architecture of a single atom is echoed in that of a galaxy. This fact alone ought to qualify as a theophany that can yield an endless quantity of eureka moments - enough at any rate to induce an ecstatic vision in anyone who spontaneously comprehends the divinity and perfection of all that exists.
You could call this approach to answering the age-old question of God's existence (or otherwise) the way of the mystic-scientist. It's not dependent on culturally or genetically implanted beliefs or on faith. Rather, it is a metaconceptual gestalt formed from free associating a random sequence of sensory inputs with a variety of analogies drawn from personal experience as well as what C.G. Jung called the Collective Unconscious.
Anyone who has, by chance or design, embarked on the quest for meaning and significance must pay attention to signs, omens, auditory, visual and perceptual clues left as a legacy by thousands upon thousands of conscious thinkers who lived and died and whose insights were recorded externally in the form of artefacts - or internally through subtle alterations of the chromosomal data banks.
Each new pilgrim on the journey towards enlightenment will have a unique experience, though universal truths have a habit of recurring like strangely familiar motifs. In effect, any authentic attempt to grapple with the question of God is necessarily an individual process. Other people's narratives of "divine revelation" most certainly constitute a valuable reference - but they can never be a substitute for direct knowing, distilled from unique, personal experience.
This is why at an early age I found myself unsubscribing from prescribed belief systems passed down the generations. All the conflicting doctrines that constitute man-made religion serve merely to anesthetize the masses against the anguish of fully accepting our human limitations, in order that we might ultimately transcend them.
Religions are packaged and processed forms of accumulated mystical insight; and although there will always be precious glimmers of truth to be found in the crude ore of inherited or acquired beliefs, the unthinking and unquestioning acceptance of these dogmas is akin to condemning oneself to a lifelong diet of junk food bought off the shelves of a cosmic convenience store.
To visualize God as an eternal parent figure is to forever infantilize our apprehension of reality in simplistic terms of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. These opposite polarities represent extreme ends of the moral spectrum; but as the sum-total of all existence, God embodies the entire spectrum of possibilities and is therefore beyond categorization and classification. In analogous terms, God is not just the Father but also the Mother and the Child borne of their primordial union.
In ancient days when the majority of humans were illiterate, an elite corps of Scribes arose that took it upon themselves to interpret on behalf of the others what was purportedly the Word of God. This special breed of human we call the Priesthood. In India the priests established themselves as the Brahmin caste and exalted themselves above the ordinary folk.
An effective division of labor developed wherein the priestly caste collaborated with the kingly caste to form the earliest governments. The priests took on responsibility for the spiritual affairs of men while the kings ruled over the material domain, as evidenced in the political pact between the Bishop of Rome and the Emperor Constantine.
In the Book of Exodus we saw the same partnership in action with the brothers Aaron and Moses: Aaron took charge of administrative and logistical matters, while Moses played the role of divine visionary, receiving direct instructions from on high.
To this day the Mormon church classifies its membership as either of the Aaronic or the Melchizedek lineage. Those of the Aaronic Order undertake the day-to-day management of church affairs, like the raising of funds and the construction of temples; and those of the Melchizedek Order propagate the spiritual message of the founder, Joseph Smith, who received his revelation through an angelic messenger named Moroni.
What I'm waffling on about, then, is the sheer futility of identifying oneself with any particular religious doctrine. Our understanding of life matures with experience - or, at least, it ought to. It's fine to believe in Santa Claus when you're five years old and thrilled to bits at the prospect of finding a stack of prettily giftwrapped presents under the Christmas tree. However, by the time you're fifteen, you really ought to have realized that the fat guy in a red suit is actually your own dad - or some guy hired by the department store to lure kids and their parents into a ritual shopping spree.
I'm not going to denounce or deconstruct all the institutionalized religions in our midst. It's generally a waste of breath anyway. Many people cling desperately to their beliefs because they fear the bottomless abyss of uncertainty. Some will violently strike out at or even kill anyone who attempts to shatter their faith or so much as joke about it.
With some folks, loyalty to the faith into which they happened to be born can be even stronger and more fanatical than their loyalty to a favorite soccer team. Just as there are soccer hooligans at every game, you will encounter violent mobs of the religiously intoxicated. Best to stay clear of them rather than attempt to engage them in rational discourse.
These mobs constitute what you might term the bottom rung of consciousness. Everybody goes through such a phase - though many today express their fanatical urges via ardent hero-worship of a particular popstar or screen actor. Left to their own devices, most people eventually outgrow these obsessions.
I'm absolutely convinced that Malaysians of all creeds will co-exist in sweet harmony when jingoistic politicians stop stirring up the shit. Is there any way we can compel them to cease their pseudo-religious rabble-rousing? None that I can think of, short of maintaining some barbaric law like the ISA for exclusive use against those who exploit racial and religious differences for their own political advantage.
Nevertheless, I don't advocate such quick-fix methods. Censorship of any kind is anathema to me. I'm utterly convinced that when people are regularly exposed to all kinds of ideas - no matter how lunatic or extreme - they will swiftly learn to discern what's palatable and what's poisonous in the way of opinions.
So, instead, of cringing at the absurd utterances of rabid religious reactionaries, all we really have to do is ignore them. And, if they refuse to stop after a decent interval, we could simply pull the plug on them, switch off their microphones, so to speak. That harms nobody at all - and they will eventually fall silent when their voices grow hoarse from shouting at the wind.
And in that brief silence the first seeds of wisdom just might germinate.
Where Malaysia is headed (Part 6)
Thursday, April 16, 2009
but it has gone on too long." - Ogden Nash
A few days ago a Pajero pulled into Pertak Village where I live and a few swarthy men emerged with surveying equipment. Their energy was rather unpleasant and they even looked like bandits or brigands, so I decided to keep an eye on them. Two of them attempted to mount the steps leading to our house and were confronted by my canine corps. The second guy was carrying a long parang and appeared likely to use it if the dogs came too close. I went down and confronted the men, asking them point blank what they were up to.
The first guy, who could have been the gang leader, muttered something about a Tenaga Nasional project. They wanted to erect a series of power pylons all the way across the hills from Bentong. This was just a preliminary survey to see if the area was suitable, the man explained.
"Well, it isn't," I said quietly. "This area is keramat (sacred) to the Orang Asli. Power pylons discharge an electrical field that disturbs the flora and fauna. I wouldn't advise it."
As they finished whatever they were doing and drove away, I was already planning to write to the CEO of Tenaga Nasional Berhad, requesting that he intervene to prevent such ugly desecration of the last remaining patch of wilderness in Selangor.
Since I relocated here in 1992, I've been forced into environmental activism more than a few times. I'm getting tired of having to coordinate protests against destructive logging, oil palm schemes, unnecessary dam projects, and misguided attempts to pollute the ecosystem with man-made electrical fields.
This is yet another reason why I'm putting so much energy into ensuring that Pakatan Rakyat takes over the federal government as soon as possible from the hardened eco-criminals in Umno/BN. At least with new faces in charge - who haven't been able to profit from unholy alliances with loggers, developers, land speculators and avaricious entrepreneurs - the voices of conservation stand a better chance of getting heard... and, hopefully, heeded.
Mahathir's myopic vision of accelerating Malaysia's industrialization program was eagerly embraced by those keen on making a fast buck by plundering our natural heritage. Indeed, his shallow and vulgar Vision 2020 was entirely founded on a grotesque misreading of the purpose of existence.
The lowest common denominator has prevailed for way too long in the parasitic domains of commerce and industry. Hiding their true motives behind convenient catch phrases like "progress and development," businessmen have promoted the fallacy of trickle-down capitalism wherein the masses are supposed to enjoy the measly crumbs left over after the corporate fat-cats have feasted to their heart's content on the choicest bits.
Look around you the next time you venture into a supermarket and make a conscious inventory of all the products stacked on the shelves without which life would be utterly miserable, even impossible. I'm willing to bet, if you apply stringent standards, that no more than 15% of the manufactured goods can be classified as absolutely essential to human existence. The other 85% or more is basically destined to be converted into landfill as soon as they have been sold and consumed.
Endless consumption is the key to industrial growth. The more people consume, the richer the corporations become, and the more sophisticated the advertising becomes.
But the moment you pause to ponder the long-term consequences of unbridled consumption as the raison d'être of modern life, you will begin to see a direct link between degradation of the natural environment and the aggrandizement of the human ego.
It's always scary when you opt to swallow the Red Pill and begin to see through the gigantic scam of industrialization for what it truly is: a planet-sized concentration camp fenced in by invisible barbed wire where the guards are served a better grade of food and live in greater luxury than the inmates.
As the prophet Bob Dylan once sang:
Sometimes I think this whole world
Is one big prison yard
Some of us are prisoners
The rest of us are guards
Wasn't it Mahathir who proposed the accursed Bakun Dam, even though Malaysia was producing an excess of electricity? He had this hare-brained scheme of piping the power from Sarawak to Peninsular Malaysia through a 700km undersea cable. Never mind that the dam project required the resettlement of more than 10,000 indigenous people and would result in an area of pristine rainforest the size of Singapore being inundated. Mahathir's can-do contractor crony, Ting Pek Khiing, was more than happy to clear the designated area of foliage and foist the hardwoods on the Japs.
And if that wasn't stupid enough, Mahathir also signed a secret pact in 1994 with YTL and other independent power producers (IPPs), forcing Tenaga Nasional to buy their excess electricity at an exorbitant rate. This binding contract will only expire in 2015. As a result Tenaga Nasional has had to keep increasing the household price of electricity to protect itself from bankruptcy.
In a country located directly above the Equator which receives the full strength of the Sun at least 360 days out of every year, a truly visionary leader would have invested in alternative energy decades ago. By now Malaysia would be enjoying clean, renewable - and free - solar energy, augmented by wind and tidal power. But, then, this would disallow the power-producing corporations and their Umno/BN cronies from enriching themselves at the people's expense.
Of late there has even been ominous talk of going nuclear. Can you imagine the awful hazards nuclear power would incur, especially in a country rife with corruption at all levels?
Still, it's never too late to get wise and do a U-turn from the inevitable catastrophe of overdependence on fossil fuels. There are zero point technologies just waiting to be tested and implemented which have the potential of providing virtually free energy. Of course, these astonishing breakthroughs have constantly been suppressed by the incumbent power structure to keep themselves in power ad infinitum.
Can you envisage dumping the inefficient and highly polluting petrol or diesel-powered engine and opting for transport mechanisms that run on water?
This is a vast and complex topic I'm hinting at and there's no way I can do justice to it here - nor do I have enough expertise in this field to say anything original about it - but I'm totally convinced that once we successfully reclaim our power from the parasitic corporations and the secret government they support, unimaginable revelations will become accessible to everybody on Earth, not just in Malaysia.
Human beings will no longer be manipulated and exploited by the rich and powerful, and kept enslaved by their own fear and ignorance.
THERE IS NO ENERGY SHORTAGE. THE UNIVERSE OPERATES ON INFINITE ABUNDANCE. HOWEVER, WE SHALL NEVER DISCOVER THIS UNTIL WE STOP RAPING THE ENVIRONMENT AND BEGIN TO LOOK UPON MOTHER NATURE WITH PROFOUND APPRECIATION AND SPONTANEOUS REVERENCE.
I would like to see a Malaysia where we no longer have to stop people from logging and mining and other destructive activities through strict legislation (which is pretty difficult to enforce anyhow, especially when the perpetrators of serious eco-crimes happen to be good friends of, or related to, the Chief Minister).
For this to happen, we must have a clean government that is open to alternative and innovative solutions that benefit everybody - not just an elite capitalist clique.
The present model of government is diseased. It isn't grounded in a holistic perception of reality. Instead, executive decisions and policies have largely been motivated by greed and powerlust. This is the disastrous outcome when business hops into bed with politics and conspires to steal the land from right under people's feet.
The long-term well-being of the land and all its inhabitants definitely does not feature in the twisted visions of hubristic leaders like Mahathir Mohamad. Only with the end of Mahathirism will our scarred and traumatized nation begin to regain its sense of priorities.
Only then will we have the intelligence and foresight to install new leaders whose hearts have not been hardened by cynicism and whose minds are receptive to fresh inputs from unexpected sources.
Where Malaysia is headed (Part 5)
PURE HUMAN VOCALS. JUST A CAPELLA...
NO sound effects...
The Voca People!
Intro: Era - Ameno
1. Johann Sebastian Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D minor
3. The Entertainer
4. Chordettes - Mr. Sandman
5. Glen Miller - In The Mood
6. Elvis Presley - Tutti Frutti
7. Beach Boys - I Get Around
8. Doobie Brothers - Long Train Runnin'
9. Madonna - Holiday
10. Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
11. Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams
12. Mori Kante - Yeke Yeke
13. Nirvana - Smells like teen spirit
14. Spice Girls - If you wanna be my lover
15. Los Del Rio - La Macarena
16. Rednex - Cotton Eyed Joe
17. Britney Spears - Hit Me Baby One More Time
18. Baha Men - Who Let the Dogs Out?
19. C+C Music Factory - Gonna Make You Sweet (Everybody Dance Now)
20. Will Smith - Switch
21. Madagascar 5 vs. KK Project - I Like To Move It
The Voca People is an Israeli touring group with an international audience that combines vocal sounds and a capella singing with a contemporary beat-box technique.
Artistic Director: Lior Kalfo
Musical Director: Shai Fishman
Producers: Revital & Lior Kalfo
IF YOU ENJOYED THE VOCA PEOPLE, YOU WILL PROBABLY BE BOWLED OVER BY SUSAN BOYLE'S TOUR DE FORCE PERFORMANCE ON BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT. CHECK THIS FUNKY 47-YEAR-OLD NO-LONGER-UNKNOWN HOMEGROWN DIVA OUT!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
After a few of my friends got thrown into Kamunting during Dr M's infamous Operation Lalang in October 1987, I became rather paranoid about the Malaysian police, especially the Special Branch or Malaysian secret police. Every time I heard a crackle or mysterious whir while talking on the phone I immediately suspected my line was tapped.
It wasn't a healthy state of mind, to be living under a dark cloud of Orwellian fear.
My clearest memory of the Mahathir era is how afraid people were to talk politics in public places. Every time the name "Mahathir" was mentioned, everyone would quickly look around to see if there were suspicious SB types in the vicinity. That was Dr M's greatest contribution to the nation - he turned it into a police state akin to East Germany during the Cold War period.
Talk to Dr Munawar Anees about this, if you think I exaggerate.
Don't point with cretinous pride at the KLCC Twin Towers or the colossal architecture of Putrajaya. Any tyrant with unlimited access to the public purse can build any number of monuments to their own pharaonic megalomania.
I love elephants - but not when they're painted white! Do we really need an "official residence" for our top civil servant that costs the public RM9 million a year to rent and maintain? What an atrocious scam that is!
Anyway, I decided it was stupid to live in constant anxiety about the secret police. It's true the army and police ultimately exist to protect the privileged few from the wrath of the exploited multitudes whose toil and drudgery support the system; and so long as the masses remain asleep, the status quo remains unthreatened. However, the situation dramatically changes when a few leaders become enlightened and realize the unsustainability and inherent instability of any top-heavy feudalistic social hierarchy.
One day I stumbled upon a small shop in the Chow Kit area selling trophies, medals, military insignia, and police paraphernalia. I bought a PVC wallet emblazoned with the PDRM logo and began pretending I was an undercover cop. It was astounding how swiftly that altered my perception of the police force. Each time I spotted a cop on the street or driving around in a patrol car, I experienced the pleasant buzz of bumping into someone from your hometown when you're traveling abroad. Soon, I began to harbor friendly feelings towards the police, rather than hostility.
This simple game had far-reaching consequences. I began to relive my childhood fantasies of being an undercover cop (I had been deeply impressed as a 9-year old by the Hollywood glamorization of the FBI in a movie called The FBI Story, starring James Stewart).
As a teenager I relished a long-running series of vivid dreams in which I featured as a top-ranking Bond-style secret agent and death-defying commando, narrowly escaping the most harrowing situations and invariably getting to kiss the leading lady.
Never underestimate the power of the imagination. I experienced a major shift in my attitude towards security personnel. Now, each time I was on the phone and heard some static, I'd simply assume my colleagues in Bukit Aman were on the job, recording my wit and wisdom for posterity.
It's been some years since I played this little game, but I can snap into this mode of consciousness anytime I want. It allows me some insight into the mind of the secret policeman and an empathetic glimpse of the policeman's intrinsic humanity.
In any case, as I grew older I began to see through the façade of the power structure and realized that there was no government on earth worth killing and dying for - they were all fronts for an invisible network of demented and bedeviled plutocrats. If I were a true-life James Bond, I'd opt to join the rebel forces or drop out completely.
Around that period, I had an unexpected encounter with a Special Branch officer planted in the middle-class audience at a British Council screening of Terry Gilliam's cult classic, Brazil. As the lights went on after the show, my companion expressed a bit of confusion about the whole point of the movie. I told her it illustrated the stupidity of governments. As we filed out of the British Council (which was then located near Bukit Aman), a mild-mannered Indian gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could have a quick word with me.
"Sure," I said, and told my companion to wait in the car for me. My suspicions were confirmed when the guy introduced himself as a Special Branch officer. Our conversation lasted no more than 15 minutes but what he essentially wanted to communicate to me was that I ought to be more careful what opinions I expressed in public.
"Walls have ears," the SB guy said, which elicited a sermon from me about the questionable morality of serving an immoral government. I could sense that this guy was actually a decent bloke, just a bit jaded from having been a copper almost his entire life. He was due for retirement in a couple of years. Finally, the guy confessed to me that he was utterly demoralized by the dirty politics he had seen in the line of duty. "Sometimes I wish somebody would just press the red button and blow up the whole world. It's already too rotten to save!"
"It's sad to see you've become such a nihilist," I said. "I can understand your viewpoint, but I believe change is the only constant, and that the status quo is really not quite as static as most people believe."
We parted with a friendly handshake but our little unscheduled chat left me with much food for thought. I could see myself in his predicament. A decent bloke stuck for years in an indecent job, carrying out stupid orders from superiors he had no real respect for. The only way he could deal with his disillusionment was to become a crusty old cynic.
Of course, he could have quit - like my friend Johnny Goh, a former SB officer who told me he was due for a promotion in 1998, but he felt so sickened by the manner in which the police were being used against Anwar Ibrahim, he decided to resign and start a stationery business. Not everyone has the wherewithal to begin anew after decades in a particular job.
And not too many have the balls to blow the whistle on the evils inherent in the system. Nevertheless, the few that do have the clarity of mind, the courage, and the strength of their conscience to do so may well be Malaysia's only hope at this point.
I know that for every crooked cop in the PDRM, there must be at least 500 who are still straight; who still believe that the police ought to be a force for the public good, not a bunch of uniformed thugs serving a handful of white-collar gangsters. Indeed, there would be absolutely no way out of our present mess if there weren't ultimately a lot more honest citizens than criminals in our country.
Call me a perpetual fool, if you will, but I remain convinced that there will always be an inner core of decency to be found in any institution - even one that has been corrupted and twisted by years of despotic misrule. Most times, the decent chaps choose to earn their wages and keep a low profile, convinced it's beyond their power to reform their workplace, safer to simply serve out their time and collect a comfortable pension.
So let me dedicate this blogpost to my friends and fellow warriors in the Special Branch, some of whom have been diligently monitoring what I say and occasionally leaving cryptic comments on my blog. I'm sure many of you love this country as much as I do. I'm sure many of you would like to see real change happen - especially regime change, even if you may be a bit uncertain as to what these changes mean in terms of special privileges for the Malays and whatnot.
May I suggest you pause for a moment and look at the situation from a purely HUMAN perspective - forget about bangsa dan agama for a minute. I bet most of you have enough intelligence to know that sort of talk is complete hogwash anyway. Your big bosses aren't particularly religious people - they only believe in the unholy power that money buys - the money stolen from all of us.
You guys (and gals) are merely pawns in their evil game. Same as anybody else. Think on that, please, and act on what your heart prompts you to do.
Remember how the Marcos regime finally ended in the Philippines? Ferdinand's downfall was triggered by a small group of women hired by the Election Commission to monitor the vote-counting process. Realizing someone had tampered with the computers, they decided to blow the whistle by fleeing the Election Commission headquarters and running across the street to seek sanctuary in a church - where they were greeted by the international media who were only too happy to broadcast abroad the news of gross electoral fraud. Within days, Marcos had to flee Manila with whatever he and his acquisitive wife Imelda could carry by hand.
Where Malaysia is headed (Part 4)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Picture this: the fat witch is now seated uneasily on the edge of the silk-canopied, empress-sized 4-poster bed, while her chubby hubby remains in kneeling position on his prayer rug.
Although having God in their bedroom on an informal visit is an entirely novel experience for "the first couple," their drawn faces reveal that they are utterly convinced this is the end of the line for them.
The overweight bitch-witch is uncharacteristically silent, preoccupied with a furtive thought or two, which I intercept with nonchalance. "That's right, Fattie, the talismans have lost their effect. Your Guruji has been chastised and demoted by his Master for dabbling with murky forces and delinquent spirits. Those who indulge in the dark arts quickly run out of charge like low-grade batteries."
"Er, sir... please don't hurt us, sir," pleads the crime minister, his pink lips quivering. "I promise... we'll... we'll repent!"
It never ceases to give me profound pleasure just watching the high-and-mighty beg for mercy. I notice the witch is muttering a desperate prayer under her breath, and burst out laughing. She looks at me blankly.
"Ha ha ha. The fella you're calling upon for assistance happens to be on leave. On very long leave, in fact. Not scheduled to reappear for the rest of this aeon. You'll probably find him jerking the ignorant and superstitious around for another 26,000 earthyears in the Quarantine Zone."
Absolute panic overtakes the witch and she begins to sob hysterically. "I don't want to spend eternity in hell," she whispers, more to herself than to me.
"Sorry to disappoint you both," I smile, "but no fate so melodramatic awaits you. I'm the God of Life and Love, not Death. Although I already know the answers, I would like the two of you to answer truthfully a few specific questions. Then we shall see about reparations. Divine retribution is not part of my repertoire. I believe in practical solutions and win-win scenarios."
A week later, as per my friendly suggestion, "the first couple" are granted a special audience with the Yang Di Pertuan Agong in the presence of the Opposition Leader and several prominent lawyers and judges.
They have confessed and formally declared the full inventory of their misdeeds and have signed an agreement which requires that they transfer 90% of their ill-gotten gains to the national treasury, in exchange for their freedom to begin life anew in a foreign country of their choosing as ordinary citizens. They will not be permitted to return to Malaysia for ten years and are forever disqualified from holding public office or getting involved with politics. The alternative is 15 years' imprisonment for the miscreants plus a RM60 million fine each.
The Opposition Leader is formally sworn in as the nation's seventh prime minister; an extraordinary parliamentary session is convened as a show of confidence in the new PM, and the reins of government are officially handed over to the Pakatan Rakyat.
With the resignation of the crime minister, a sizeable majority of parliamentarians have either crossed over or formed independent parties, leaving Umno/BN with considerably less than one-third of the seats.
The Police Inspector General and Attorney General, having been seriously implicated by the crime minister and his witchy wife's confessions, are both under arrest pending formal charges of criminal complicity to defraud the public and thwart the course of justice.
A general amnesty is declared wherein those who have illegitimately enriched themselves over the past decades of Umno/BN misrule are granted freedom from prosecution, provided they permit independent auditors to evaluate their assets, visible and invisible.
As a generous gesture of reconciliation, offenders who willingly cooperate with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Misappropriation of Public Funds are granted a pardon in exchange for the return of 80-90% of their accumulated loot - and a permanent disqualification from running for public office.
[to be continued...]
Monday, April 13, 2009
12 April 2009
Newly-sworn-in Prime Minister Najib Razak created a buzz when he released 13 prisoners detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and lifted the ban on Harakah and Suara Keadilan, publications of the opposition parties. He also promised “a comprehensive review” of the ISA, a statute long abused to silence the government’s critics.
Malaysians long yearning for a change applauded him. There were skeptics, of course.
Alas that was last week. This week the hopes of those citizens were cruelly crushed when they saw the real Najib with the announcement of his new cabinet. Far from being a team that would wow Malaysians, Najib’s cabinet was, as Tunku Aziz put it, “a team of recycled political expendables.” And a bloated one at that!
The skeptics were right; Najib’s earlier act was nothing but a big and cruel tease.
This roster of “political expendables” was the best that the man could offer, from a leader who only a week earlier warned his party that it should “change or be changed.” When given the ultimate freedom to choose his own team, Najib stuck to the tried and true, or what he thought to be so. So this was Najib’s brave version of “Berani Berubah!” (Dare to Change!).
Najib is incapable of change; there is nothing in him to suggest otherwise. He could not even recognize the need for one, much less respond to it. Change would be totally out of character for the man. Far from welcoming or be invigorated by it, change would threaten him.
Unfortunately for Najib, Malaysia has changed. Incapable of change, he is doomed to be changed come the next general elections, from Prime Minister to Leader of the Opposition. He will be our shortest serving chief executive, our Gerald Ford. Ford was the unelected American President who assumed office following Nixon’s forced resignation over the Watergate scandal. Like Ford, Najib too was not elected to the highest office. Ford was subsequently rejected by voters; the same fate awaits Najib.
For Malaysia, that would truly be a wasted decade, with the first half already being squandered by Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.
The True Najib
Najib is the obedient first son, the loyal subordinate, and the traditionalist aristocrat. He even inherited his father’s ancient tribal title, Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar! How quaint in this 21st Century! His career path has been straight and narrow, on a track that had been conveniently laid down for him by others who felt indebted or grateful to his illustrious father.
Najib has never shown a talent for striking new paths. Even his ascendance to the Prime Minister’s office was paved by others, in particular Tun Mahathir and Muhyiddin Yassin. Najib must remember that a favor offered is a favor owed.
Just as he was the obedient son, Najib was also the dutiful and loyal subordinate. His blind obedience to Abdullah Badawi drew the wrath of Tun Mahathir. As for experience, Najib has been dependent on paychecks from the public purse all his adult life. He never had to meet a payroll; he has no idea of the trials and challenges of that endeavor; nor does he appreciate the sense of accomplishments and independence of those who have.
This is not the profile of a leader capable of making radical changes that Malaysia so desperately needs now.
Unfortunately the track Najib is on now ends at his office. Ahead, for him and the nation, is uncharted territory, with steep hills to climb and wide canyons to traverse. Turning back is not an option, as that path so carefully crafted by earlier leaders is now destroyed for lack of maintenance and prudent use.
That Najib is now portrayed as an agent for change is more a tribute to his highly-paid public relations operatives and the all-too-eager-to-please toadies in the mainstream media. However, you can peddle a dud only for so long; sooner or later the ugly reality will emerge and the bubble burst.
When that inevitability happens, beware! Voters react with vengeance when they feel that they have been hoodwinked by their leaders. Ask Najib’s immediate predecessor, Abdullah. The by-election results since the last general elections are portends for Najib and his party.
Totally Inept and Inadequately Prepared
Najib assembled his cabinet only last week. Even then he spent that limited time talking with leaders of his Barisan coalition instead of with potential candidates. He is clearly being negligent. He knew he will be Prime Minster months ago; he should have been interviewing and short-listing candidates all along. Being unopposed as president of UMNO and thus freed from having to campaign, he had plenty of time to preview his choices prior to last week.
I am particularly concerned with the choice of his deputy. Did Najib have a private session with Muhyiddin before selecting him? Nowhere is it written that UMNO Deputy President should also be the Deputy Prime Minister. Najib is trapped by tradition.
Najib should have done a “Khairy Jamaluddin” on Muhyiddin, that is, keep him out of the cabinet and make him focus on rebuilding the party. God knows, UMNO needs intensive rehabilitation as much as its Youth wing, if not more so. Dispensing with Muhyyudin would strengthen Najib’s image as a reformer, quite apart from taking the sting out of having singly excluded Khairy from the cabinet.
Najib gave the very important Education portfolio to Muhyiddin. Is Najib assured that Muhyiddin agrees with him on the major policy issues, in particular the highly contentious matter of continuing the teaching of science and mathematics in English? Muhyiddin is unusually quiet on this.
It is equally hard to be enthusiastic on the rest of Najib’s team. This is what happens when you choose your cabinet based on pleasing others, especially those whom you owe favors. Najib struggled to get his team, just like Abdullah and Mahathir before him. Like them, he too found the pickings slim as he fished only in the same polluted and shallow puddle of UMNO and Barisan. He did not have the courage to venture beyond.
Najib unwittingly revealed much in his first few days as Prime Minister. Thanks to his PR team, Najib managed to sound very positive, at with his promise of “a comprehensive review” of the ISA. That sent orgies of praise for the man in the mainstream media and elsewhere. The more perceptive (or skeptical) would note that he specifically did not mention anything about repealing it.
Then there was his announcement on the release of the 13 ISA prisoners “with immediate effect.” In Najib’s lexicon, “with immediate effect” means at least three days later! This shows how much he is in tune with the actual workings of the civil service.
If I had been Najib’s communications director, this is what I would have done. Knowing how easily our civil servants could screw things up, I would first check with the Home Ministry, specifically the Chief of Police and Prison Director, to arrange for the release of the prisoners. Send them to the nearby rest house at government expense if their families were not yet ready to receive them. I would then alert television stations and other news media so they would be there to cover it.
Only after assuring myself that all those meticulous preparations are in place would I have Najib make his announcement. Imagine the dramatic impact when the split screen on the nation’s television screens would also show the prisoners being released as he made the announcement. It would also showcase the crispness of Najib’s new administration. Had he done so, he would have been spared the embarrassment of his orders being delayed for days because of – you guessed it! – paperwork!
On the day Najib announced his new cabinet, the judge in the long running Mongolian model murder trial rendered his judgment. Najib had been trying hard to ignore the grisly tragedy, but it kept cropping up at the most inopportune times. His strategy is to stonewall, banking that the success of his policies would make citizens forget the gruesome crime.
Najib is gravely mistaken in this. Even if his ethics were beyond reproach, Najib would find his policies a tough sell. Conversely, if he could clear up those sordid allegations (assuming of course he is innocent, a huge supposition) he would find that with his personal credibility now enhanced, the public would more likely buy into his policies. Stonewalling is no strategy.
As it now stands, Najib is doomed to be the last UMNO Prime Minister. He will not be even a “one-termer.” He will go down in history as our shortest-serving Prime Minister. Worse, it will be recorded for posterity that he was the Malay leader who brought down a once glorious organization, UMNO, an institution his late father was so instrumental in setting up. All destroyed in just two generations; the first to build it, the second to destroy. Truly a very Malay story!
For those who warmly applauded Najib on his first few days in office thinking that his was the dawn of a new day for the nation, I hope they would translate their disappointment into effective action. Deliver to Najib his own KPI (Key Performance Index) at the next general elections. It will be less than four years away; plenty of time to lay and grease the track for Najib’s (and UMNO’s) exit.
M. Bakri Musa © 2009
Bernama Press Release dated 9 April 2009