Looking to the young to lead


We are the participants and in many cases, the primary actors. With this enormous power in hand, we must learn to lead with humility, honour and mutual respect. 

THE general election is expected within weeks. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi*s administration will be submitting itself to the ballot box, testing the people*s collective judgment. 

Cleverly, the PM himself, realising the extraordinary mandate he secured in 2004 is unlikely to be repeated, has been downplaying expectations. 

He knows that this time around, the population will be judging him on his achievements whereas in 2004, we were casting a vote with regard to his potential. 

At the same time, the American primaries with their electrifying contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are making many young Malaysians (especially the YouTube generation) feel distinctly under-served.  

We look at and listen to the youthful and energetic senator from Illinois, and wonder what has happened to our own ageing political class, some of whom have been ※serving§ us for well over two decades. 

Still, as a writer who*s been on an extended break (trying to make some money), maybe I*m guilty of misreading the national mood? 

Nonetheless, the return to column-writing is both exciting and a little worrying: exciting in that it gives me the opportunity to explore and analyse Malaysian politics once again and worrying because of the fact that I*ve been spending so much of my time abroad. 

However, you can never truly leave your homeland behind. It remains with you, embedded in your memories wherever you go 每 a haunting presence that acts as a counterpoint to everything you hear and see.  

Moreover, expatriation, the fact of living abroad and at least for a Malaysian in Indonesia, is somewhat cushioned by the vast number of similarities between the two countries.  

Indeed, living for the past seven years in South-East Asia*s largest Muslim-majority democracy has altered my own perspective of home. 

For Malaysians, there is a strange mirror-like quality to life on the other side of the Straits of Malacca.  

Everything you see and touch is both familiar and yet different. Medan and Penang are the best examples 每 markets in both cities ring with crackling tones of Hokkien.  

There are venerable colonial-era plantation and trading houses, small Hindu temples and quietly declining royal houses. 

The only major difference is the presence of the North Sumatra*s ebullient Batak community most of whom are passionate Protestants.  

With their church services conducted exclusively in Indonesian, I have yet to hear of the Majlis Ulama Indonesia trying to prevent the word ※Allah§ from being used. 

Of course, the differences between the two countries are the most pronounced when it comes to the media and political life.  

In Jakarta, reading the morning newspapers is like venturing into the war-zone. On the one hand there are the tabloid Rakyat Merdeka*s explosive headlines ※JK DAN SBY MAKIN KAYA!§ 每 the president and vice-president are even richer). 

On the other hand, the more serious and highly influential broadsheet daily Kompas, withering in its disdain for the President, buries its coverage of him on an inside page as if reporting the movements of a small-town mayor. 

In short, after a few years in Indonesia, you get used to living with a degree of uncertainty and scepticism (some might even say chaos) and whilst I respect and understand the Malaysian aversion to any form of political upheaval, the superficial calm that we have gotten used to doesn*t reflect the very real fissures and stresses below the surface.  

Denying the problems is no solution.  

They still blow up as they did on Nov 27 in Jalan Ampang for the Tamil community. 

Still, it strikes me that the biggest challenge facing the country now is not so much the poverty amongst the Indians or even the growing dissatisfaction of the nation*s half-forgotten Iban and Kadazandusun communities.  

The real challenge is dealing with what I*d call the ※New Malay Dilemma§ or rather facing up to Malay dominance of the country*s public life.  

Look around you 每 the power and influence wielded by the Malay community and its embodiment Umno is overwhelming. But with that power, I would argue, comes great responsibility. 

For a start, I cannot agree with those who would whip up the community*s traditional anxieties: the era of Malay fearfulness must come to an end.  

The Malay community must recognise its real achievements and understand that it will not be wiped off the face of the earth. 

The Malays 每 by that I mean ※we§ - are no longer observers at the banquet that is national development.  

Instead, we are the participants and in many cases, the primary actors. Ramping up the level of fear and anxiety within the community is irresponsible and poor leadership.  

With this enormous power in hand, we must learn to lead with humility, honour and mutual respect because what we have built here in Malaysia, is a great multiracial nation and one that belongs to all of us 每 regardless of race and religion. 

So my coverage of the election period will in many ways take you off the beaten track from the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, to Tawau and Penang.  

I*m more interested in what is not being said in the mainstream media.  

Whilst it is extremely unlikely that the Barisan Nasional will lose its grip on power, we need to look at the younger emerging leaders both in the Government and the Opposition to see whether they will be ready to lead us to a future that is truly Malaysian.