The Last UMNO Prime Minister

By M. Bakri Musa

Newly-sworn Prime Minister Najib Razak created 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 Muhyyudin 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 could pedal a dud only for so long; sooner or later the ugly reality would 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 Muhyyudin 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 Muhyyudin, 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 Muhyyudin. Is Najib assured that Muhyyudin agrees with him on the major policy issues, in particular the highly contentious matter of continuing the teaching of science and mathematics in English? Muhyyudin 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 grizzly tragedy, but it kept cropping up at the most inopportune time. 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.

  1. #1 by zak_hammaad on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 11:18 am

    You mean the first PM of the ‘New UMNO’. It is indeed amusing to see Pakatan wallow in its self-denial and delusions about their own competence (or lack of).

    The fact is that BN has already receded from the edges of oblivion thanks to the forward thinking and refeshing approach by Najib. He has impressed many by the way things will be done and the country governed from now onwards.

    Pakatan in actual fact understand this too well and will be looking to scratch any orafice to try and undermine the government. However as the saying goes “what goes around…” Pakatan has a lot more to worry about its own state of affairs than to worry about the bright future BN is beginning to build.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 11:23 am

    The last umno PM? Then Mighty Muhideen will be crying his eyes out, after putting in so much effort to push out Snoozing Dollah so that he himself could be deputy PM

  3. #3 by k1980 on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 11:54 am

    KTK(daydreaming on coconut tree): “The last umno PM? Mama mia, then me can become the next PM! Caramba, me going to be PM!”

    Then fell off the coconut tree, like Mat Jenin

  4. #4 by HJ Angus on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 1:09 pm

    I wouldn’t write UMNO off completely.
    With good new leaders and a stint in opposition, they must reform or just die off after the next elections.
    As for M the DPM, don’t you think that there is the thought he could step up if Najib falters?
    After all, he was influential to get rid of No1 when he was the No3?

  5. #5 by Bobster on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 2:10 pm

    One thing about the cabinet in this country is that these people have no relevant experience. Najib and previously AAB what qualification/experience do they have to be the Finance Minister. Education Minister who has no relevant backgound and do not understand the problems how to you expect him to perform. These people are more interested in playing politics in their own parties to secure the Minister posts than to really serve the country.

    It is so so unfortunate mixing politics and administration. That’s why so many screw up, wrong decision, white elephants becoming the laughing stories in the eyes of the rakyat.

    Till the day the country seperate politics and administration, till then we can see changes.

  6. #6 by monsterball on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 2:10 pm

    Najib is Malaysia Rip Van Winkle…nursed to sleep for 22 years and woke up with a crow in his head.
    Can anyone tell me….what have Najib contributed to Malaysia…so deserving to be PM?
    Surrounded with so many accusations…bribery and corruptions..murder case too.
    When Abdullah depended o Najib to support him as PM….while quarreling with Mahathir…I am sure all Malaysians are praying Najib will ignore support Abdullah.
    So he did…but why are we not cocksure?
    Because have a very unreliable character..somewhat unstable too.
    Lets watch his show..up to 13th GE.
    Bet you..Mhiyuddin and he will chase alot of UMNO members away.
    Did you read the hint of Razaleih…somewhat will leave UMNO BARU?

  7. #7 by yappek on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 2:11 pm

    it all depends? If democracy will to live on in Msia I think BN is coming to an end , maybe not this but the next term. Yes, do strongly agree that Najib will be the last.

    young and educated malays does not really bothers so much about the ‘struggle’ of the malays. they will be more concern on corruptions issues and calibre politicians representing them. what have UMNO ‘struggle ‘ created today – only a small number of filty rich malays and the rest are as poor as you might not know it ! mind you this is after 50 years of independnece, a country that is blessed with all the natural resources oil, palm oil, timber, rubber, minerals, natural resorts, etc!

  8. #8 by kevchua on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 2:34 pm

    Najib the last? Well if all things don’t change, they’ll have a replacement in GE13 also from UMNO. Anyone else not chosen from UMNO spells catastrophe for Malaysia because the Malays will not accept any PAS, PKR or DAP Malay to be their leader. THIS has to change first. Don’t even dream of a non-Malay to be the PM or even a DPM.

    In 2013, we shall see if the election spells the end of UMNO’s 55-year conquer.

  9. #9 by k1980 on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 2:38 pm

    ‘Destiny called upon me to change the face of the world’, Napoleon once remarked. No one could deny that Napoleon was a man of destiny. His illustrious career spawned admiration from the world’s greatest writers, artists and statesmen; his legacy still leaves its imprint on Europe to this day.

    Compare the above statesman and general to that little squirm bijan, who is “destined to rule malaysia”, as claimed by his missus

  10. #10 by frankyapp on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 3:28 pm

    Yeap Yeap Yeap,like I said UMNO’s phophecy RAHMAN has been ultimately fulfilled,hence NR is the last UMNO prime minister. Nothing more ,nothing less,it’s the end of our last emperor. Yeap yeap yeap ,M Bakri Musa.

  11. #11 by spirits60115 on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 4:09 pm

    I( believe that Najib will b the last n that Muhiddin will lose his anticipated turn n he will b lapping at the heels in hoping 4 a treat 4 he is barking up loudly at the wrong tree by playing the race card again; all inherent of the playmaster Tun M. He(M) will b the ruin of UMNO n BN.. Now they r buddies(Najib n M) but 4 how long can Najib service the whim of M. How can Najib bring in leaders rejected by the people? Is the will of the people lacking? Will this integrity, sincerity, transparency, accountability, 1Malaysia n all the other beautiful coin words he use, propel him into greatness? yea as the malay leader who brought down UMNO with his cohorts 4 it is written in the stars.. so dont worry Najib, enjoy ur reign 4 u n UMNO will be out after the GE13.. Always in denial 4 soon there will b nothing 2 deny 4 u r OUT….

  12. #12 by HJ Angus on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 4:41 pm

    If UMNO really wants to reform, it needs to change the leaders’ mindset.
    They do not have a divine right to govern Malaysia but the people can give them the power if they follow good policies and principles.
    In other words, the people must come first.
    And the leaders? If they are not prepared to sacrifice for the nation, they should not vie for public office.
    The people now realise they must play a more active role in controlling politicians or we will be doomed.

  13. #13 by ChinNA on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 7:06 pm

    zak_hammaad Says:
    … It is indeed amusing to see Pakatan wallow in its self-denial and delusions about their own competence (or lack of). …

    my Question: When is the shadow cabinet going to show-up? It is an indication of readiness to meet the challenges ahead.

    PR’s answer: ??

  14. #14 by ekans on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 7:42 pm

    No surprise that there is still this belief that the Pekan MP had saved the state of Perak from the incompetence of the PR administration.
    And from that, there was this belief that PR would not retain its seat in a recent Perak by-election because PR’s candidate happened to be the head of that ousted incompetent PR administration.
    But in the end, the by-election results showed that the majority still chose to believe in PR.
    Does this make sense if PR really did not competently administer the state of Perak?

  15. #15 by zak_hammaad on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 8:09 pm

    ChinNA Says:

    >> my Question: When is the shadow cabinet going to show-up?

    A shadow cabinet that will remain in the shadows. Like a shadow puppet show, Anwar is playing with you foolish and naive people into thinking he is your messiah and saviour whereas we know he is more in need of a mental analysis at the nutcase institute than trusting him with the premiership of the country!

  16. #16 by ShiokGuy on Monday, 13 April 2009 - 9:45 pm

    With so many Political Reject appointed into the cabinet, surely he will be the last UMNO Crime Minister

    Shiok Guy

  17. #17 by ekans on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 - 11:15 am

    Perhaps within UMNO & its BN, it is the norm for their political leaders to be hero-worshipped or idolised to near pseudo-religious levels (for example, the old doctor).
    Therefore, it’s likely they would also think that their political adversaries would also be hero-worshipped or idolised in the same way by their opponents’ supporters.
    But unlike some of the Pekan MP’s newly appointed cabinet members, the current Permatang Pauh MP was actually elected by the majority of his constituents to represent them in the Parliament…

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