For so many times, I was asked regarding our Premier and his final decision on an advanced ‘abdication’ in the government. It is inevitably one of the significant moves that may regain the trust of the Barisan Nasional’s supporters especially the Malays in UMNO. Ever since the 12th General Election, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s image has been irreparable. It seemed as if he has become an emblem of weakness and hopelessness to the public’s eye.
It is true that there has been numerous damaged situations and unfulfilled promises throughout the five years of his administration. However, the bombardment of all those detrimental issues highlighted by the media and the blogosphere has done injustice to his efforts of goodwill for the society.
There are several things that could be considered before we mercilessly castigate him for the troubling socio-political and economic condition of this country. Could it be possible that some aspects of rationalization may have escaped our attention? If one were to scrutinise the various positive principles held by DS Abdullah, one could identify that some of his policies have backfired his political career.
Principle of Media Transparency
DS Abdullah Badawi believed in the principle of transparency and freedom of the media. The Malaysian media today is much more liberalized in terms of its news reporting and entertainment.
Despite the fact pointed out by various groups that our media is controlled, the patterns of news reporting on issues have explicitly damaged the image of the government. The incessant highlighting of public issues on crime, corruption, misadministration or communalism to some extent has attributed to stir the public’s anger and dissatisfaction towards the government. The media has never been as exposing and as controversial in its reports during Dr. Mahathir’s period.
B) New Media
Even though media had unashamedly displayed reports that were pro-government throughout the election, previous revelations had done enough damage to the government’s image. There were incidents where media licences were revoked but it was then all too late to contain the situation.
Malaysia is much more tolerant than Singapore, Myanmar or China in terms of its Cyber freedom. In 1996, the government through Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had promised that it will not impose any censorship on the Internet. It was only recently that the MCMC instructed the blocking of an opposition prone website because of its insensitive postings. Unlike Malaysia, Singapore has been taking much more extreme measures to curb cyber political dissension ever since the 1990s. Even its government’s foreign service is involved in controlling the signs of rebellious internet politics.
As Dr James Gomez has concluded in his Doctoral thesis, “the Singapore electoral system is impervious to the internet`s impact“. Hence, Malaysia is still transparent in terms of its traditional and new media. The 12th General Election was an undisputed proof of this. The proof of DS Abdullah advocating the principle of transparency and freedom of speech as compared to Dr. Mahathir. Both of them had their own reasons for their principles held with pros and cons.
C) TV Entertainment Censorship
Another point to add is that the censorship of local TV stations has been loosened where we see much more of our Malay artistes to be physically revealing. Local dramas are more open in depicting storylines that used to be taboo to our Asian and Muslim society. Finally, much more imported dramas and shows portraying homosexuality that can be seen on our TV screens. In the old days, Information Minister Dato’ Mohamad Rahmat didn’t even approve of long haired rock stars!
Again, that is DS Abdullah Badawi trying to fulfil the demands of educated and modernized Malaysians on their rights of transparency, freedom of speech and civil liberty.
While Bush was busy waging war against terrorism, Abdullah Badawi was serious in waging war against corruption. Some of the bodies established to fulfill this aim were the Integrity Institute of Malaysia (IIM) and the Disciplinary Board of UMNO (Lembaga Disiplin UMNO or DB).
The DB was meant for witch-hunting those involved in money politics in the 2004 party elections. Few people were caught and penalized for their indictments. Some of these people were big shots in UMNO and were key players in the party’s faction network with their own supporters. DS Abdullah’s attempt to fight corruption has eroded his popularity among certain groups in the party. However, this was only one of the strands of problems he had to face with the party members. Still, such groups or cliques involved with or caught for corruption within or out of the party has immensely affected his strength as a leader among them.
His Personal Disposition and Leadership
The moment he took over the helm as Malaysia’s Prime Minister succeeding a dynamic and internationally successful predecessor, Abdullah had to overcome two stereotypes shaped by Dr. Mahathir in the name of leadership.
A) He had to struggle to keep up with the brilliant track record and high level of performance that has been set by Dr. Mahathir in administrating the country. People had high expectations towards him to manage and develop Malaysia as well as Mahathir but with exclusion of authoritarianism.
b) For more than 20 years, the political members and general public had an ‘authoritarian’ leader. Dr. Mahathir had an image as a man of discipline, knowledge and detail. Abdullah on the other hand, had to manage to retain the people’s obedience to him as a leader despite of his amicable appearance and consultative approach of administration. Some people just don’t listen to him nor fear him.
It is like a child who used to have strict, dominative or patronizing parents and is suddenly taken into care by a lenient grandparent, an adoring aunty or God-parent. Of course, the child would fear the existing guardian lesser than his parents or even to the extent of being too pampered (manja).
As a whole, DS Abdullah had tried to fulfill the expectations and the demands of the Malaysian citizens. He tried to be different than Dr. Mahathir by being less authoritative, more liberal and ethical in administering the country. However, it is not easy to juggle the interests of numerous societies in our nation. Like a leaking boat in the midst of the seas, you try to block one hole to stop a leakage but instead it leads to another. The formulation of one policy sooner or later would have its consequences, always at the cost of other things. The worst part of all is when one does not have a good team to support him as a leader.
To the next Prime Minister, may the force be with you.