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Anwar Ibrahim’s Style Revisited: Never Stop Asking

In Blogging, Malaysia on October 1, 2008 at 11:49 pm

( I suggest you read this in stages as it’s a long one. Answering a simple question: Is Anwar our only choice? If not, what can you do).

On 25th Sep, I wrote a post about Anwar Ibrahim’s political style.

Briefly, my point was Anwar is an opportunist in politics. For all his reformer credentials, his ideology is closer to Bush and the neo-conservatives such as Wolfowitz, Cheney, etc. than a believer in constitutional liberty or liberalism.

The neocon government of Bush lied to the people and their Congress (our Parliament), imprisoned individuals on nothing more than hearsay in Guantánamo, dismissed public prosecutors who refused to bend justice and stood up against the White House, and, in recent days, belligerently asking for tolerance from the American people and support from Congress in the latest Wall Street crisis.

The American public knows how to stand up to their politicians – Bloomberg’s reporting on the recent USD$700 billion bailout plan:

The plan would benefit “a bunch of rich good old boys,” said Seattle bicycle messenger Mark Pilder, 39, on a break from his downtown deliveries. “They’re not going to lose money. They’re shifting the burden to taxpayers. The ones actually making the decisions aren’t in danger of losing any money.

A bunch of rich good old boys is correct. That’s what we should call BN, not just UMNO, leaders like Mahathir and Anwar. They get all the glory, power and money. What do you get? Know the nickname of General Patton? ‘Old blood and guts’ – Anwar’s guts, your blood.

This is repetitive but it has to be said: Anwar dares to bullshit because he knows the general population, or at least bloggers, of Malaysia will believe him.

Anyway, my post above generated 2 comments from ‘Outsider‘, which essentially said that he could not trust politicians but Anwar is the best of the worst, so we have no choice but to elect him anyway.

Please read that earlier post or, at the very least, Outisder’s comments before going further.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Democracy Is About Choice

Let me be clear at the start, democracy is nothing but choice.

Your choice: If you don’t think you have a choice, a say in the election of your representative, it’s not democracy. If you tell me you are too lazy to think, then it is not the democratic system but the failure of its citizens. The inattention by Americans got Bush elected. Anyone still doubt Bush was a bad choice? Today, the world’s last remaining superpower is totally indebted to China, and facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Even our hero, Mahathir, is taking potshots at them.

In a complex society like Malaysia where issues of multi-ethnicity and religion creating our pluralistic society, the only way to succeed is to acknowledge that ‘ the devil is in the details’.

Exactly because we are multi-racial and multi-religious in our outlook as Malaysians, we need a higher standard, a deeper commitment that we, as Malaysians, can see past skin colour, cultural intolerance and bigotry.

Raise the bar, not lower it – because Malaysia deserves better. This self-fulfilling deception, “We have no choice“, “We have no choice“, is the reason this country has not done better all these years.

If you do not expect our leaders to be honest, they will not be honest. Simple as that. It’s called the halo effect.


2) We Wouldn’t Want A Mullah From PAS As Prime Minister, Would We?

I do not know much about ‘mullahs from PAS’ but I refuse to believe rational Malaysian Muslims cannot appreciate universal values for a progressive society, regardless of faith.

The issue of religious fundamentalism vs civil liberties is a false argument – one that Mahathir and Anwar has been playing both sides to shore their support base for the past 30 years, since 1969.

Unless we see pass the sensationalism thrown at PAS ideology and understand real concerns of PAS followers, we cannot begin the process of accepting their ideology as valid and reasonable beliefs. I am neither a Muslim, nor a scholar of PAS ideology and I will leave this argument at that, except to say PAS followers are Malaysians too.

Australia, UK and USA have been scrambling like headless chickens, trying hard to understand their own Muslim community after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001. Yet, we do the exact opposite.

Whereas we have, on our very doorstep, Muslims who we know as fellow Malaysians and have the benefit of Muslims and non-Muslims working, living and dreaming together for a better future – our local politicians do the exact opposite and play up fears about Muslims and their ideology.

I cannot understand this small-mindedness of some local politicians. That’s not Malaysian.


3) Anwar As An Icon For Reform

Anwar’s populist statements, “ISA has to be repealed, “issue of democracy”,”freedom and the rule of law are exactly what every politician would say.

Didn’t Badawi say it? Didn’t Mahathir say it? Anwar is no different from any other politician.

The only issue to be decided should not be whether he says it, but whether we believe him when he says it.

This ‘politics by slogans‘ has infected everyone because I know it’s empty when I hear some individuals talk about it, like ‘”check-and-balance’ in our government“. Do we elect them as well? I can teach my 25 year-old nephew to talk like that too. Please don’t tell me we’ll elect him too!

No, we should be scrutinising all politicians, as and when, they speak. They need to match words to deed. McCain forgot how many houses he had in the current US Presidential election, at the same time claim he can speak for the common folk. Guess what happened? He was met with howls of derision from all quarters. And that’s exactly right. I laugh when I see Anwar go through his list of favourite rhetoric lines.

If we want to talk about Anwar’s intellectual ability, let me say I do not believe Anwar because his reformist policies fail to make one important point: Laws are mere instruments. Principles, not laws, provide real guidance in decision-making. If Anwar quotes law, you quote him principle and he always seem befuddled after that.

Like I said – I have seen progress, I have worked for it and often it‘s difficult because we did not have laws to tell us what is the best course of action to choose – we had only principles.

Principles lead, laws come after that. I say again: Principles shape our arguments (i.e. debates and discussions); Laws merely give form to our policies after we have debated and discussed. Never the other way round.

Not once, I repeat, not once have I heard Anwar go in any detail with his ideas. It’s all populist rhetoric. If you tell me he has written books, I would reply with one word: Ghostwriters. I cannot back up this assertion, but you watch Anwar when he is asked tough questions. The replies he gives – is that what you’d expect from a great mind?

So, if I stick around long enough, that’s how I’d do it – ask the tough questions and have the courage of your convictions to believe yourself, instead of believing Anwar Ibrahim.

4) National Sovereignty

Coming back to principles, I say Anwar is an unprincipled leader because he has never been guided by principles. He is an individual that makes decisions that fail to serve Malaysians. Don’t be fooled by his comments about repealing this law, or enacting that law. All the laws in the world backed by the most enlightened judges are not enough.

The most independent judiciary interpreting a brilliantly drafted Constitution cannot stop a strongman from bending the system and causing absolute havoc to a newly independent country – even a progressive one founded by Nelson Mandela. See this analysis on why Thabo Mbeki had to resign recently. Not only was he indifferent towards the needs of South Africans, he was also seen as a Bush crony.

In some countries – such as South Africa – where the citizens take pride in their independence, they dislike it if their leaders need foreigners to speak up for them. It’s called the ‘Westphalian model’ in international relations – another word for national sovereignty, as in Malaysia is a sovereign nation.

I read somewhere in our blogosphere, Anwar recently had two individuals – Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (SC is the highest court in USA) and Gus Dur, the former President of Indonesia – speak well of him or recommend his character. I am sure they are learned individuals, and I will not put down their ability.

But what has that got to do with who we, MALAYSIANS, decide what is best for ourselves? Is Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or Gus Dur Malaysian? What, you want Putin, Hu Jiantao and Sarkozy to choose your next Prime Minister?

I am insulted that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and President Gus Dur think they should have any influence at all in whom I want to vote for as my next Prime Minister. Thanks, but no thanks – I can decide for myself.

In most places I have been, national leaders do not need foreign dignitaries to speak for them. In fact, it’s an insult to even try that. Tell me again why Blair ‘retired’ as PM and became UK’s envoy to Middle East. Hint: Bush and Blair mentioned in the same sentence one too many times.

Yet, in Malaysia – our patronage system has turned Malaysia’s bloggers into lapdogs or nice kittens (more on this below).

Before we leave this point, let me ask – why do you think Anwar had these individulas publicly support him? Because you will be swayed? And why do you think Anwar believes so? Has it anything to do with the lack of scrutiny he gets from blogs in Malaysia?


5) Anwar is the best of the worst of Malaysia’s politician, what choice do we have?

Well, perhaps.

On one level, it is a purely personal choice (see above) and the Faustian bargain may be worth the risk. But that would be to shirk our responsibility – to our future, your children’s and probably their children’s too.

I look at it differently.

I do not like Faustian bargains and I don’t dance – neither with the devil nor the sea. We can say, this time, we don’t want to set a lousy example for our next generation. That it’s not OK to be irresponsible for your actions and decisions. That if our leaders made mistakes, they apologise. Then, only then, we need to consider if such losers deserve a second chance.

Selecting a Prime Minister is not like a messy Massa fill-up in a pit stop, as in the recent Singtel Singapore F1 incident. This person holds the highest Executive Officer position for 5 years. And he has much resource to use, or waste. Also, the powers vested in this office has been known to be abused (ask Raja Petra and the others and see Zaid’s letter on past abuses and the importance of Rule of Law).

When it comes to making decision for the public good you should fear more the danger of electing an unprincipled populist to the highest office by omitting to scrutinise Anwar Ibrahim than that of hoping Malaysia will progress faster. It’s penny-wise, pound-foolish.


6) You have 5 years: Until 2013

After all, the March 2008 general election was not invalid, nor undemocratic. We should have at least about 5 years to figure this out. Five years to scrutinise Anwar’s record.

More importantly, as mentioned by Outsider, less than two-thirds is always a good thing – the government will have to serve Parliament (Article 40), and not vice-versa. To amend our Constitution, our supreme law, it requires two-thirds of the votes in Parliament (Article 66).

Yet, you want to change the balance again after 50 years of trying?

Further, it’s not as if Anwar never had an opportunity to serve, and therefore a blank canvas without a tangible record for analysis. Why hasn’t the government made a greater attempt to discuss his record? Is it fear that it is also a record of BN or UMNO’s performance?

Any exposure of Anwar would also be an exposure of BN’s record under Mahathir’s administration – the corruption costing billions to Malaysians and dismantling of our constitutionally protected civic institutions – our judiciary and the media.

I take all these from Anwar’s admission in a March 2005 interview with BBC’s Hartalk programme. As recently as Sep 2008, Anwar’s closest adviser – Secretary-General of Keadilan, Salehuddin Hashim admitted as much when he said:

“Anwar wasn’t a paragon of justice or virtue. He was part of the racket”

And Malaysians are in a hurry to put Anwar in a big-office, driven in fancy cars with police escorts running the very country which he was once ‘part of the racket‘ that plundered it?

If you haven’t done the scrutiny on Anwar by now, when he is not yet that powerful, what makes you think you can when he is elected Prime Minister? This is what I meant when I spoke of “Malaysian blogs (going) into narcissistic navel-gazing mode“.

Some say blogs made a difference in the last election and they can do that again. I have no doubt that they did make a difference by giving voice to Anwar as a ‘reformer’ – if not overtly, at least implicitly in the many posts running up to the March 2008 elections.

Let me ask, did Anwar say: Do not vote for National Alliance (Barisan Nasional) because the Opposition’s policies are better?” Or, did Anwar say: “Vote for any one you wish except our government?

We all know it was the latter – it was a protest vote. Except now Anwar keeps harping about his mandate to be Prime Minister because the people voted for his policies.

What policies? When did Malaysians discuss and vote for his policies? During March 2008?

So let me just say: Blogs in Malaysia reduced the two-thirds stranglehold of the government over Parliament, but they did absolutely nothing in terms of scrutinising Anwar.

Why lie to yourself? Are Malaysians that desperate to keep changing Ministers just for the sake of saying we, the Oppostion, can form a government? What benefits do you foresee in electing Anwar and his party to government? How do you know he will perform as he promised? Remember, even Tunku Abdul Rahman lied.

“Regrettably, Tunku Abdul Rahman himself reneged on his promise”

Zaid’s open letter to Badawi – 29th Sep 2008


7) We Will Create a Check-and-Balance After Anwar is Elected: Can You Say ‘Cognitive Dissonance’

What you mean to say is, once Anwar is elected, we will ensure he does as promised.

May I ask:

  • Do you and your coffee-shop friends, the ‘chattering class’, really have the knowledge, experience and judgement to go toe-to-toe with Anwar and his cohorts?
  • Another way to ask: Can you say Anwar is incompetent, dishonest and purely opportunistic in his endeavours and, is therefore, unfit to become Prime Minister?
  • What information / documents do you have?
  • Have you done anything all these years to try and make this case?
  • Are you even capable of making a case?

As for me, I have ruffled feathers and this blog is a mere 30 days old – Anwar was not on my radar till my recent return to Malaysia.

Let me ask again: What have you been doing to scrutinise your next leader since he started in politics?

You can call that scrutiny. But I will call it ‘cognitive dissonance‘ – a quite common occurrence in the world of politics and business leadership. It’s so common psychologists has a name for it!

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon …. It occurs when there is a discrepancy between what a person believes, knows and values, and persuasive information that calls these into question. The discrepancy causes psychological discomfort, and the mind adjusts to reduce the discrepancy.

In ethics, cognitive dissonance is important in its ability to alter values, such as when an admired celebrity embraces behavior that his or her admirers deplore. Their dissonance will often result in changing their attitudes toward the behavior.

Dissonance also leads to rationalizations of unethical conduct (my emphasis), as when the appeal and potential benefits of a large amount of money makes unethical actions to acquire it seem less objectionable than if they were applied to smaller amounts.”

As for scrutinising Anwar, I think not. As I said earlier, ‘For a better Malaysia the bar is set tremendously low in Malaysia. The general population is not able to understand government policies, let alone debate, discuss and formulate them. Bloggers, or the smarter ones, will have to do it.

Yet, look at comments in the popular blogs. Are issues being discussed? Or are they being characterised? Do you know the difference?

I am sure Malaysia, like any other country, has capable individuals. But they are either co-opted into the established system or, if they are anything like my closest friends, outside the country. Is it talent wasted? You bet (most of them are helluva smarter than me too).


8). 8) My last post on politics in Malaysia

This blog is my contribution to raise awareness. It was to counter, in my opinion, the love affairs that goes on in many, many blogs in Malaysia – that herd mentality.

I see blogs as platforms to voice opinions. Diversity of opinions that will promote greater discussion. But I do not see that in Malaysia.

After toiling endless hours on all types of public holidays in absurd locations during my younger days in public service, this short blog of a month is nothing in comparison. Fittingly, the level of satisfaction is also less because my contribution is less tangible on a blog.

So, I will leave the political arena as the rudimentary mistakes made by our politicians is just like school kids. You can only beat ’em up so much before they really start crying. And I’m no bully. Actually that’s presumptous of me, but I’m trying to make the point that we should not be criticising our government endlessly. It’s bad for morale (civil servants), it’s bad for our national image and it’s very, very bad for the citizenry – to live in a society that has no real potential. I don’t want to keep criticising my government altho’ they really do not get leadership nor governing.

In any case, can I give a parting shot to my readers and their friends? Never stop asking (as in the BBC copyline). When you read blogs, news, magazines – always, always, ask questions:

  • Who is he? Or she? – Don’t know is not an option
  • Why is he saying this? – Dont’ know, again, is not an option
  • What value does this blog bring to the table? – If you cannot articulate the value in its proper context, you have not understood the argument. (Or, the blog is crap in which case ask why are you reading it).

Finally, our popular blogs in Malaysia. I am loath to name names – the era of McCarthyism by listing names is over. You need to decide for yourself. Yet, there are many blogs out there seeking ‘hero worshippers’. Forget about ’em. Read, think and write for yourself. And if you ever think you want to write to contribute, do it from the heart, not for the pocket.

Politics is not a game or business (tho’ in Malaysia, it seem to be). People die because of political decisions. I have seen it. So, let’s not trivialise politics.

Like I said, this blog is not about me. It’s not a ‘look at me‘ kind of thing. Only desperadoes do that – guys on the last hoorah, the retirees and veterans who did not get enough badges, commendation letters and all that misplaced attention they think they deserve but did not get. Their blogs and comments focuses on the same subject matter they’ve been doing all their lives. Far as I can tell, they add no significant value, just volume.

After 40 odd years of working within the system, these retirees now ‘come out’ and start criticising it for being corrupt and incompetent – as if it wasn’t when they were part of the system.

Others might call it disloyalty. I call them losers, like Anwar. And Mahathir.

Some think Malaysia’s politicians and blogoshpere is akin to MAS, ‘mutual admiration society’. I think it’s that and more. I think it’s MAD – mutual assured destruction.

PS. Look at this article: The tale of the sensitive “citizen” ( September 10, 2008 at 7:25 am), at bigdogdotcom, aka ‘The thirteen million plus ringgit guy rambles on‘. Quite a few readers complimented the well-written article, and one said:

A well written article! I hope you could translate this into bahasa melayu for better circle of readership!“.

Then see the exact same article, by maharaja blogger, published 3 days before – Sunday, September 7, 2008.

What’s going on here? Unless both blogs are from the same person, someone is plagiarising. Yet readers of the popular blog does not ask, nor realise the blatant cloning going on between blogs.

Did someone say they will ‘check-and-balance‘ Anwar when he is Prime Minister? Go ahead if you think you can.

P.S. (again): Zakaria is smart. See how it’s done – deciding if the politician’s got it! (A friend recommended this link, I agree)

  1. You’re good!

  2. Hi meiyen,

    Thanks. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I am actually writing for those who disagree with me. And willing to challenge my ideas so we can have an open forum / discussion of what we seek in our leaders.

    Again, I appreciate Meiyen. But I doubt I can contribute in a climate of ‘love affairs’ in blogs. I just won’t get stimulating discussions and that’s why I’ll stop posting on politics in Malaysia.

  3. Hehehe, I like that – Love affairs in blogs. But haven’t you noticed, Malaysian minds have not gone that far yet, they have been groomed to be either for or against.

    Don’t get me wrong Mike, but I am not totally against the opposition, meaning a certain, Chinese party made to appear like a party for all Malaysians. I am just dead set against their association with PAS and obviously I do not want Anwar Ibrahim to be PM of Malaysia.

  4. Mieyen,

    OK, but even the decision to be either for or against – doesn’t it require an understanding of issues? Scripted answers (or ‘canned’ replies) does not maketh a thinking person – re Sarah Palin and the many politicians we have.

    So, I’m not against a decision per se, I’m against inchoate tendencies disguised as decisions.

    As for your second point, I wonder if you would share. Why? Why do you think DAP is the party best suited for Malaysia? Also, why are you against “their association with PAS”?

    I agree with you on Anwar, he is unfit to lead Malaysia. He has much more to do before he convinces me otherwise.

  5. Dear Mike,
    Hope lies eternal in our human hearts and the hope is that Anwar might make a good choice as PM. The hope is that, having gone through trial by fire – humiliation and imprisonment under the ISA – he would not again want to be “part of the racket.” Although many thought the only way Anwar could be PM is to re-join UMNO if he wants to be back on track on the road to Putrajaya, the man has always rejected that as an option and one has to give him credit for that, even if it really was the other way round – that UMNO, or rather the top fat cats there who have Prime Ministerial aspirations, would never have allowed him to re-join UMNO.

    Sure we have choices. But many choices are unacceptable, either based on race, religious or whatever other factors. Many are unacceptable because they are not in the loop, so to speak, and will never make it into the loop within their, or their children’s lifetimes. Would a Melanau, Iban, or Kapit – – so-called bumiputras – even be able to make it near the loop? I think no. How about Lim Kit Siang, or Lim Guan Eng who also have been through trial by fire? In the context of present-day racist Malaysia, I think not.

    We thought we had a good choice in Badawi. We even welcomed him by giving him a landslide victory in 1994. But we thought wrong. So you can’t say we are too lazy to think.

    Zaid Ibrahim now looks a good choice. But is he willing to come forward, offer himself as a choice?

    Many bloggers and commenters who had a “love affair” with RPK wrote “RPK for PM, our beloved hero RPK.” When RPK was arrested earlier this year he allowed photos to be taken of him behind bars and at first refused to leave his cell, even though he was allowed. Back then his admirers were praying, nay baying, for him to exercise that option but initially refused, saying that he hoped the authorities was lock him up and throw the key away. But apparently heeding the pleas of his teary wife (sob, sob), he relented. That looked to me like such a sandiwara.

    Lock me up and throw the key away? Be careful what you wish for, one often hears said. Did RPK really wished that he be locked up and the key thrown away? I doubt it. RPK for PM? Nah for me.

    Yes I, like you, think, Malaysia, like any other country, has capable individuals. But are they a choice for us. Why not name some you think are good – and acceptable – choices and we can discuss them?

  6. Hi Outsider,

    I see politics as a process, not to annoint anyone with sainthood.

    Politics in any society can be progessive, or regressive. If it’s indeed progressive, the arguments will be what is needed to improve Malaysia including what qualities we seek in national leadership positions, not who is most popular or how many cars/wives/houses/bank accounts he has.

    Neither RPK nor Anwar has the qualities of real leadership – neither has done any public service. Being an overpaid, overfed and corrupt politician does not qualify. Neither does writing strongly worded blogs, verging on vindictiveness, qualify as good leadership material.

    It does not matter to me WHO is the next PM, but WHAT is the content of his/her character. I care whether the next leader is
    – HONEST

    Why should anyone care who it is other than whether this person has the charateristics of a leader. Who knew about Obama before his speech in 2004 DNC? Look where he is today. Why? Probably because he has the traits listed above.

    To repeat, politics is not about the person, its about the process of improving Malaysia. If Malaysians demand greater scrutiny of actions instead of reacting to rhetoric, we’ll get somewhere some day.

    It will be a difficult process because Malaysians need to be competent enough to know it’s bullshit when they see bullshit, instead of kow-towing to titled individuals.

    So, my suggestion is to get some education in order that we may discuss the issues, instead of merely characterising them.

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