Praising Our Leaders Too Soon and Too High

By M. Bakri Musa

Malaysians are generous to a fault. We are too charitable especially to our guests and those new to us, without pausing to consider the significant burden it imposes upon us and those we love. This is best captured in our saying, Kera hutan di tetekan, anak di riba mati kehausan (We breastfeed monkeys in the jungle while our infants die of thirst).

We are also treating our leaders as kera hutan, indulging them only too readily. We are overly charitable to and very forgiving of them, especially our new leaders. I can understand the rationale for such a sentiment; we desperately want our leaders to succeed. By praising them so soon and so highly we hope to inspire as well as encourage them to lead us to greater heights.

The adulation of followers can indeed be a tonic to leaders, invigorating them to redouble their efforts; likewise with prestigious awards and public recognition. The Nobel Committee in awarding its Peace Prize to President Obama so early in his tenure is clearly expressing the hope of many that he would indeed bring about a more peaceful world.

There is however, a dangerous flip side to that hope. Effusive praises, especially when clearly out of proportion or yet to be deserved, risk swelling these leaders’ head. Even if they do not have mega-maniacal tendencies initially, such incessant drumbeat of praises would inflate the ego of even the humblest of leaders. They would then think that they are destined by God to lead us. From there it is but a few easy and enticing steps away from asserting that they are indeed God. Then no one could or would dare question them. There are many ready examples of such inept but egotistical leaders at home and abroad, now and in history. The ravages they inflict far outlive them.

Praising Najib Early and Excessively

Mohd. Najib Bin Abdul Razak has been Prime Minister for barely six months; he delivered his first presidential speech to his party only last week. As Prime Minister he had initiated only a few not-so-major policy shifts thus far, such as liberalizing a small sub-sector of the economy, the effectiveness of which has yet to be ascertained. Yet the high praises are already pouring in by the torrent.

In describing his performance at the recent UMNO General Assembly, one commentator in the mainstream media described it as “one of his best off-the-cuff speeches that many in UMNO had witnessed.” She went on describing Najib as a “thinking president,” gushingly concluding that the meeting he chaired “as one of those special moments in UMNO’s history.” Special moments! Wow!

Another concluded with undisguised “astonishment at the remarkable ability of the country’s premier political party to renew, reform and reinvent itself after the severe setback it suffered in the 12th general election.” All in the few months since Najib took over!

There was no shortage of superlatives to describe the new Najib, with terms like “transforming leader” and “thinking leader” liberally thrown in, based simply on that first address he gave at the UMNO Assembly.

Now that Najib had presented his first budget, dubbed “People first; Performance now!” expect even more extravagant praises. I do not however, share much of the artificially generated enthusiasm. At least not yet.

It is a measure of our ‘progress’ that in discussing the economy in his budget speech Najib was giddy that it was contracting less severely now. I can see being exuberantly excited if it had actually expanded, however slim. On another item, he proudly announced the establishment of 30 “merit” scholarships for our students to attend top universities. I would be more impressed if, after over 50 years of independence, those scholarships were for sending our students to top doctoral or MBA programs, not for undergraduate studies.

Art of Making Dim Candles Appear Brighter

Such embarrassingly embellished praises from established sycophants and would-be supplicants, as well as blatant favor seekers, are to be expected. After all, old habits are difficult to break, even if you are committed to doing so. More problematic however, are the uncritical rave reviews from otherwise seasoned observers.

This is not a new phenomenon or unique to Najib. When Abdullah succeeded Mahathir, there were similar early outpourings of uncritical praises for Abdullah. One otherwise solid scholar, undoubtedly desperate to ingratiate himself, unabashedly described Abdullah as a “social engineer par excellence.”

Those commentators were not content with merely praising Abdullah. To make him look even better, they resorted to actively denigrating Mahathir. They must have felt that Abdullah’s dim candle could only appear brighter by snuffing out Mahathir’s.

When I took those commentators to task for their nauseating praises, they were furious, accusing me of being unnecessarily negative and not missing any opportunity to denigrate our leaders. How could I possibly know about Abdullah with my being away for so long, they sneered.

I wonder if those who were so enthusiastic about Abdullah so earlier on now feel they bear some responsibility for his subsequent failure. Perhaps if they had been more restrained, Abdullah’s ego would not have been so swollen. Who knows, his basic humility may have taken hold of him and he would have sought wider counsel. His tenure then might have lasted longer and would not have been the colossal waste of opportunities, for him and for the nation.

At the UMNO Assembly, Najib paid tribute to Abdullah for not criticizing Najib, a pointed reference to what Mahathir did to Abdullah. Both Najib and Abdullah are deeply mistaken in this. For had Mahathir not been relentless and even unmerciful in his criticisms of Abdullah, the latter would remain Prime Minister today, and we would all be still enduring that terrible burden.

There is one positive aspect to the current orgy of praises on Najib; at least those commentators are not running down his immediate predecessor. I am uncertain whether that is necessarily a compliment to Abdullah.

Najib should welcome and actively encourage criticisms not just from Abdullah and Mahathir but also from others. That would be the best assurance that Najib would avoid grievous errors in his administration. Even a gifted and charismatic leader as Barack Obama, with an overwhelming mandate from the people, welcomes criticism. As he said in a White House Correspondents’ dinner, “I may not agree with everything you write or report. I may even complain, … but I do so with the knowledge that when you are at your best, then you help me be at my best.”

Like others, I want Najib Razak to succeed, less for his sake but more for our nation. I fear that these uncalled-for and overly generous praises so soon in his tenure might just go to his head, tempting him to rest on his laurels (slim as they are right now) instead of striving harder.

We must not treat our leaders like our pet monkeys; we must never indulge them. Instead we must subject them to the toughest scrutiny and not be afraid to criticize them. And do so early and fiercely. By all means, when Najib proves himself, then we can all be generous to him.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 10:26 am

    ///Like others, I want Najib Razak to succeed, less for his sake but more for our nation/// – Dr M. Bakri Musa.

    You want him to succeed in which part that he has shown thus far – the 1M part, managment of economy part, the promise of re-inventing UMNO/BN part or choice of Isa for Bagan Pinang part or undermining the Opposition (in taking over of Perak Legislative Assembly or the Unity Talk part with Hadi’s faction of PAS, Saiful/Anwar sodomy charge) part or all of it?

    YB Kit, when a known political bloggist like Dr Bakri Musa says that he wants Najib “to succeed for the nation” – that “when Najib proves himself, then we can all be generous to him” – it clearly illustrates the efficacy of the PM’s public relations machinery/advisers to manage perception and change within 200 days the focus of hope of the country back to NTR for many people!

    This is something that I can praise the PM early: he seems to have already won over one known articulate govt critic in the person of Bakri! His public relations aspects really crank overtime to produce some results.

    It underscores the fact that NTR is a different kettle fish from his predecessor – he poses a great challenge to PR – and that PR has to quickly get its act together or face implosion within its ranks rather than the other way around of causing implosion within BN’s ranks.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 10:51 am

    Actually ass kissing is a trait shared by many Asian countries culturally – the polite terms used by Westerners is ‘politically passive’. After all Ghandi is Asian.

    I don’t mean Westerners don’t kiss ass but we kiss ass to our own detriment. Is it a feudal remains of our culture? Is it because of our lack of individuality in our history and culture?

    Why is it that we remember Ghandi BUT we don’t remember Ghengiz Khan who killed the traitors that helped him conquered his enemies? Isn’t almost all our leaders have a little bit of Ghengiz Khan in them???

  3. #3 by ban ban on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 11:00 am

    Another common nature of common Malaysians. “Mulut Manis” is the word in Malay language.

    One example is that a person/body which i have forgotten has suggested to name a stadium in Malaysia using Nicol David, where the reason is that she has contributed a lot to the Squash sport of the country.

    It’s a joke, right? Nicol David is currently an active player and still has years to continue to compete more and achieve more. Can you imagine that one day she will be playing in that stadium? And imagine that one day the papers have come out with a headline “Nicol David plays in Stadium Nicol David…..”, or “Nicol David wins in Stadium Nicol David…..” ?? It is kind of ridiculous, right?

    In the world of what i know, there are rarely the leader of a country will always be praised by his/her people, except for North Korea. Even Mr. Hu of China face some critics from his own people due to the corrupted officials of his.

    In Malaysia? Perhaps Sedition Act and ISA may be awaiting us.

  4. #4 by taiking on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 11:03 am

    Oh no no no. It is a very umno thing. Praising najib so early on is nothing really. Look at macc and umno’s declaration that it was a success even before it had commenced any work. That took the cake. Remember mahathir telling the world that our msc is a gift to the world? And the press would of course sing along thus giving the world a distorted impression that all malaysians are behind the song and dance. As far as I am concerned najib is not my pm. He is not fit to be pm in any case. I am sure many people share my view.

    I know how a dim candle can appear bright – really bright. Take it to a dark place – somewhere really and absolutely dark! Oh dear, how come najib’s dim candle somehow seems so bright? Oh Sheeet.

  5. #5 by Godfather on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 11:19 am

    Obama inspires. Does Najib inspire ? I don’t think so. With so many sycophants, and so many warlords applauding his moves to bring back tainted politicians, there will be no respite for this PM. Then there is Rosie – now in charge of the 4th floor. Sigh…..

  6. #6 by Godfather on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 11:22 am

    It is so Malaysian that those who applaud prematurely and are then proven to be misguided or misled just simply fade into the woodwork and pretend that the misplaced accolades never happened. Just like Altantuya never existed.

  7. #7 by lkt-56 on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 11:50 am

    I think it is an over generalization to say that Malaysians as a whole are singing praises for our new PM. The writer quoted a commentator in a main stream media and passed it off a Malaysians singing the praises. Is it really the case that Malaysians are now totally taken in by our new PM and wholeheartedly singing praises for him? I have my doubts.

    Being bombarded daily by all the slogans and news of 30,000 people attending the 1Malaysia rally in Perak, it is understandable that some people are dismayed that Malaysians are so gullible. But I think it is all propaganda at work to demoralize and de-rail the relentless momentum that has been built up for the change that we all aspire for.

    Let the endless propaganda continue and soon it will become stale and people will take no notice of it. Then the reality of whether these slogans has substance will then start to sink in.

  8. #8 by k1980 on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 12:16 pm

    20 million credit card holders will soon be providing umno with 20million x RM50 = RM1 billion a year….1malaysia should be renamed 1sodded

  9. #9 by taiking on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 12:37 pm

    30,000 people attending rally? They did not rope in any poor school/college kids or some army boys or police officers did they?

  10. #10 by A.Alshukor on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 12:51 pm

    Why are people so excited over Nobel Peace Price, especially that before any real performance all over the world, they choose to give one to Barack Obama. Well … he had just been chosen to lead USA, not the whole world.

    As for Malaysia, singing praise is normal, but so are other countries I believe. Anyway, in the end what was done and how it is done and finally, the effect it gives the end user is what counts.

    In Malaysia, the goal towards strong two party system has started, and may the one that provides the best offer for Malaysia leads it to greater heights.

    Cinta Alam Malaysia.

  11. #11 by Winston on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 1:17 pm

    What has UMNO/BN contributed to this country?
    Think hard!
    Can’t think of any?
    Because for five over decades of their reign, they just lurch from scams to scandals and scandals to scams.
    I think that the PR should capitalise on this to change the mindset of the rural Malays.
    In addition, emphasise that if the PR comes to rule this country, they’ll get better, more equitable, treatment than what they are getting from UMNO/BN.
    The latter only concentrate all the wealth in the hands of a few UMNO sycophants.

  12. #12 by taiking on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 1:32 pm

    Umno’s contribution to the country?
    Err umno’s single and greatest contribution must be the creation of a super greedy, ruthless and unscrupulous band of umnoputras.

  13. #13 by k1980 on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 1:54 pm

    Wonder what would happen had some assistants for PR Selangor assemblymen purchased laptops costing RM42,000 each— they would have been taken along to umno roadshows and then used to bring down the state govt.

  14. #14 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 2:08 pm

    Premature adulation.
    Premature ejaculation.

    ejaculation noun (SUDDEN REMARK)
    /??d?æk.j??le?.??n/ n
    [C] old-fashioned or humorous something that someone says or shouts suddenly

    (Definition of ejaculation noun (SUDDEN REMARK) from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)

  15. #15 by k1980 on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 2:29 pm

    All the problems in this country is due to 1S.O.B., and you all know who he is.

  16. #16 by Jeffrey on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 2:37 pm

    So what are we talking here?

    A “Premature adulation” being a closure of brain’s analytic process, followed by the rhythmic contractions of the vocal chords with successive intermittent Premature ejaculation of praises for the leader, thus spraying a stain of hopes, much of it totally misplaced???

  17. #17 by Godfather on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 2:49 pm

    That’s what happens when we let lawyers loose.

  18. #18 by monsterball on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 5:47 pm

    I wonder why are we spending so much time analyzing what Najib said or do.
    UMNO must be vote out and that’s it…wait till 13th GE…and put out your best speech or message with your votes.
    Lets talk…Star headline news…’RM28 billion lost per year to overpayments”
    Leave it to UMNO blighters to ask for 100% proofs and 3 witnesses….and all are proven over paying COMMISSIONS….very legal.
    Yes…you can pin point UMNO guys are fools or lousy managers…but never corrupted nor crooked.
    That is why…you find all these crooks can smile or laugh with no fear…for they have developed a system to steal and squeezed us high and dry…..with no fear.
    A person like Lingam can be proven….not guilty by our most so call respected Attorney General….defying all the findings of the Royal Commission Inquiry team reports….shows what kind of laws we must live under…with UMNO governing.
    What to analyze so much? Who cares what Najib say or do?
    Go analyze the RM28 billion per year stolen…how much can that do for the country….or help the very poor and needy.

  19. #19 by tenaciousB on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 8:10 pm

    i agree with monsterball, come the 13GE vote BN out. But i fear the worst at present, given the fact some of the brighter part members know this for a fact they will embezle the governments funds and leave the new government with a huge debt!

  20. #20 by undertaker888 on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 8:56 pm

    i will repeat my “praise” for the system here:

    Judicial — phhhhooooootuuuuiii
    Police — phoooooooootuiii phootuiii
    Macc — haaarrrrkkk phoooiiiiiiiii
    govt — haarrrkkk -errrkkk phoootuiiiiii

    yeah. that says it all. my kopitiam way.

  21. #21 by vsp on Monday, 26 October 2009 - 9:31 pm

    Najib a “thinking president? Wow! after paying millions of public funds to engage an American spin doctoring outfit to craft his policies and speeches and his “1Malaysia” jingle really works wonders on some wimpish, obsequious and subservient admirers.

    Since the beginning of spin doctoring of the Presidency in the USA, the United States has been sliding in all areas of excellence. The last President, George Bush, the worst President that the country has had is the product of spin doctoring.

    In Malaysia, Mahathir was the first PM to employ foreign spin doctors and the result is clear for any observant eye to see. Now Najib has desperately paid a ransom to these foreign spin doctors to promote his “1Malaysia” product to the general populace in Bolehland. And the final outcome will be phony and the country will definitely have to pay a high price for such a sham.

  22. #22 by taiking on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 8:52 am

    Mahathir was branded a visionary and now najib a thinker? Whaoo. To me he is a plain knucklehead mcspazatron who somehow thought he is doing a good job.

    BTW i name my willy 1malaysia.

  23. #23 by Godfather on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 11:00 am

    You can’t name your willy 1Malaysia – we can consider only after it’s been circumcised.

  24. #24 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 11:18 am

    this is more befitting.

    mahathir: hallu-visionary
    abdullah: sleeper
    najib: sthinker

  25. #25 by Godfather on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 11:23 am

    Najib’s 1Malaysia takes another blow with the collapse of a brand new suspension bridge in Kampar, killing one student with two others missing. The irony is that the victims were attending the government’s 1Malaysia indoctrination programme.

  26. #26 by taiking on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 1:11 pm

    Saw this in Jenice Lee’s site:

    “?????????????????????????RM20? ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    ????????????????????Harian Metro ????????????????????????20?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????





  27. #27 by taiking on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 1:12 pm

    Oops, sorry content in chinese. Pls ignore.

  28. #28 by taiking on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 1:25 pm

    Wot? I cant hv that name! But I oredi got it tattooed on the skin of my willy. Dont ask me to remove it. Pleeeez. Its cool. And its funny. That word is infinitely deformable. Well almost. And and and wow imagine the thrust of satumalaysia. Err I said too much huh?

    But its true. To me thats wot 1malaysia is about.

  29. #29 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 - 3:13 pm

    /// A “Premature adulation” being a closure of brain’s analytic process, followed by the rhythmic contractions of the vocal chords with successive intermittent Premature ejaculation of praises for the leader, thus spraying a stain of hopes, much of it totally misplaced??? ///

    Yes, indeed. Premature ejaculations result in shooting all over the place in a shot-gun approach, and missing the intended target, resulting in unproductive and abortive work, miscarriage of justice and still-birth of whatever grand plan the leaders have for the cuntry.

  30. #30 by Taxidriver on Wednesday, 28 October 2009 - 10:47 pm

    Husband adulterous, wife also adulterous. They make a perfect couple. The Chinese saying is ‘kou nan ni’ ( dog man ang dog woman )

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