Monday, September 1, 2014

Bad Luck, Bad Leadership

It's not been a good year for Malaysia. The gods haven't been kind.

Two downed aircrafts, hundreds dead, one plane still missing. The reservoirs of Selangor run dry, whilst the Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim's 'sack-me-if-you-can' defiance against his own party's move to oust him drive the rich populous state into chaos. The sudden death of the Tiger of Jelutong.

True, every country has its share of bad luck. Still, bad luck can be mitigated. Steps can be, and should be, taken by leaders to leave nothing to luck.

Malaysia's misery is not just down to bad luck. It's also down to bad leadership.

Lightning Strikes Twice

The mysterious disappearance of Flight MH370 over the South China Sea (or Indian Ocean, depending which conspiracy theory you believe) has left the world in shock. Two shockers stand out - that the accident could actually happen in today's world, and that the Malaysian authorities were fumbling for the right response to placate the anger of Chinese nationals and the fear of its own citizen.

Inconsistent and contradictory reporting has torn the government's credibility to tatters. Transparency is found wanting, let alone justice. In years to come, it would come to no surprise if the sad affair turns up on public relations lore under the title "What NOT to do during a crisis situation".

The search continues, the mystery deepens

As if to compound Malaysia's misery further, few months later, Flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukrainian war zone, very likely by rebels armed and supported by Putin's Russia. It was almost as if Lady Fate was punishing Malaysia for escalating the MH307 crisis from tragedy to comedy, whilst giving its leaders a second shot at redemption. 

Fortunately, this time, the government was better equipped to handle the crisis. Within days of the downing, Prime Minister Najib Razak proudly proclaimed that the government had successfully secured access to the crash site and the plane's black box through behind-the-scenes negotiations. Comedy averted. Redemption achieved.

Still Water Runs Deep

All is not well with the opposition party either. On the back of destroying the government's super-majority in the recent national parliamentary elections and securing control over a few key state assemblies in 2013, the momentum has sputtered to a halt. The joy of snatching Malaysia's crown jewel state in Selangor has long lost its afterglow.

The world is beset by climate change. Erratic storms and droughts are nothing new. Nevertheless, for a country placed in the tropics and blessed with heavy rainfall, to resort to emergency water-rationing beggars belief and begs questions. Why is it only Selangor resorting to water-rationing, and not the other states, which draw water from the same water bodies? Are the Selangor reservoirs badly designed? Did Syabas, the private utility company, oversupplied water to commercial buyers? Is the water shortage due to poor urban development?

Then rain started to fall, and the water-rationing lifted. Sadly, the rain has also seemingly brought along a terrible political storm. Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim has been sacked by his own party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), allegedly due to maladministration. He refuses to step down gracefully, claiming he still wields support from the other elected representatives including PKR's own coalition ally, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). Put aside the allegations - it is worrying already to find an opposition coalition party being torn asunder by a single person.

Mo' rain-forests, mo' problems.

Will The Real Leader Please Stand Up?

So often in politics, a single person does wield tremendous power and influence. Most don't deserve to. But if there is anyone who does and deservingly so, Karpal Singh comes close. A criminal and constitutional lawyer dedicated to protect the downtrodden, a stalwart politician from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) who always stood his ground in the ever-shifting sands of the Malaysian political landscape, an inspirational legend to the young.

Sadly, on 17 April 2014, his life and legacy was abruptly cut short by a fatal car accident.

His departure is a sad loss for Malaysia. He was a leader who led by principle, a leader who would never be caught with his pants down or have his personal accounts busted in an embarrassing political scandal. His reputation was unblemished. His passion was pure.

What Malaysia lacks, more than ever, is honest and capable leaders. The ruling party since independence, Barisan Nasional (BN), is fueled by racial ideology and no stranger to corruption. The opposition coalition, consisting of PKR, PAS and DAP, have fallen short of expectations. In a sense, this is understandable. The opposition is weakened by inherent defects and internal strife.

Despite his charisma and energy, Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, remains a polarising figure. He has been charged twice and jailed once for sodomy. More damning, he was a former Deputy Prime Minister who started his political career with BN, as are many of his supporters and political sidekicks. PAS, a conservative Islamic party, sits out like an adopted kid among its liberal siblings. Its constant baying for hudud law is a constant thorn to the alliance.

In recent years, DAP have blooded a refreshing array of young wunderkinds in Tony Pua and Hannah Yeoh. Whilst this is promising, DAP still suffers from the same old 'oppose-everything-the-government-does-and-proposes' malaise, such as their strong resistance against the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax regime in Malaysia (even Vietnam and Laos has already implemented theirs). "We shouldn't give more money to the government coffers," so one argument goes, "until the government proves itself that it is not corrupt". By that logic, Malaysians should not pump more funds and manpower into the police force to curb crime, unless the police proves they are bribe-free.

A true Malaysian legend

Absolute Power Corrupts

If asked to choose one word to describe Malaysian politics, many would choose, without missing a heartbeat, the word 'corruption'. Whilst it is true that corruption is prevalent everywhere in the world, corruption festers less in places where transparency and accountability is upheld.

David Blunkett, former British Labour MP during Blair's stewardship, stepped down as Home Secretary after being accused that he had fast-tracked a work visa for the nanny of a married woman he had an affair with. Resignations in the face of minor misdemeanors is commonplace in the UK, and most liberal democracies. Malaysian politicians should do well to follow suit.

The line between corruption and complacency is razor thin. A politician can ill-afford the slightest misstep, no matter how trivial. One who skirts around the line is bound to attract scrutiny, suspicion and scorn. And deservedly so. The political arena is not a courtroom. The balance of proof, jury discretion and parity of punishment leans against the accused. And why not? When the public's hard-earned tax monies and hard-gained trust are on the table, they deserve the benefit of doubt to crucify shady parliamentarians. One who strays the furthest from sin acquits himself best.

Ultimately, it's up to us, the public, to choose and control politicians. The public should come down hard on politicians. The public should judge their every action and inaction with microscopic detail. The public should not easily overlook misdemeanors. The public should not worship them like demi-gods sitting high above the law.

A Better Malaysia

In the movie 'Dark Knight', whilst in the throes of wrecking havoc in Gotham City, the Joker quipped that 'this city deserves a better class of criminal'.

Politicians are not criminals. But in many ways, most Malaysian politicians certainly do act like one. Wheeling and dealing with the rich and powerful. Building a gang of bullying thugs. Splurging people's money on unnecessary luxuries.

Malaysia doesn't need a better class of politicians. Malaysia simply needs a better class of leaders.

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