Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Pak Lah: To Resign or Not Resign

Written by johnleemk on 3:39:55 am Sep 6, 2006.

I've been requested to give my thoughts over the burgeoning calls for Pak Lah to resign his position as Prime Minister. To be honest, I don't really care - in the vernacular, I don't give two shits - whether Pak Lah has lived up to his promises, or whether Mahathir can make things right. I've never had high (or at least towering) hopes for this administration, and so I don't perceive the current situation as particularly horrifying.

A man I highly respect and admire, Bakri Musa, has penned an editorial calling for the resignation of Pak Lah. Bakri does not directly side with Mahathir - indeed, he seems to take some pains to point out that Mahathir is no angel himself - but nevertheless, we all know who will benefit if Pak Lah steps down.

The problem I have with all this is that I have yet to be convinced that Pak Lah is a bumbling fool. Is he a liar? I would have to say yes - or at the very least, that he has proven incapable of fulfilling his election promises. However, I never expected him to fulfil them, knowing the political climate here. Anyone who expected great things from Abdullah was fooling themselves. He may not be a total fool, but he is no great leader either. His capability is no match for his affable nature - at some point or another, when he ran up against resistance, he was bound to back down. Even Mahathir himself would have trouble confronting those upset about reduced political patronage.

Is corruption still rampant? Yes. Is racialism/racism on the rise? Yes. Is it Pak Lah's fault? Yes. So why shouldn't we throw him out? YLChong presents the typical pro-Abdullah argument, resorting to the same hackneyed statements about Pak Lah being elected to lead the nation, and how his mandate has not been revoked. The rest of his rebuttal to Bakri's piece deals mainly with semantical issues - such as Bakri criticising Pak Lah's timing, or the ludicrous suggestion that resigning power would be the best way to undo Mahathir's legacy.

To be frank, I am not convinced that Pak Lah is worthy of staying in office. I know he means well; the problem is he has tried to please everyone, and ended up pleasing none. Even his Cabinet has bloated because of his refusal to cut down on political baggage. Indeed, Pak Lah is a remarkably ineffective and mediocre leader, and as they say - a fish rots from the head first. It is not surprising that his already mediocre Cabinet has become even more hapless as time goes by. It is a sad day indeed when the Transport Minister finds out that speeding fines have been reduced from the media.

All these are compelling reasons to call for Pak Lah's resignation. We can safely ignore the insane rationales provided by Mahathir and his supporters. Cronyism is rampant now, but I doubt these people would be complaining about it if they were the cronies benefiting. Likewise, Mahathir's ridiculous attempts to blackmail the government are nothing short of farcical - imagine declaring he will back down if only the government went ahead with the crooked bridge!

However, who besides Mahathir will benefit if Pak Lah steps down? I doubt it would be the common man. Presently the only feasible candidate I can see for the UMNO Presidency (and by extension the Prime Ministership) is Najib Tun Razak. Forgive me for being blunt, but I have heard and know enough about this man to have very strong misgivings about him succeeding to the Prime Ministership. Pak Lah is incompetent but well-meaning; at least he personally does not get himself involved in corrupt deals or racial politics! Najib may very well be both incompetent and ill-meaning; we know for sure he is not above racial politics (before Kerismuddin, there was Najib "soak the keris with Chinese blood" Tun Razak) and there is enough to suggest that he has had a significant hand in money politics as well.

If one were to compare the situation with American politics, as Bakri Musa is fond of doing, Pak Lah would likely be Ulysses S. Grant. Grant ran a terribly corrupt administration, but himself stayed above the fray; the corruption merely resulted from his inability to put his foot down and declare enough was enough. Najib, on the other hand, is likely a George W. Bush in the making. (Although one might disagree with the implications I am making about both men here, I'd say there's enough proof that both Najib and Dubya divided their countrymen against one another, and had a role in establishing political patronage as a form of cronyism.)

I am not even going to consider the possibility that Mahathir may make a comeback. It's just ludicrous. The man had 22 years to get this country shipshape, but all he did was pave the way for an ineffectual leader like Pak Lah, and exacerbate the problem of poor leadership by setting up a racially polarised nation, a castrated judiciary, politically corrupt government/business community, and...well, the list goes on and on. Anyone seriously suggesting that Mahathir make a comeback ought to have their brains checked. There's enough proof that Mahathir has not had any epiphany, and remains as stuck in the old ways as ever. After all, this is the same man who held the government to ransom by demanding they construct the crooked bridge in return for his shutting up.

With only Najib and Mahathir as the two serious contenders for the Prime Ministership should Pak Lah step down, I am in no mood to even consider endorsing a resignation from Pak Lah. This is not because Pak Lah can or will captain the country to greater heights (although I'd be glad to have my cynicism disproven) but because he will bring the country down to a lesser degree than either Najib or Mahathir would.

Were Bakri Musa, or someone like him, a viable candidate for the UMNO Presidency, I would not even skip a beat in demanding Pak Lah's resignation letter to the Agong. However, it is a sad fact that Bakri is simply not going to be Prime Minister, and that nobody of his calibre will be able to effectively contest the UMNO Presidency should it become vacant. Having our choices limited to either incompetent but well-meaning leadership, or incompetent and ill-meaning leadership, I'd much rather have the former. And that is why I plea: Pak Lah, janganlah undur.

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