Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

A True Malaysian Leader

Written by johnleemk on 12:36:18 am May 10, 2007.
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Not too long ago on a discussion forum, the subject of discrimination against non-Bumiputras came up. One commentor suggested a campaign along the lines of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s to overthrow this sham regime of equality, and bring about a fairer Malaysian society.

Now, I was once very captivated by this idea of a civil rights movement. The image of blacks sitting in white-only restaurants for hours, either until they were served or the restaurants closed, is a profoundly stirring one, and makes you wonder why this can't be accomplished here.

Of course, one is quickly disabused of this idealistic notion once we realise that Malaysians are probably the most apathetic people in the whole world. But still, after some reflection, I think there is actually some merit in the idea of a Malaysian civil rights movement.

However, there are some very important hurdles that have to be crossed before this movement can even begin to take off. The first is making this a Malaysian civil rights movement, supported by all ethnic communities. The second, and most important, is finding the requisite leaders for this Malaysian movement.

Some might see the first problem as the most pressing and perhaps most difficult to solve, because although gathering support among the ethnic minorities for such a movement would be relatively easy, persuading the Malays/Bumiputras to give up their privileged position would be much harder.

However, I believe that it can be done. As one Malay commentator aptly observed, all he got from his Bumiputra privileges was "two bags of manure". Most Bumiputra privileges are available only for the very people who don't need them.

That's why the solution is an expanded New Economic Policy that cuts the rich Bumis out of the picture, and brings all poor Malaysians into the picture. It will still not be a cakewalk getting Malays on board, but it won't be as difficult as some people might think.

A more pressing issue would be getting the Malay middle class involved, because these are the people best-placed to take advantage of these privileges, but also the people best-placed to topple the discriminatory regime currently in place.

Now, this is why everything basically boils down to leadership. What we really need, what our country really needs, is a charismatic and daring leader who can move Malaysians to action.

Of course Malaysians have been apathetic to date. How can they not be, when our leadership is so uninspiring? Does listening to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi speak make your heart brim with love for your country? Do listening to Lim Kit Siang's or Anwar Ibrahim's fiery speeches make you feel that something has to be done to right the injustices in our country?

The problem with our leaders today is that they are either incapable of rousing the masses, have a too tainted reputation to be credible, or both (as is the case with many government leaders).

We have not got a single leader with the credibility and the charisma to move people to action. What do we have? People who mouth the word "perubahan" so uninspiringly that they could put you to sleep.

Why did the Americans not have a civil rights movement in the 1930s or 1950s? Why did it take until the 1960s for their movement to really take off? Because it was the 1960s when they got leaders with the charisma and credentials to unite Americans against the discrimination of their society.

In the 1960s, the Americans were practically swimming in powerful leaders. They were blessed with two presidents who refused to tolerate the economic and social injustices of their society, and powerful orators like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

The basic problem with the Malaysian opposition and the Malaysian civil rights movement (or what may become the civil rights movement) is that we don't have even one leader like these men. Lim Kit Siang is basically a Chinese leader, not a Malaysian leader, whatever the Democratic Action Party might say — and it does not seem that his successor (whoever that may be, though it presently seems to be his son) will be any different.

Meanwhile, Anwar has the charisma, and could be a Malaysian leader, but his major stumbling block is credibility. Any trust the Malaysian people may have had in him is now in tatters after his stint in power — Anwar politicised the education system, was almost as nepotic as Mahathir, and to make things worse, he has never apologised for these errors. He thus cannot move more than his few hardcore supporters to action, because he does not have the moral high ground to do so.

Now, since we are so lacking in leaders, the onus is on Malaysians to search ourselves and the people we know for who has the charisma and credibility to lead any campaign for change.

The requirements are not necessarily complicated. At the barest minimum, this leader should be capable of brilliant oration in both Malay and English — although ideally Mandarin and Tamil as well (but truly, I will happily eat my cap if there is such a person out there in the country). Race is not really important — if the fellow can communicate well, racial perceptions will not count as much. The Malays will trust someone who can talk to and relate with them; they are in the end, still essentially human.

It's really communication that is the important thing. The reason we need leaders with charisma and credibility is because otherwise, their message won't stick — won't have staying power.

We need a leader who can paint the injustices of our society in stark and glaring colours. We need a leader who can paint a future for our country which is leaps and bounds better than anything presently conceivable. We need a leader who can passionately speak about how we can right these wrongs and reach out for that future.

This is the kind of visionary leader that the American civil rights movement had — and that united blacks and whites all over the United States against the discrimination of their society. And this is the kind of visionary leader that Malaysians need if we are to have a grassroots movement to change our country for the better.

This is not the kind of leader we can currently find anywhere in our elected legislatures, nor is it the one we can find in the upper echelons of our political parties. If we are to find this kind of leader, it will be in the grassroots — it will be just another Tom, Dick or Harry who realises something is wrong with our country, and that he has the passion and power to communicate the nature of these wrongs and how to right them.

I believe we can find these leaders. There are at least 25 million people in Malaysia, not counting all the Malaysians currently overseas. The leaders we need are out there. The question is, can we find them before it is too late? The time is now to spread the word, and to reach out to everyone we know, to look for the people who may tomorrow change this country for the better.

This is not a task we can afford to leave to the politicians or to the political parties. This is a task for every Malaysian who loves his country, who knows something is wrong with it, who knows something has to be done. If we do not find the leaders we need, change — and thus our country itself — is as good as dead.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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