There are certain economic indicators for judging if we have attained the high-income society we aimed for in Vision 2020. Unfortunately, we have failed to make the mark despite the warnings by those who could see the impediments in the way decades ago. And we cannot simply move the goal posts like we can with other domestic policies.
Nevertheless, our nation can act and behave in a manner that at least helps the economy and society along the path to developed status. Read any regional and international report on the state of the Malaysian political economy and we will see the hesitancy of investors because of the uncertainty of the transition of power everyone expected after the 2018 general election.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad now says he will only step down after the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit because, otherwise, it would be too disruptive. Is he saying that if he handed over the reins of power to the PM-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim on or before May 2020, Anwar would be incapable of hosting Apec at the end of the year?
What does it take to be host of Apec?
What exactly is involved in hosting the Apec summit that no other Malaysian leader can do except for our nonagenarian prime minister who had already hosted Apec in 1998?
Apec is a multilateral economic and trade forum committed to reducing barriers to trade and investment. The Apec summit is aimed at promoting dialogue and arriving at decisions on a consensus basis. Apec member economies report progress towards achieving free and open trade and investment goals. Every year, one of the 21 Apec member economies plays host to Apec meetings and serves as the Apec chair. The host economy is responsible for chairing the annual Economic Leaders’ Meeting, selected ministerial meetings, senior officials’ meetings, the Apec Business Advisory Council and the Apec Study Centers Consortium.
Malaysia could do the job in 1998 – more than 20 years ago when we were even further away from Vision 2020. Much of the work, as we can expect, is done by civil servants coordinated by the relevant ministries. Anwar was a former deputy prime minister and finance minister and we would expect that he can easily handle this job of playing host to the other Apec leaders and delegations. One would think he will be more energetic than the prime minister to do the job.
Our new year wish for elderly politicians to step aside
When Pakatan Harapan chose Mahathir as their “interim prime minister” after GE14, it was a slap in the face of the Reformasi Movement that had emerged in 1998 in response to Mahathir’s sacking of Anwar and his 22-year autocratic rule. It exposed the political bankruptcy of PH and caricatured “the audacity of hope” they had promised the nation.
There is a piece of show business advice that our elderly politicians should learn: “If you don’t know when to get off the stage, then you know you have stayed too long…”
Malaysian politicians like to pay lip service to their respect for the late Karpal Singh, yet they ignore his famous statement that “no one is indispensable”.
It is no coincidence that these elderly political leaders control their own political parties and all prospective candidates in the party are beholden to them. They also hog the federal as well as the state seats using the justification that they are indispensable.
Democracy is about providing leadership opportunities for others
Meaningful democratic organisational development involves providing opportunities to as many people as possible and especially empowering the young, women, indigenous people and the marginalised.
In our society, there are so many individuals with untapped potential for leadership as if that is not clear for all to see. In recent years, we have seen the surge of many young capable leaders in politics, including women from various ethnic origins.
Even the ancient sage Laozi could appreciate what true leadership is: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves. Isn’t this a far cry from the elderly leaders whose delusion of grandeur make them cling to power?
Let us hope that 2020 will bring forth exciting young leaders who can transform our gloomy, tired and neo-liberal political scene and lead us into a progressive, just and democratic future.
For the moment, Mahathir should swiftly dispel the uncertainties and prepare the way for Anwar to take over as the PH-designated prime minister by May 2020 and set the sails of the nation to greater heights.
Remember when Barack Obama was visiting Africa in 2015, he made a pointed reference to the aging dictators there who refused to step down: “I don’t understand why people want to stay so long, especially when they have got a lot of money,” he told the 54-member AU, an apparent criticism of African leaders who have done just that. “Sometimes you will hear leaders say ‘I’m the only person who can hold this nation together’. If that’s true, then that leader has failed to truly build their nation.”
There’s also that famous quote by Nelson Mandela: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.