Monday, November 10, 2008

‘Look who’s talking now!’

I can’t help it, but on more than one occasion, it’s been difficult not to have the image of the Rowan Atkinson character, Mr. Bean, come to mind while watching, listening or reading some of the comments of Abdullah Badawi.

 Several weeks back, I noted the above in one of my columns.

Well, it’s happened again! Now, here’s some of what our dear prime minster had to say most recently about his party: ‘Umno needs a responsible, calibre and sincere leadership to make the party stronger and successful.’ Apparently, as Malaysiakini reports, Abdullah Badawi also suggested that ‘Umno will struggle if its leaders were weak, lacked leadership integrity, virtues and directions to steer and manage the party to strive over challenges.’

As soon as I read that, I thought, is this really serious and does he truly believe the things he spouts out? Look who’s talking about ‘responsible’ and ‘sincere leadership’! Here’s a man who had what amounts to an unprecedented mandate in 2004, and had the chance – by showing some leadership virtues to ‘steer’ the country through some unchartered waters. He had the golden opportunity to tilt Malaysia toward a credible democracy, with a firm commitment to respecting the human rights of all its citizens. He had the golden opportunity to bridge the racial divide in the country; to heal the wounds of a 22 year long dictatorship; to abolish the ISA; to truly lift the economically disenfranchised; to reform the judiciary; to make genuine progress in stamping out the culture of corruption so endemic in politics and in his regime. Instead, we got barely a whiff of what you might describe as ‘leadership.’ 

And we’re suppose to take these words of wisdom from the man who himself couldn’t muster the fortitude to demonstrate ‘strong’ and ‘sincere leadership’?

When a renegade in his party, for example, stirs up racial tensions by allegedly referring to Malaysian Chinese as ‘pendatang,’ the head of the regime can barely manage a slap on the wrist. But when confronted with the morality of discriminating and marginalising a whole segment of his fellow citizens based on merely on their racial background, his regime responds by silencing those non-violent voices calling for justice. Indeed, he demonstrates precisely the antithesis of the leadership traits he’s now calling on future leaders of Umno (and presumably the next regime) to demonstrate. When a mob of demonstrators stir up racial sentiments and threaten participants of a legitimate and legal forum from debating ideas about faith and freedom, his regime – rather than admonish the mob and protect the rights of people to engage in civilised discourse - tacitly enable the mob of demonstrators. Where was the ‘responsible’ leadership then? What ever happened to the ‘integrity’ of his regime in these situations? 

Oh, I know the list about his failure of leadership is quite extensive, and I think it certainly doesn’t warrant me belabouring the point. The irony is all too self-evident but also rather baffling. ‘In a Mr. Bean like haze and stupor’ he offers the aforementioned words of wisdom without seemingly appreciating that coming from him, those words about leadership might indeed be cheap and ring rather hollow.

G. Krishnan