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Sakmongkol ak 47

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Choosing our Leaders(1)

No: 7/2009

I wrote an article titled the vicious cycle. There I proposed a novel way( new to UMNO people only) to select its leaders. I proposed using a desire to break up the genetic elite syndrome as a basis when selecting leaders. For too long, leadership in this country and UMNO is dominated by the old family network. People like to quote the fact that UMNO originated in the palaces. This implies that UMNO is by nature, elitist. The leadership has largely conformed to this description. Its leaders are mostly drawn from old family network.

You know the revolting feeling seeing UMNO dominated by the old family. From grandfather to father to son to maybe grandson. Apa ini? Family business ke? As many of you are aware, many leaders become leaders because of happenstance. That is, because they are the offspring of former leaders. In other words, they have leadership trusted upon then. And over the years they improved. And assimilate the values in UMNO. From SOBs they become respectables.

What does that prove to us? It proves that leaders are not born. They can be made into leaders. Its nurture. Initially they may be son of bitches. Over the years we can mould them. That should be convincing enough to accept that leadership is open to everyone other than the genetic elite.

When DS Najib took over as Pekan MP in the 20’s , he was still sporting his shoulder length hair. Many of us tend to overlook that because we think the leadership qualities of Tun Razak were passed down to Najib. Probably they have. The same with Hishamudin Hussin. At the time of the father’s death, Hishamudin was just another rookie in the Pergerakan Pemuda. Indeed a non- descript one hanging out with people like the late Zahari Wahab and calling guys like Nazri Aziz, chief. The jury is not out yet on Hishamudin by which to judge him. But to me, he is just average. Mukhriz Mahathir for sometime lived under the shadow of Tun Mahathir. We assumed that because he has a likeable face, good mannerisms, he must, as if by default, inherit the qualities of Tun Mahathir.

They became leaders in waiting because they came from illustrious genealogy. That was the quality that sets them apart from the average UMNO Joe. Having the right genetic credentials. We look at these offspring as the cavalry raining down the plains to save us from marauding Red Indians.

What is my uneasiness about this way of selecting leaders? Two things. First we rely on a traditional system. Malay society has its elite.. the aristocratic network that supported the feudal system. From this we get our leaders. The system is self perpetuating. From fathers to sons and so forth down the line. Old Malay society was a society revolving around the feudal courts. From there, the talent pool of Malay leaders spring forth. Leaders were selected through myth laden credentials- reliance on dreams, supernatural linkages- descendants from bovine vomit, born in buloh betong, transported in a bubble etc. The worth of a person’s leadership were legitimatised using mythologized genealogy.

Possibly later as economic prosperity occurred, mythologized basis of conferring leadership gave way to the more rational explanation of bloodline. Hence the older way of picking leaders gave way to a more rational way of choosing leader- using bloodline.

Even that is no longer compatible to current social and economic development. Liberal democracy and increasing economic prosperity challenge the validity of such basis. Liberal democracy treats rule of law, equality and meritocracy as the pillars on which society develops. Increasing economic prosperity means increasing mastery by humans on their surroundings which make reliance on things like bloodline, incompatible.

Relying on the good fortune of having good genes is a risky way of choosing our leadership. Invoking mythologized ancestry and citing bloodline may be good ways to entertain and enthral audience in balai rong seris, but probably not a good way for selecting leadership to look after the destiny of our people.

Because then, the process of choosing our leaders does not become a deliberate, calculative and deterministic method. It’s the Malay adage of if you are a coconut husk, you float. If you are a stone, you sink. Not a sure footed method is it?


gram.kong 6 January 2009 at 14:46  

You hit the nail on the head.Very few are thrown into it,maybe,Najib is one, the rest were moulded or followed in their father's footsteps because the rewards are just too tempting to ignore.

Gone were the days of Tengku,Razak and Hussein where politics were truly honourable, for the country and for the people.

Today, politics is money, money ,money.Why do you think those in UMNO are fighting tooth and nail to climb the political ladder? It's El Dorado!

LESONGINDEK 6 January 2009 at 14:59  


Pada lahiriah tak disangkal dan memang benor apa yang diperkatakan dalam posting YBB tu - faktor "elitist" dan " bloodline". Tetapi yang menjadi realiti nya adalah ketentuan dan ketetapan ALLAH sebaimana firman ALLAH:



Apa yang dapat dilihat mekanisma dan proses bagaimana pemimpin dipileh. Ketentuan nya telah ditetapkan oleh ALLAH untuk menguji hamba nya.


Navi 6 January 2009 at 15:28  

You are absolutely spot on. The current batch fighting for leadership[ have had greatness thrust upon them, dependent heavily on their bloodline.
Way back in the 60s and 70s we had reluctant leaders, mainly from the teaching fraternity, committed to a cause. With economic prosperity, they were cast aside to make way for the moneyed businessmen to buy themselves their leadership positions.
Once up the ladder, despite reputable bloodline those vying for leadership fought tooth and nail to accumulate wealth with sheer determination to remain in the leadership role that they perceived themselves to be in.
In UMNO, it is not leadership through performance, but through bargaining and bribery.
They cannot be termed leaders in the real sense of the word, but people who have absolute power of wealth to remain in the role and to continue rising.

Anonymous,  6 January 2009 at 16:38  

Pedigree brings instant name-recognition and this familiarity breeds a measure of certainty and predictably, confidence, even doses of stoicism. Joceline Tan describes the resultant personable traits the best. Her poise in narrating the attributes of the Malay ruling-class lends credence, I am sure unwittingly, to the appeal of elitism. She cites mannerisms, demeanour, at times background, family, justifiably so in my reckoning because she must have canvassed Malay sensibilities extensively and impartially to be able to so eloquently narrate Malay politics to admiring audiences.

Conversely, a deeper introspection espoused by Sakmongkol shall probe the nexus between niceties and leadership qualities during a crisis. This has been a recurring theme in this blog. The lines blur as a nice person shall engender the Mawi-quality. Mawi is a high-achiever on the decency-scale. I don't think he is a Jamal Abdillah or M Nasir. The straitened background of Mawi, in this respect, works to his advantage. Do the Malays vote only elitism, then? I am not too sure if the Pemuda Umno delegates in 1982 were thinking about the credentials of Anwar Ibrahim's father when they decided to put him on the fast-lane. What has worked for Hisham Hussein (I am perpetually tempted to add Onn at the end) is also the relationships he has nurtured plus his mannerisms.

The March 2009 party elections however provokes the party into a kind of soul-searching and mental struggle the delegates are hitherto, not accustomed to. Elitism and niceties no longer enjoy the same old-weightage as Umno is staring at a possible defeat in the next general election. It presents a wonderful democratic challenge to the party in the sense that Umno shall be liberated from all cultural inhibitions and U vs Non U impulses because the party must elect vote winners or perish.

Will crisis - possible defeat in 2013 - prove to the greatest leveller and Umno's saving grace? Perhaps this party election will go as far as defining the new qualities of Malay leadership, one that eschews elitism of the old stifling mode that took on a dimmed view of meritocracy.

The new Malaysian political narrative will have to be articulated anew with Umno rewarding talents and a desire to run faster and think harder.

I am perhaps an incorrigible optimist.

de minimis 6 January 2009 at 20:00  

Bro Sak

More than half a century ago, in a different ethos, many people could accept the feudalistic idea of dynastic succession. People were less educated. People were poorer. Literacy was low. Communication was less direct.

Fast forward to the present time, it does sound quite incredible that many people still embrace the aura of family "dynasties". In the U.S. they have perceptions of a "Kennedy Dynasty", a "Bush Dynasty" and so on. In this sense, the idea of genealogical entitlement claimed by some of the supporters of the progeny of Tun Razak and The Onn Jaafar lineage is consistent with the patterns of behaviour in the West.

But such a view is myopic and indolent. It is equivalent to having a frontal lobotomy. Tak payah fikir lagi. Turut saja. Such a view ignores the necessity for an audit to be made of an aspiring leader's track record and the measure of the man (measured against his illustrious forebears and his challengers).

It should not have escaped the attention of many Malaysians that even in the royal succession for the states of Perak and Negri Sembilan, that candidacy is a feature while automatic succession is not.

The logical question is, Why should ordinary mortals, no matter how illustrious their genealogy, then, have an automatic path to succession, when, even some Royals cannot?

Anonymous,  6 January 2009 at 21:00  

Deferring to genetic capital when it comes to matters of leadership succession - unfortunately - is as natural to a Malay as reaching for 'sambal belacan' whenever there is 'ulam' on the able. It's a integral part of the Malay psyche. This is reinforced since time immemorial by proverbs like, "Ke mana tumpahnya kuah kalau tak ke nasi?", and the like. Bucking this paradigm is going to be an uphill battle.

However, it is NOT a battle that cannot be won. However, I don't think we'll win this one in our life-time. But eventually, some day, we prevail.

There is still an inkling of hope for my non-elitist, non-aristocratic descendants yet :-) But before that I will have to make them understand that the mantle of leadership must first be won (earned) through merit and sacrifice.

Anything less will be a sham!

mekyam 7 January 2009 at 02:30  

bangkai said... "There is still an inkling of hope for my non-elitist, non-aristocratic descendants yet :-)".

more than an inkling i'd say, mat b! :D

after all, dr m already bucked the paradigm more than a few decades ago.


for all our readiness to hentam those who want to be political leaders, whether due to bloodline or otherwise...

we must also remember not many people, esp those who seem to be most capable, have the desire or the stomach to go into politics. political parentage or the proverbial "kuah tumpah ke nasi" aside, those who do surely have to be commended a bit too, if only for the bowels to brave the muck that is politics.

i think if we truly want to choose political leaders based on merits, we shouldn't summarily dismiss someone just because of his/her lineage either. that's reversed discrimination and we jolly well could be throwing the baby with the bath water.

perhaps in order to be less chafed with ending up with scums for leaders, the discussion should be on how to be more astute at separating the grains from the chaffs, not on where the seeds come from.

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