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Views : Don’t expect much from Najib

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 4, 2009

The Malaysian Insider

John Lee

APRIL 3 — All is settled: Datuk Seri Najib Razak is our sixth prime minister. As any Malaysian should, I hope he does his job well. But unfortunately, as any Malaysian also should expect, every sign points to his being yet another lacklustre premiership. His track record in government suggests that his administration will not markedly improve on Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s; if anything, its only distinguishing mark may be the rollback of the few reforms Abdullah was able to carry out.

Those expecting Najib’s capabilities to exceed Abdullah’s are, I fear, mistaken. While it is true that unlike Abdullah, Najib is not a career civil servant, it is also true that his career in government has been distinguished by its complete lack of remarkable achievements. Like all prime ministers except our first, he had a stint at the Education Ministry — can anyone name a single thing he did as education minister? Even opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at least made his mark as education minister, albeit in rather negative way.

As defence minister, Najib’s tenure was characterised by corruption and scandal; while he was rarely directly implicated, this certainly suggests that those hoping for a change in the tone of politics and administration under Najib shouldn’t expect much. And as finance minister, Najib has unveiled a lacklustre stimulus package that mostly comprises ill-advised infrastructure projects. There is not a single sign of promise here.

In terms of intellectual promise, Abdullah and Najib are virtually on par. Tunku Abdul Rahman secured our independence by skilfully tailoring his rhetoric to suit both British and local audiences. Tun Abdul Razak not only birthed the New Economic Policy but also the backbone of our public education system. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will always be remembered, not just for his achievements as prime minister, but for his ability as a politician and his intellectual tour de force of Malay society and history in The Malay Dilemma. Abdullah’s biggest achievements upon taking office were being brave enough to oppose Dr Mahathir in the 1988 Umno crisis, and then being unassuming enough to wait for his invitation back into the halls of power — having learnt his lesson, he then diligently avoided disturbing the apple cart to protect his position. And now as far as anyone can tell, upon taking office today, Najib is only known for his ill-advised comments on ethnic bloodshed during the 1988 constitutional crisis, his scandal-ridden Defence Ministry, and of course, for his unclear association with the death of the woman whose name now cannot be said.

As such, I have extremely low expectations of Prime Minister Najib. Malaysians had every right to expect a breath of fresh air when Abdullah succeeded to the premiership in 2003, and we were sorely let down. Perhaps we are now overcompensating for this by our extreme cynicism; opinion polls suggest that Najib’s approval ratings are lower than even his unpopular predecessor.

But I think we are just being realistic. Our euphoria in 2003 and 2004 was irrational — beyond vague promises, promises which we had heard many times before from even Dr Mahathir himself, we had little reason to believe Abdullah could seriously deliver on his promises of reform. While Najib is making the same promises himself, there is little question that he is cut from the same cloth as the Umno delegates who gave a standing ovation to the latest additions to the Malaysian corruption hall of fame. Even if Najib were sincere, his track record strongly suggests that he does not have the discipline or willpower to seriously impact the morass of corruption and inefficiency that burdens our government and our politics.

I say all this not because I hope Najib fails; nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see him succeed in reforming our institutions and fixing all that is so clearly wrong with our country. But until he proves otherwise, there is every indication that Najib cannot and will not make these reforms a reality. Malaysians elected Abdullah in 2004 and then rejected him in 2008 based solely on his promised reforms. Unless Najib can make a clear break with his sordid and otherwise unremarkable past, Malaysians will reject him even more resoundingly than they did Abdullah.

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