Personality Traits of the Malaysian Prime Ministers

In Malaysia these days, hardly a day goes by without any mention of issues regarding our Prime Minister, be it the present PM or the previous one. My impression after going through various published articles and the internet is that virtually all Malaysians know their Prime Minister. Even children as young as four years old know him. This is particularly so in the case of Tun Mahathir when he was our PM. Even foreigners who never came to Malaysia knew and were awe struck by his courage and bluntness and his ability to articulate issues brilliantly. Generally he was well liked by people in the developing and Islamic countries as he always fought for them. In the developed world he was well respected, though probably never loved in those regions.

What made Tun Mahathir tick, was probably because he was in a way a rare species in our country. He has a serious demaenour, never laughed and seldom smiles. He is blunt, visionary, firm and never compromise on issues, at least publicly. Ironically all the above traits are not usual among the Malays. Generally,Malays are actually the exact opposite of all the above. Probably most Malays loved him because they need such a character to look after their interest, to be their champion, at least until the Anwar Ibrahim saga in 1998.

Tun Mahathir could choose to be a dictator, if he wanted to. So too Tun Razak after the 1969 riot. The two leaders were so powerful at the heights of their popularity. Whatever they decided could go without any serious opposition. Come to think of Tun Mahathir, he won whatever political battle he decided to take. Even the Malay rulers got to concede to his terms. But, Malaysia has been lucky to be blessed with such leaders. They did not choose to hold on to powers, or opt to be dictators, when losing popularity. Instead they were firm believers of democracy(As we all know Tun Razak died prematurtely, and Tun Mahathir decided to step aside, in favour of Pak Lah). We don’t have to look far for such examples. We just need to recall what happened to Indonesia under dictator Sukarno and The Philippines under Marcos. Until today these countries are still trailing far behind us, as a result of gross mismanagement. Worst still I believe most of us are familiar how Hitler came to power in Germany about 70 years ago, and what happened to the country after that. All these leaders, assumed powers through their extraordinary oratory skills to sway the voters.

Why are Malaysians so lucky? The world is full of stories of dictators, gross mismanagement and failures of nations. Yet it should not be difficult to happen here for some reasons, if we care to ponder a little. First, under the British system of Parliamentary Democracy that we practice now, a Prime Minister can remain in place for unlimited period. Secondly, although our Constitution adheres to the principle of separation of powers, Malaysia is a small country with power structure not much dispersed institutionally and geographically. Just as in many developing countries, a highly charismatic figure ruling for one term or more in the government may not find much difficulty in exercising extra influence over the others in the power structure. Under such a situation, he may end up as a dictator, if he wants to. So far this has not happened, probably God has really blessed our country. The prayers of our Ulamas and leaders of other religions have been granted so far.

Today, our political climate seems chaotic. But we should consider ourselves as lucky having a likable Prime Minister whose sincerity and integrity is beyond question. He is often critised for making flip flop decisions. People seem to miss the Mahathir era, an era of growing prosperity,decisiveness and firmness to most, but to the opposition, an era of growing corruption, economic mismanagement and a compromised judiciary. Yet Pak Lah may be the most democratic of all the Prime Ministers. He even tolerated the Cabinet, at the embarrassment of his supporters, when it made decisions differently from what he has already announced. Yet, he has shown firmness in areas where it matters. He has rightly stuck to the policy on fuel price. He has allowed ACA to fight corruption relentlessly as never done before, and taking right step to rehabilitate people’s trust in the judiaciary.

Yet many people don’t see or refuse to see his good side. Probably because he does not articulate well in his speeches, and unable to play with people’s emotion. He is not like Tun Mahathir, and far from Anwar, a leader noted for unusual ability to sway the crowd. But the truth should eventually prevail, and sooner or later people will appreciate his efforts.

On the other hand, it can be argued that Pakatan Rakyat also promises much or even more of the same thing to the people. So success made in the above areas may only bring marginal effect.

The only thing that separates umno from the rest is that it is a Malay Party and the backbone of the BN government. This means it is the only party the Malays can trust to ensure their survival in this country. On this ground the Malays are not likely to abandon UMNO in favour of something lesser. Given the racial charged atmosphere of today, any MP leaving UMNO for PKR will not likely survive in the next general election. It must be remembered even under the worst of circumstances as in this year’s general election, not less than 57% of the Malays still voted for UMNO. My empirical analysis of the general election results also confirmed a strong voters loyalty for UMNO(a full article ‘ A study on Malay support and loyalty to UMNO’ will be published on this weblog soon).

Talking of Anwar, he is a totally different person compared with Pak Lah. He is the best orator Malaysia has ever had, probably almost at par with Sukarno of Indonesia in the 50’s and the 60’s. If he were an American, probably Anwar would be nominated to stand for US presidency against Obama ( another world class orator), but of course, if minus the burden of  scandals he is facing now. No American can go far in politics under such cicumstances. Edward Kennedy never made it for nomination because of it. Even President Clinton almost lost his job due to scandals.

But Malaysia is a nation of young population with a median age of 23 years. They are liberal minded, easily swayed by good oratory and apparently more tolerant towards moral issues of certain leaders. No doubt Americans are also swayed by oratory skill of Obama, but they also expect high moral standard of their leaders.

With the target date of September 16 bandied around, most people are sceptical that the crossover of such a large number of BN MPs to Pakatan Rakyat  would occur. Some even think that Anwar’s claim is absurd. One may ask how Anwar can really accomplish it.

Even if he manages to get 30 BN members of parliament to join Pakatan Rakyat, there is still other hurdles in front of him. First, these 30 BN MPs must really suppport him in a motion of no confidence against Pak Lah, and it must be done in Parliament; Second, he must make sure that all Pakatan Rakyat MPs support the motion of no confidence; Third, even if the motion of no confidence is carried, Anwar has to convince the YDP Agong that he has the majority support to be the next Prime Minister and form the new government.

Even if Anwar passses through all the above hurdles,It appears that the constitional provision does not allow him to form a government unless Pak Lah agrees to resign. Pak Lah has a choice, which he will certainly prefer under such circumstances, to advise the YDP Agong to dissolve Parliament to pave the way for a fresh general election[Article 43(4)]. The YDP Agong has discretionery power to accept or reject this recommendation[Article 40(2)].

In the event that Anwar, in spite of all the above hurdles, becomes the next Malaysian Prime Minister, which is very unlikely, many questions may come to ones mind. Will he be a democratic leader? Many Malaysians may take this question for granted since he is now a popular figure among a large section of the Malaysian population. But what if he loses popularity after serving a term or two in office, will he step down? Since he is so intent of becoming a Prime Minister even by way of an unethical backdoor arrangement, will he try to cling to power in the same way, or worse still install himself as a dictator? If the answer is no, Malaysia will continue to be a blessed country. Otherwise, we will surely enter into an era of dark ages, following the footsteps of Indonesia and the Philippines in the past. By then it will be too late for us to regret.

God bless our beautiful country.

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2 Responses to Personality Traits of the Malaysian Prime Ministers

  1. d says:

    I am really not sure about Anwar Ibrahim becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Tun Mahathir mentioned that he’ll packed his bags if Anwar ever becomes the PM. I’ll probably too since I mentioned likewise at some kopi tiam discussion. It’s a maruah thing.

    But niceness cannot define and, more importantly, be the only criteria to be a PM. Abdullah Badawi is probably the nicest politician we have in Malaysia. Enough said. Period.

  2. Abi Ayyub says:

    A well written article.

    All somehow somewhere has their good side. It is only a question of how you way of thinking. To me Tun had done wonders during his premiership, and lie it or not, Pak Lah had in a way, allowed openess except when you view the MSM in general.

    As mentioned, one of the ‘BIGGEST’ issue that tarnish TDM will always be Anwar Black Eye affair. That is one of the ‘WORST’ thing that happen, and of all people, the IGP is involved.

    My concern shall always be, we are in need of good governence and who offer such for the benefit of the people shall always get our vote.

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