Priority of Packaging Over Performance – Najib Razak’s First One Hundred Days

By M. Bakri Musa

I would have expected that the successor to the incompetent and do-nothing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has minimal difficulty shining as the bar had been lowered substantially. Yet despite that, Prime Minister Najib Razak has failed to impress us in his first 100 days. His priority is packaging over performance.

Najib may be more poised, his voice less grating, and he stays awake in meetings (Tun Mahathir gave him top marks for that!), but in content and performance, he is of the same bottom-league kayu belukar quality as Abdullah, and far from the sturdy meranti quality we long yearn in our leaders. Abdullah lasted slightly over five years; it took time to see through his vacuity. Now sensitized, voters are less tolerant and less forgiving of incompetence. Najib will have an even briefer tenure.

Najib’s two signature and high profile initiatives in his first 100 days are his website and his micromanagement of Perak’s legislative politics. The first illustrates Najib’s slick packaging; the second, the empty content and inept performance.

Najib’s website is professionally designed and maintained. It makes full use of the new media including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately its contents do not reflect the man. When I surf the websites of Tun Mahathir, Lim Kit Siang or Anwar Ibrahim, I know that what is written reflects the person, right down to the tone and style of writing.

I do not get that sense with It is written as if from a third person perspective instead of being personal, the very reason for having a blog.

Of course I do not expect Najib Razak to write his own speeches; he has other important things to do like running the country. I do expect him however, to be on top of his speechwriters, and to do the final reading and make the necessary editorial changes so those speeches would truly represent and sound as if they emanated from him. He has to leave his imprint.

At the same time I expect his speech writers to be professional enough to study their subject’s favorite expressions and writing mannerisms, as well as style of speaking, so the final product would sound and look as if it had been from the man himself.

Not only is the style and tone of divorced from Najib, so too is the content. When someone asked him what the 1Malaysia concept meant, Najib was unable to articulate it coherently. He was unable to relate his “1Malaysia” concept with his party’s pursuit for a ‘unity government,’ for example.

If his 1Malaysia website was meant to symbolize his “One Malaysia” vision, then it has failed miserably. Little wonder that his government had to launch a massive public relations exercise just to publicize his “1Malaysia” concept. Malaysians are still fuzzy about the content. I doubt very much that Najib himself understands what ‘1Malaysia’ means.

Far from being his guiding vision, Najib’s “1Malaysia” is nothing more than the slick concoction of his highly-paid pubic relations personnel. It is just another slogan, again the triumph of packaging over performance. Expect Najib’s “1Malaysia” to have the same as if not shorter shelf life than his predecessor’s Islam Hadhari.

Perak’s Mess

As for Najib’s political and leadership skills, his handling of Perak’s legislature’s politics is illustrative. There was no shortage of superlatives or praises effusive enough to describe his ‘coup’ in engineering the fall of the Pakatan government. Today, barely a few months later, Najib is desperate to distance himself from that still evolving mess. He is not in the least (or no longer) interested in trumpeting his earlier ‘triumphant’ role.

If all the Perak mess did was to soil Najib’s already mediocre reputation, I could readily overlook his central role in it. Unfortunately we are not yet even near the end of the full ramifications of that crisis.

To date the episode has exposed the ineptness of the state civil service and the Royal Malaysian Police, as well as ensnared the sultan. Commentators are now not in the least shy in criticizing the sultan, and often in very harsh and rude terms. They are also throwing the sultans’ own words uttered when he was chief justice back at him. Sultans are not used to eating their own words.

That was not all. That crisis also exposed what had been obvious to many and for so long, the thinness of talent in our political class. The sight of Speaker Sivasankar being literally dragged out of the Assembly Hall has now become and will forever remain the iconic image of the country’s political leadership.

That case (or cases, as apart from the contested Chief Minister’s post, there is the Speakership that is still to be litigated) is still winding its way through the court system. Already that series has exposed the glaring inadequacies and mediocre qualities of our judges. The exception was the initial trial judge, Justice Aziz Rahim, who had his written judgment delivered within days of his decision and whose legal arguments were the model of wisdom and scholarship.

As for the Appeals Court judges who reversed Justice Aziz Rahim’s decision, we would expect them to be a class above trial judges. Instead their written judgments when finally released weeks later, were not only tardy but did not address the pertinent issues raised by the trial judge. I would expect each of the three appellate judges to outdo each other in presenting a well reasoned and erudite judgment considering that this is not only a high profile case but one that would be cited frequently in future. It is also a case that is sure to be headed for the highest court. Obviously they were not eager and perhaps embarrassed of their judicial logic and decision.

Such are the caliber of our judges, Justice Aziz Rahim excepted. How on earth were they selected, let alone promoted? Their inadequacies would have remained hidden if not for the Perak political fiasco. At least on that count, we could thank Najib.

Elsewhere I wrote that Najib’s predecessor Abdullah Badawi served a useful function as “practice Prime Minister.” His sheer ineptness emboldened citizens to speak out and criticize him specifically and other leaders generally. Previously Malaysians, like most Asians, were a dutiful bunch, hesitant to criticize their leaders, mistaking that to be an expression of disloyalty. Abdullah Badawi, not intentionally of course, changed all that. He made Malaysians more assertive. At least on that point we could thank him.

Abdullah Badawi was our ‘practice’ Prime Minister. He gave us ample opportunities to practice developing and acquiring the courage to criticize our leaders. As we would say in the kampong, Abdullah’s role was as a main-main Prime Minister.

Abdullah was a ‘play-play’ Prime Minister; Najib serves a different function. He is our ‘sacrificial zinc anode’ Prime Minister. Boat owners are aware of the importance of the sacrificial anode. By installing that you preferentially divert the corroding effects of the sea water to that anode, thus protecting the other elements on your boat, like its props. When the anode is corroded you would simply replace it. It is much easier and considerably cheaper than having to replace your eroded props.

Najib Razak is our metaphorical sacrificial zinc anode. He attracts all that is evil, brings out all that is corrupt, and exposes all the incompetence. Then when the nation has been cleansed, its evils, corrosions and incompetence accreted upon Najib, we can dispose of him.

So far Najib has served well as our sacrificial anode. The important thing about this sacrificial anode is to know when to dispose it. Keep it too long and it would spread the corrosion to other vital parts of the boat. The next general election is as good a time to get rid of Najib Razak and the party he leads, time to dispose our national sacrificial anode.

It is sad but not inappropriate to use the sacrificial anode metaphor for Najib. Like many, I would have preferred that he be the skipper of our ship of state. However, if you do not have what it takes to be the skipper, and you do not even have the weight to be ballast, then I suppose being a sacrificial anode is still better than being dead weight.

  1. #1 by husseinhamid on Monday, 20 July 2009 - 11:56 pm

    Bakri I take exception (politely of course) to your description of Abdullah Badawi as “incompetent and do-nothing Prime Minister”. As Churchill said – when you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite. I would rather that you take the road less strident when you said “Previously Malaysians, like most Asians, were a dutiful bunch, hesitant to criticize their leaders, mistaking that to be an expression of disloyalty. Abdullah Badawi, not intentionally of course, changed all that. He made Malaysians more assertive. At least on that point we could thank him” – as I have mentioned before, we do have something to thank him for – though all the good was done ‘unwittingly’ by a decent man who could only do his best and meant well.

    Now Najib is a different kettle of fish. As I have said before “In defence of Najib it must be said that this man has never been caught doing anything illicit, immoral or unsavory. He did it all but he was just never caught.”

    On all other counts I am with you.


  2. #2 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 1:47 am

    1Malaysia – all Malaysians to be treated equally n fairly
    Muhyiddin Yassin recently unashamedly declared that Umno would never abandon its responsibility to champion the cause of the Malays in terms of the economy, politics, culture, education, social and matters specified in the constitution
    As long as Umno is in power, Umno is will champion the cause of the Malays
    Voters, see the obvious lies promoted by PM n DPM
    1Malaysia concept and Umno’s undying desire differ diametrically
    AS long as we have racial political parties and politics, like Umno, MCA, MIC, etc
    There will NEVER be 1Malaysia
    So glad that Chua Jui Meng has the courage to leave MCA
    Monoracial political parties are irrelevant and antinatioal in Malaysia

  3. #3 by Onlooker Politics on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 2:14 am

    First False Theology of Umno:
    Malaya = Malayu punyA.

    Second False Theology of Umno:
    Malaysia = Melayu, Sino, India punyA.

    Third False Theology of Umno:
    1Malaysia = Malaysia left only with One Malay Ethnic Group.

    True Theologyof Pakatan Rakyat:
    Malaysian Malaysia

  4. #4 by frankyapp on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 6:57 am

    Hi M Bakri Musa,Well said. You,Azly Rahman and Hussien Hamid,I sincerely salute you guys opinions and the courage to express it all out.I must say I agreed with most of what you guys have writen. Do you guys know why TDM,TAAB,have disappointed most Malaysians ? And now the present PM NR,like what you guys have said is most disappointing to the rakyat and is waiting to be disposed of his job .If you analysed carefully the whole entity of Umno since its birth as Umno Baru under TDM ,you find TDM making pretty lots of changes to bribe ,to corrupt and created many cronies to be on his side.He aslo offered ministerials position , other political top position,GLC and Civil Service top position to those he thought would be on his side when he needed them.He did all these and many other non transparent activities for his friends/supporters in Umno in order to secure his position as Umno president. He further consolidated and strengthened his power in Umno by giving unit shares here and there for the middle and below members/supporters who in returned harvested handsome dividens.These were some of the vital reasons why TDM could remain in power for more than two decades. TDM had created evil and corrupted monsterliked Umnoputras and warlords who now become extremely powerful and fillty mega rich,thus enabling them to use money and earthly materials (money politic) to buy and gather most Umno divisional branches support.TDM decided to retired because these monsters he created threatened him to leave or face no support for him.So when TAAB took over as Umno president and prime minister,these monsters took TAAB for “main main ” or play play prime minister only.Like you guys said much as TAAB have tried to sincerely change thing for the benefit of the rakyat,these monsters felt threatened and acted quickly to remove him.TAAB is a victim of Umnomonsters.Similarly,NR knows he has no control over these monsters and finding ways and means to pacify them,but time is not on his side.These monsters are getting stronger and stronger,telling him to do what they wanted him to do as temperary prime minister.IF NR ignored or refused to obey them,his(NR) position as Umno president will be terminated by just vote of no confidence within Umno supreme council which like I said dominated by these monsters and their proxies.I agreed with you guys that NR would be disposed of pretty soon.

  5. #5 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 7:43 am

    These are the times when leaders are truly measured and defined for who they are. Everyone can be a leader when things are mostly in their favour and their is no test of character. Its when everything is at stake and you don’t have anyone to turn to that the measure of a leader is truly known.

    I would not say Najib is all packaging, it is mostly packaging until now. The problem is this country don’t need anymore packaging, it needs a systematic change and unfortunately for Najib that change have to come sooner than he is ready for it.

    This is truly his first true test and it will define the rest of his administration and likely his career. He can choose to not take the test, and let the system give him excuses and places to hide but then we will know that he can’t be counted on when he truly is called into service. He is in the end a prodigal son.

    His decision will not just define himself and his administration, it will define his party, his race and all Malaysian. What he decide, to face the challenge or to hide from it will tell us what the future of this country and his race is. If he chose to hide or to avoid, then he tells us that for the most part we are on our own. He tells us we can’t count on BN leaders and if BN continue to lead, it tells us we can’t count on each other. We are and will not be one nation anytime soon AND when and if we do, it will be despite of BN leaders and because of who we are. If we fail to be a nation, then its a measure of who we are, who Malaysian are – incapable of taking our future in our hand, undeserving of nationhood. The promise of Aug 31, 1957 would be dead and we only have ourselves to blame.

  6. #6 by chengho on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 8:53 am

    M Bakri Musa,
    what are u doin in LA come back old boy your country need you unless just like any other Malay u know how to talk only….
    Najib 1Malaysia the best for multiracial in Malaysia not even US can do that….yes we can…

  7. #7 by taiking on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 9:35 am

    The high profile “1malaysia” symbol will soon dwindle to a mere middle finger held upright.

  8. #8 by tsn on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 11:12 am

    Ideal line-up: PM=Anwar, DPM=Bakri, Finance=KuLi, Education=Azly, Chief Judge=LKS/Kapal

    With this line-up, Bolehland will be “sui-sui”.

  9. #9 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 1:57 pm

    Don’t you know Malays are so particular about “packaging”? It is their culture! Just go to any kampung house and see for yourself. Even if the occupants had to tighten their belts, these houses are always “fully equipped” with a fine set of settee, nice langsir, latest model of television set and video machines. I think the latest additions would be a nice computer table with the latest model of hi-tech computers and perhaps even a massage chair to show that they are “up to standard”. Living beyond their means has made these people suffer but they never change!

  10. #10 by Woof on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 7:05 pm

    “Commentators are now not in the least shy in criticizing the sultan, and often in very harsh and rude terms. They are also throwing the sultans’ own words uttered when he was chief justice back at him. Sultans are not used to eating their own words.”

    Why are you blaming it all on Najib? You are a clear case of somebody throwing stones and then hiding your hands. Pathetic.

  11. #11 by tanjong8 on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 10:50 pm

    Countdown to the judgement day starts from now.

    Please come back to be part of the history making and see it happen.

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