The Power Of SMS

Hold the praise, still early days — The Malaysian Insider

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 5, 2009

The Malaysian Insider

APRIL 25 — After reading today’s newspapers, Malaysians may come away thinking that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has:

a) Solved all the ills in society, brought race relations to a high point and found a way to help the economy burst out of the middle-income trap.

b) Put together a Cabinet packed with men and women of integrity and competence.

c) Gone beyond words and put in place a timetable to end draconian laws.

d) Suddenly morphed into the saviour of the country, complete with the halo.

e) All of the above and then some.

Yes, he is the new Prime Minister.

Yes, he must be given some time to chart his path. But what we don’t need is sycophantic coverage.

What Malaysians want and need is intelligent and measured reporting which holds the new man in Putrajaya and his administration accountable for everything they say and do.

This is the sum total of what Najib has done since becoming the PM on Friday — he has released 13 men from ISA, spoken about reviewing the ISA, lifted the ban on two Opposition newspapers, accepted Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad back into Umno and gone on a walkabout to Chinatown, Brickfields and a Malay enclave in Kuala Lumpur.

A decent start to his term as PM but surely not good enough to earn overflowing praise of walking the talk to get close to the people on the ground, as suggested by the headline writers in a couple of newspapers.

The walkabout was a symbolic gesture by a PM who probably knows that race relations in Malaysia is at the abyss, and something drastic and meaningful needs to be done to make Malays, Chinese, Indians and others comfortable with each other again.

The warm glow of a symbolic gesture probably lasts as long as a glass of frothy teh tarik.

Malaysians have been down this road raising expectations of a new PM before.

It happened when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became the PM in 1981 and when Tun Abdullah Badawi became the PM in October 2003.

Dr Mahathir released 21 ISA detainees, promised to rely less on the ISA, introduced the catchy slogan of “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah” and directed civil servants to wear name tags.

Arguably, corruption in the public sector blossomed during his 22 years in office. In 1987, 106 politicians, social activists and community leaders were arrested in Operation Lalang, a security dragnet which the authorities said were necessary to avert race riots.

During the Mahathir era, economic growth was spectacular as was the complete disregard for the country’s institutions.

When Abdullah came into office, his team of advisers drew up a 100 day programme. This called for him to make important announcements at regular intervals.

Realising that there was an undercurrent of unhappiness over the fact that “big fish” never get caught for corruption in Malaysia, his administration announced that charges would be brought against Tan Sri Eric Chia, Tan Sri Kasitah Gaddam and several others.

The impact of the announcement was immediate, with many believing that it was the start of a major clean up in Malaysia.

It wasn’t. The government lost all the big cases and the disquiet in Umno over dredging up old cases forced Abdullah to take his foot off the pedal.

Abdullah also made an unannounced visit to the Immigration Department and announced a report card system for all elected representatives.

Till today, no one knows whether any of the MPs filled up the report books or if they were graded by the PM or his staff.

The lesson from the Mahathir years and the Abdullah era is the danger of rushing to judgement and garlanding the leader even before we see real change.

Najib has made a couple of good gestures but the Malaysia he inherited remains broken, and the party he leads remains rooted to the idea that Malays must always be superior to others who call this country home.

Hold the praise until we all believe that form has given way to substance.

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