Malaysia: A muted future without a pilot

JUNE 20 — The aftershocks from the pornographic videos — despite the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) best efforts to dissuade their spread — reveal severe fault-lines in the long-term future of Malaysian leadership.

Here’s the state of play. Azmin Ali has a sex scandal foisted upon him, relegating truth as a troublesome distraction. Anwar Ibrahim’s team is being associated with the fiasco, which by extension “suggests” footprints to him. What happens if both are complicit to any degree?

If the two are damaged beyond redemption by this development — mindful, they’ve been linked to a myriad of controversies prior — who would succeed the Langkawi MP as prime minister?

Two leaders down, and the country is staring into a barren plain waiting for a new saviour? Ridiculous, but true.

Our political pundits must scratch their heads to conjure up a replacement list, or even a single name. This may be Mahathir Mohamad’s lasting legacy, a prolonged period of leadership vacuum when he leaves.

I, Boss

It underlines 40 years Mahathir has prevented fresh faces both inside Umno and outside it.

Umno, in his shadow, kept sycophancy sacred. Challengers were beaten, and leaders abandoned principles for gain. The cash is king mantra is not ex-PM Najib Razak’s to claim.

The onstage “crying drama” at the 2002 Umno general assembly — as major political players openly begged Mahathir to stay when he quit — magnified the Stockholm Syndrome in Umno Baru’s bloodstream. The cult of personality stunts insiders and stupefies a nation.

At the other end, opposition leaders, without power stayed clueless.

Until the injection of Umno into the opposition, but with the curse of still being Umno Baru under the skin.

First, the PKR era arrived, and much later Bersatu Pribumi. But they are built on senior leadership, not regular membership.

PKR’s masses’ inability to assert on their leaders in government today, shows these representatives were raised to positions by “blind allegiance” to internal leadership factions rather than member support.

They abide by their faction chiefs, not the party structure. Leaders can escape any punishment or survive on as long as they are backed by the powerful inside.

The PKR election last year was a farce in more ways than one in the light of present-day realities.

Power emanates from leaders to members rather than the other way around in Mahathir’s lexicon, and unfortunately those to follow comply to this creed.

Which means a distance grows between the people and their elected leaders. And more importantly, the impossible task to find a charismatic leader within the corridors of power, because they’ve lost their spine a while back.

The bubble

Let’s do names.

Who to pick from the running pack if Azmin and Anwar are out of the equation?

The rest have CVs but are they “The Right Stuff”?

Muhyiddin Yassin, the home minister has been a minister for 20 years, two of them as deputy prime minister, padded with nine years as Johor mentri besar. Malaysians struggle to remember one quote from him.

Mohamad Sabu, the defence minister, is an Internal Security Act detention veteran, Amanah president for three years after 34 years in PAS, including as deputy president. And a UiTM culinary school dropout. Excellent human person, but not the guy to look at a spreadsheet to manage a restaurant.

Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, deputy prime minister, almost 20 years president of PKR, 10 years MP including leader of opposition and five years assemblyman. But she resigned her MP seat wilfully for her husband and reaffirms Anwar’s ascendancy is her priority.

Who then? Mukhriz Mahathir, Zuraida Kamaruddin, Saifuddin Nasution Ismail or Saifuddin Abdullah?

[DAP due to socio-political realities and its preferred positioning over decades, rules its leaders out of consideration. Borneo leaders are ineligible due to the Malayan dominance of federal power.]

It’s a line-up of supporting cast. Similar to our Olympics’ yield, a bagful of medals with no gold.

Their rise to office has been born out of deference rather than determination to make their mark in public service. It’s about gangs and cliques outmanoeuvring opponents with numbers and influence rather than with wit, charm and intelligence, or just sheer diligence.

Saifuddin, the foreign minister, often retold how difficult it was to sign up as an Umno member when he left university. Rudderless division chiefs were wary of graduates and professionals. How much has that changed in Umno, or in his present base PKR, or in the rest of the parties?

If membership is complicated when the applicant is over-qualified, imagine the steep incline in the parties without a sponsor.

Rank outsiders

While there are all kinds of buzz raised by politicians already ejected or chose to walk away, they remain non-players. Despite the media craving slivers from them, they are desired less for substance but more for clicks.

Najib, Zahid Hamidi, Khairy Jamaluddin, Nurul Izzah Anwar and Rafizi Ramli do not presently serve an elected party position. Zahid is on voluntary leave and Izzah resigned her PKR vice-presidency. Khairy was defeated in the Umno president contest.

In the short run, they do not determine political events. Soon, some of them are going to be increasingly concerned with their court cases.

Harsh? Not when it is a parliamentary democracy that demands any group wanting power to either have a party or a united coalition to secure half plus one of the seats in Dewan Rakyat. At the present, those who run PKR, Bersatu Pribumi or Umno first, and a grip of parliamentary thereafter. No one else.

Meaning, unless one of them — or anyone — picks up the gauntlet and leads a new movement or party, the rest and large tracts of their old parties are stuck in a time-warp of neo-feudalism with no end in sight.

Grim prognosis

Nix Azmin and Anwar, and it’s a cold winter of indecision coming up.

This is not a plea for either to be exempted from scrutiny but a stark reminder that the politics of shutting out contenders has come to fruition. It’s lonely at the top.

And that there are no ready replacements from the traditional parties’ conveyor belts.

Mahathir might prefer options now but he knows the score and his immense contribution to this dilemma.

It’ll be nervous reading for Malaysians every time more dirt is piled on either individual in the weeks to come. What a draining period for the country when there is so much more to be done!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.