Monday, February 27, 2006

The real Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

When I posted Anwar Ibrahim - accused sodomy to accused sedition I mentioned Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as comfortably ensconced in his premiership, and in complete political control. My exact words were “… today PM Badawi appears to be more in control and assertive than ever before.”

Readers wrote in to dispute my assessment. They believed otherwise. Anonymous [who also signed him/herself as ‘Wong’] told me to ‘remove the wool from my eyes’, while offering several examples of Badawi not in control – those being “Rafidah/APs, Vellu/highways, Noh Omar/nude squat, Proton/Augusta, Singapore/bridge & water.”

I thank them, particular Wong, for their recommended readings at several links, and their feedback on perceived Badawi’s failures, but still hold fast to my reckoning. I apologise for not responding earlier to what must have been an irritating KTemoc’s assessment of Badawi. I had been caught up with other articles.

I believe there’s an unjustified dismissal of Badawi as a weak and indecisive leader, one not in commanding control of UMNO. This is unfortunately an incorrect and dangerous perception of him, of which I too had been equally guilty of. Many merely consider him as an interim UMNO leader of limited tenure. I am not an expert on UMNO but as an interested observer I have since changed my mind about Badawi after some reflection. I now entertain an entirely different impression of him as PM [and UMNO No 1]. Let’s examine his career progression.

In 1964, he joined the Malaysian Administrative and Diplomatic Corps (ADC). The Malaysian Civil Service was then of two stratified career paths, the elite ADC and the lower ranked General Services. Some of the various Sir Humphrey-ish positions he served on were the Director of Youth, Ministry of Youth and Sports and secretary of the National Emergency Council. He had about 15 years of civil service with at least a couple of upper echelon assignments before he became a MP in 1978. That’s a considerable span of experience in the corridors of powers, where as a senior civil servant he was exposed to, and might be even involved with the intrigues and party manoeuvrings of his political masters.

When he became a politician himself, he was variously Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Youth and Sports, Defence, Foreign Affairs and the powerful Home Affairs. That too has been a considerable range of experience not only in ministerial exposure, but more significantly, in his ability to foster political allegiance and intra-party manoeuvrings to secure those ministerial posts. Though he made the drastic mistake of being on the Ku Li team, suffering banishment to backbencher duties, he had the foresight to remain in UMNO, the fount of Malaysian political power.

Rather than just dismiss his decision to remain in UMNO - instead of joining the disastrous Ku Li’s Semangat 46 - as typical of a passive bloke, who lacked fire and initiative, one should actually consider that as due to his brilliant strategic assessment. Sitting there patiently in unobtrusive manner he inched his way back into Mahathir’s favour and actually won one of UMNO’s Vice Presidency positions. That could only have come about as a result of his developing and consolidating a strong power base and factional alliances in UMNO. It must be all that more striking when we consider he achieved such a power base during a period of Anwar Ibrahim’s expanding influence and ascendancy in UMNO.

His seemingly infinite patience, quiet mannerism, judicious political timing and actual gains in the upper echelon of UMNO reminds me of a hungry predator, waiting, waiting waiting among the tall grass [of silence] before he suddenly propels himself forward to pounce on the prey [= advantage point in the party or issuance of a prime ministerial decison/policy]. Then, when Anwar fell by the wayside, Badawi’s rehabilitation in UMNO was total and complete, where we saw him fill up the gap left by Anwar.

Even though Mahathir anointed Badawi as his post-Anwar successor, the Old Man was not completely oblivious to Badawi’s erstwhile party alignment during the Team A vs Team B saga. I saw on TV Mahathir’s making this point to a foreign TV journalist who was badgering him on his acrimonious relationship with Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir remarked, words to the effect, that he hadn’t and didn’t pick people to be his successor based on their personal relationship with him or total loyalty to him, or that they mustn’t oppose him. To prove his point, he referred the reporter to Badawi as his successor, a man who had once been against him [Team A vs Team B] but who had remained loyal to the party. Mahathir made this comparison to Anwar in an obvious criticism of the latter’s apparent petulant, self-centred and selfish indulgence in taking to the streets against an UMNO-led government.

Be that as it may, what it has also highlighted has been Badawi’s amazing political resurrection to become the Prime Minister of Malaysia, despite him being earlier on Team B, an astonishing party career achievement unattained by Ku Li, Musa Hitam, or Anwar Ibrahim. And Mahathir’s obligatory or obligated protégé, Najib Razak has to still wait in the wing, subordinated to Badawi.

Now to attempt to answer Wong’s highlights of “Rafidah/APs, Vellu/highways, Noh Omar/nude squat, Proton/Augusta, Singapore/bridge & water” under a Badawi Premiership as indicative of his downhill ability to control UMNO-BN. Why would we imagine Ahmad Abdullah Badawi to be different in substance to Dr Mahathir. Both PMs, and even hypothetically Ku Li and Anwar Ibrahim as PMs, were or are from UMNO!

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