Najib Politics as Theater: In Search of Authenticity

Politics has become theater. We all know that.The red, white and blue imagery and carefully crafted zingers, the inspirational slogans and worked-over speeches, the prepared spin and manufactured cheers are all as familiar to television audiences as the interchangeable video of crashing waves and flapping palms in hurricane coverage.Even the language of politics has become that of Hollywood. Candidates don’t prepare for a debate; they “rehearse” and they are judged on the quality of their “performance.” They are, above all, stars with fans who often respond to the person more than to the issues.It bears remembering that in another pivotal and bitterly partisan election in 1860, most voters had never seen a photograph of the candidates, much less knew that Abraham Lincoln was a tenor rather than a bass or baritone, according to contemporary accounts. Newspaper photographs had not yet appeared, and Edison’s invention of sound recording was years away.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders are convinced of their fitness to govern the country if Barisan Nasional (BN) loses hold of Putrajaya in the coming polls, pointing to their achievements in the four states they currently lead.

The three-party pact of DAP, PKR and PAS now administer the states of Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Kelantan, following their historic electoral performance in Election 2008 when they denied BN its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
DAP publicity secretary Tony Pua noted that in 2008, PR had not expected to make the gains it did, much less being voted into four state administrations.
“But we succeeded,” he said. “Now, we are really ready and that is proof that we are ready to rule.”
Today, the Petaling Jaya Utara MP added that it PR will be judged based on its policies and not just the personalities behind them.
“The policies are more important… it does not matter who becomes a minister, it is the policy (that matters),” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who is elected (from PR), we are definitely much better (than BN).”
In a forum on Sunday, several political observers questioned PR’s readiness to rule the country if it wins the coming polls, saying that there were many unresolved issues that could blight the pact’s performance.
The observers pointed to the protracted and unresolved dispute between Islamist party PAS and secular DAP over the formation of an Islamic state and implementation of hudud law, a contentious topic in Muslim-majority but secular Malaysia.
Lawyer Andrew Khoo pointed out that PR has also not formed a “shadow Cabinet” to indicate their suggested replacements for the current BN administration, saying this restricts the pact’s credibility and confidence in its readiness to govern.
“Although they have a common policy in Buku Jingga… (the) inability or reluctance of PR to form a shadow Cabinet… has meant they are unable to articulate what their policy is going to be,” he had said.
Like Pua, PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub also disagreed with the observers and recounted PR’s achievements in the states it governs as an example of the pact’s ability.
He said PR’s track record was strong enough to dispel doubts over the abilities of its leaders, even if they have never governed the entire country.
“I feel what is more important is our integrity and our track record… these are the most valuable assets that the PR governments have shown they possess.
“We have produced many qualified leaders who can be trusted… no misappropriation or abuse like leaders from BN,” said the Kubang Kerian MP, adding that he was proud of PR’s mentri besars and chief minister.
“For three consecutive years, the Auditor-General’s Report has proven that we have governed well,” he said.
Agreeing with her colleagues, PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar said that not only did PR’s track record prove its competence, the pact’s joint manifesto has also bound all three parties together and shown that they are a united front.
“World history and democracies have shown that it is the wants and choices of the people that will decide who should be given the mandate to rule.
“If the people’s aspirations are not fulfilled, the people will be the judge and select a replacement… on national level, almost all policies and issues of PR have been used by BN,” she said.
The BN coalition has been the only federal government since the country was formed, having previously ruled as the Alliance Party.

YOU'RE BEHIND TIMES, Eli tells Najib: Step down as Women's minister!

It is hard to understand why Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would choose an occassion such as National Women’s Day to insult Malaysian women and our efforts to achieve equality.

Najib, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister, was quoted as saying there is “no need for a women’s rights movement in Malaysia.” According to him, equality has already been given from the start.

Najib further revealed just how out of touch he is with the lives ordinary Malaysians, especially women when he used the example of an elite golf club in the United States that restricts women membership. Women in Malaysia, he says, are free to join any club.

What he fails to understand is the struggle for gender equality is not about gaining admission to elite country clubs. Instead, generations of Malaysian women have been struggling to address the lack of women in decision-making positions, such as Parliament, State Assemblies, corporate boardrooms and the civil service.

We have been fighting to ensure women receive equal pay as our male counterparts. We have been demanding for women to be treated by society with respect and dignity.

In these areas, Malaysia remains very far behind the rest of the world. Despite making up half the population, less than 10% of Members of Parliament are women, while only a small fraction of candidates for public office are female. The recent spate of lenient sentences for those found guilty of statutory rape also served as a reminder how much further we still have to go in pursuit of justice for women in Malaysia.

Squeezing out women

To make matters worse, Najib’s view on women’s rights is apparent not only from his words, but also deeds. This can be seen in the continous
reduction in budget allocation given to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

In 2010, it received RM2.4 billion in budget allocation. The following year it was reduced to RM2 billion, before being slashed to RM1.9 billion in 2012. For 2013, the ministry will have to make do with even less: only RM1.8 billion has been allocated in the recently announced budget. One would think with Najib helming the ministry it would be given priority in terms of funding, but clearly the opposite has happened.

In stark contrast, Pakatan Rakyat allocated RM4.5 billion in its shadow budget, which will include a National Women’s Contribution Fund and childcare allowance.

The Fund will operate as a social safety net for five million women homemakers, and cost RM3 billion a year to operate. In the event that they are widowed, disabled or divorced, they will be able to fall back on the fund for their needs.

Najib’s statement today is a shameful step back in the movement towards gender equality and representation. However it has certainly made clear to the public that he does not regard women’s rights as important. This is why he should not remain as Minister of Women, Family and Community Development.

How cheap is Malaysia? Power is cheap, labour is cheap, the KR1M shops make sure household goods are cheap. And today, we hear it only takes RM20 million to destabilise the government of the day.

Is this a joke, newspaper and television editors? Is this a cheap joke, even?

That’s all for a government that has been in power since Merdeka? A measly RM20 million in a country of billion-ringgit projects and IPOs?

Cheap isn’t even the word to use if this report is to be believed. That foreign agencies ― and Germany’s RM21,400 ― is all that it takes to make the Najib administration wobbly enough to be taken down.

This, a government that is bullish enough to say it can win all states and its two-thirds majority in the next election that seems further away every day.

How do we believe a report using figures plucked out of thin air and without attribution? How do we believe that there are cheap people out there willing to pay such low rates to people willing to bring down a government for next to peanuts? How, sir?

How is it these mainstream newspapers and television stations even report this without checking their facts, sir? That a government that dispensed RM2 billion in direct cash aid called BR1M can be toppled with just RM20 million?

That SUARAM, Malaysiakini, Seacem, LoyarBurok and Centre for Independent Journalism have such great powers against the might of a civil service and media friendly, if not beholden, to Barisan Nasional?

You know what it is, sir? It’s a cheap shot before the general elections, sir.

It shows Barisan Nasional has run out of bogeymen, and it’s easy to tag these groups as agents of foreign groups either jealous of our success or wanting to put in a liberal, Western-friendly government.

And it shows desperation in getting a coherent storyline to tell to Malaysians to be beware of such groups and their message.

But this is what you get on the cheap, sir. A cheap storyline with a lousy plot worse than a B-grade movie.

And a government cheap enough to resort to such base tactics to remain in power, sir.

Sir, thank you for the cheap laugh today. Tell your journalists to come up with more jokes like this to keep us happy in these gloomy hazy times.

RM20 million to destabilise a government….. What a laugh, sir!

Women’s issues are wide and varied. Women make up half of the population, and yet we are under-represented in the workforce and in politics. I speak as one who was a working woman, an eye doctor in government hospitals for 15 years while juggling further studies and motherhood. I also speak as a muslimah and a mother of 6 children.

Thankfully all my children were blessed with the opportunity for higher education and they are leading happy and productive lives now, despite the dark days when their father was jailed. I also speak as a grandmother of three grandchildren.

Today, I also address all of you, as a politician. Thus, it is with this wide and varied experience and understanding that I wish to discuss with you, the key matter of women’s issues.

7 key thrusts

As you may know, the women of Pakatan Rakyat are led by YB Hajah Zuraida from PKR, YB Chong Eng from DAP and YB Hajah Siti Zailah of PAS. They have put together a policy document, called “The Malaysian Women’s Agenda”.

This document calls for seven comprehensive thrusts to uplift and empower women: the need for better education, better health and quality of life, economic equity, social safety net, political participation, comprehensive legal protection from discrimination and nurturing young women.

Spending plans to implement these policies are contained in our Pakatan Rakyat Budget.

Social safety net

I wish to highlight, as a contrast to UMNO BN’s miserly budget, our two most critical policies:

> Caruman Wanita Nasional (National Contributions Fund for Women); and

> Childcare Allowance.

Homemakers to get RM600 a year

We propose the Caruman Wanita Nasional as a social safety net scheme for women who are homemakers. The idea is simple; in the event the husband dies, becomes disabled or divorces his wife, the woman homemaker will have some financial savings to fall back on.

A Pakatan Rakyat government will provide a yearly payment of RM600 to homemakers, whilst ensuring the husband also contributes a sum ranging from RM120 to RM1,200 per year. The scheme’s target is to ensure that a homemaker will have at least a savings of RM30,000 at age 50.

We expect 5 million homemakers to participate in the scheme and it will cost about RM3 billion a year. This policy is not just based on compassionate grounds, but on real life problems faced by homemakers. Homemakers tend to have little to no income, so they almost have no savings of their own. It is also designed to encourage personal savings, and it is part of our broader policy to increase disposable income of households.

RM1,000 child support a year for poor households

The Childcare Allowance scheme is designed for working women of poor households earning less than RM1,000 a month. For every child below the age of 12, we will provide a childcare support fund of RM1,000 a year per child. This will go some way toward helping the working mother pay for a baby sitter for her child, whilst she works.

There are currently about 470,000 poor households that will qualify for this and at an average headcount of 2 children per household being below 12, this program will cost about RM940 million. This is not a handout policy but it is an economic instrument to enable more women to join the workforce.

In conclusion, our two projects for empowering women call for spending of RM3.94 billion. All in, we intend to spend up to RM4.5 billion a year on programs for women. This is 10 times more than UMNO BN’s spending plans for women.

UMNO has been getting a lot of flak of late due to the antics and misguided actions of its leaders including its current president Najib Razak and its former president Mahathir Mohamad. But not all of UMNO’s 3-million-odd members are like its elitist top leadership, given to greed and corruption and relying on racism, race championing and religious bigotry to bail themselves out when the going gets tough.
Ordinary UMNO members and supporters are like other Malaysians – decent and desirous of a prosperous and happy future for themselves and families. They too are at the mercy of the UMNO elite. So are the lower ranking UMNO leaders, the Opposition, the economy, the judiciary, the civil service, the flora and fauna, the rivers and hills – all in the country are at the mercy of the UMNO elite.
But is the UMNO top leadership really so powerful or is this because they have been allowed to get their own way for so long that they have made themselves seem invincible? For example, top UMNO leaders can instruct the police to catch anybody, fabricate all the evidence and charges, prosecute in court and then pack the hapless person off to jail. And nobody can do anything about it! Just ask past victims such as Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh – all three Opposition leaders have suffered at the hands of the UMNO elite.
But is this power or abuse of power? The sudden dawning of consciousness – whether from education, the Internet or sheer evolution and  accompanied by growing public anger – that such behavior is wrong and cannot be condoned is certainly a key spanner thrown into the UMNO works. It brings to an inevitable end an era that Prime Minister Najib Razak and former premier Mahathir Mohamad still hope to cling onto. Based on past record, to maintain power the UMNO ‘warlords’ have never and cannot be expected to hesitate to trample on democracy or abuse human rights.
But time waits for no man or woman, and UMNO too will have to move on. Members may not realize it but change is happening in their party. The initial stages may be crude and in the form of intense never-before-seen factional infighting, but the implosion that is bound to come will allow the pus to finally exit.
In the meantime, it is everyman and woman for him and herself in UMNO, currently the most-watched and dangerous party in Malaysia, capable of inflicting not only enormous damage to itself, its members but also to the rest of the nation.
Muhyiddin Yassin, the outcast
Obviously Najib and his cousin Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein being from the Tun Razak-Tun Hussein clan feel that they have every right to control UMNO and rule Malaysia forever. After all if Mahathir could govern Malaysia for 22-years, what more they with their ‘aristocratic’ political heritage.
The cousins certainly believe they are strong enough to take on Mahathir. They have no need for Muhyiddin, he is not on their radar at all. The current ‘plan’ is for Najib to continue to be the UMNO president and Prime Minister of Malaysia while Hishamuddin is promoted to be his deputy. This is why Muhyiddin is set to lose his post as the deputy premier if the cousins have their way.
At 64, Muhyiddin will have to really hang in there and work doubly hard if he wants to retain his place in both the Cabinet and the party. He would have to show complete obedience to either Najib or Hisham for them to accept him ito their circle.
This is why Muhyiddin has no choice but to allow himself to become the ‘self-appointed’ henchman for Mahathir Mohamad. He needs Mahathir, who is arguably the most powerful ‘warlord’ in UMNO now to keep the cousins at bay.
Mahathir, the king maker
Mahathir on the other hand knows he cannot depend on his sons; they are not clever enough. The 87-year-old former PM has only one hope, that his youngest boy Mukhriz will follow in his footsteps and take over as the new ‘Don’ in UMNO. Sad to say, at 46, Mukhriz is still not up to the mark but as far as Mahathir is concerned, Mukhriz will have to do. Mirzan and Mokhzani – his other two sons – have even less political talent while his daughter Marina has never shown interest to learn the political ropes from her dad.
This is why Mahathir and Muhyiddin are able to form a symbiotic-parasitic relationship. Both need something from the other. Muhyiddin needs shelter and support, while Mahathir needs someone who will do the dirty work and cut a track for Mukhriz to climb up and trump the cousins.
Muhyiddin has always taken care to show a different style from Najib’s. He seldom praises or publicly shows support for Najib’s policies and programs. He is especially disapproving of those that threaten the hegemony and money-making ‘rights’ of the party’s warlords and is quick to label these as being either not in the interest of Malays or the Muslims.
To many party old-timers, the Muhyiddin-Najib face-off is similar to the Musa Hitam-Mahathir challenge. Like Muhyiddin, Musa was practically on his own when he tried to take on Mahathir and this is why Musa failed.
And this is also why Muhyiddin is trying so hard to win Mahathir’s support. He knows he will end up like Musa, relegated to the political fringes if he does not shore up his defences. But so far, the wily Mahathir has refused to fully throw his support behind Muhyiddin, supporting him discreetly and not on all issues, most notably on education and the use of English in teaching Math and Science.
Publicly, Mahathir has still been expressing support for Najib but that can always change and in the blink of an eye too. Politically ruthless, Mahathir would think nothing of pulling the rug from under Najib’s feet – as he did previously to undermine, and later oust, Badawi.
Empty or real threat to SACK
Muhyiddin raised eyebrows when he recently threatened to sack those who sabotaged UMNO especially in the run-up to the coming 13th general election. But who are the people he was referring to? Who are the most likely saboteurs?
Certainly, it won’t be the ordinary UMNO members. The last thing they would want to do is to spend their own money on fruitless pursuits – what can they gain from such activity? It would be different of course if they were paid by their party seniors to create mischief, but this is unlikely to be what Muhyiddin meant when he used the word ‘sabotage’.
If Umno members are deeply angered, as they were in 1999 in the aftermath of the sacking and jailing of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up sodomy charges, they would just vote for the Pakatan Rakyat instead of BN. Or they may spoil their votes.
This is actually the worst form of damage and Umno leaders would do well to keep their members happy, but so far, they have been taking their party for granted, engrossed in their own factional tussling and backbiting.
So that leaves the senior leaders in UMNO. Exactly how serious is Muhyiddin in his threat to punish these leaders? So many have brought disgrace and shame to UMNO including himself.
Najib too is corruption-tainted and unable to shake off the perception that he and his wife Rosmah Mansor are involved in the controversial Altantuya Shaariibuu murder. Even Isa Samad, the former Negri Sembilan chief minister found guilty of money politics, was allowed to contest in Bagan Pinang and rewarded with the cushy and extremely well-paid job of being the FELDA chairman.
Such dubious credential are of course a huge liability to UMNO and certainly a drag on its chances in defending the federal government come GE13. But carrying political ‘baggage’ and refusing to step aside for those with clean records are not likely to constitute sabotage to Muhyiddin. After all he would have to sack himself if they did.
Sabotage to you, loyalty to me!
To Muhyiddin, sabotage is most likely to mean someone doing something to block his path to the PM’s chair. Who are those most clearly loyal to Najib? At the moment apart from Hisham, Information Minister Rais Yatim, Minister in the PM’s Office Nazri Aziz and UMNO secretary-general Tengku Adnan are considered to be the PM’s men. Would Muhyiddin dare to go after any of these leaders or would he attack the layers below – the divisions chiefs, branch chiefs, secretaries, advisers and strategists who would be the ones doing the actual dirty work?
Another point to consider is that infighting is raging hot and fierce throughout UMNO to the extent that Najib is expected to pounce on it as an excuse to delay the GE13 until next year. In fact, he has just announced that the party’s annual assembly will be held from Nov 27 to Dec 1 and that the party elections would be held only after the country’s general election.
Of course, the mainstream media has spun this around, and that the annual assembly could be postponed if GE13 were called. Really? September is already nearing an end. Why announce an event as important to UMNO as its annual meeting with such short notice if there is no intention to see it through? If Najib is so whimsical as to be able to suddenly decide he has been ‘inspired’ to call GE13 after Hari Raya Haji in late October, this completely debunks the myth the mainstream media has been creating to make him look good – that he is meticulous in his preparation. If anything, such impetuosity would only confirm a chronic inability to be decisive.
Most of all Najib should stop lying to the people. Who does not know that UMNO would want to gather all its delegates, give them the pep talk of the year, rouse up feelings of racial supremacy and yet at the same time stir up the false sense that Malays would perish if BN lost before sending them home to hang out the party flags, and convince the rest of their families and friends to vote for UMNO-BN. It is a certainty that rallying the troops would top the agenda for this year’s UMNO annual assembly.
Relax, no sackings or purges until after GE13 – then WATCH OUT!
So Muhyiddin may have just been trying to sound important and powerful when he warned saboteurs would be sacked. Tough warlords like Mahathir would laugh till their tummies ached. When infighting is threatening to finish off UMNO, how could Muhyiddin or even Najib possibly dare to sack anyone? If they did, the party would implode even more quickly.
Perhaps, after the GE13. In fact, sackings and ousters will be the order of the day whether BN wins GE13 or not. If the federal government is taken by the Pakatan, the first head to roll is course Najib’s. The purge will carry on until all those whom his successor – most likely to be Muhyiddin – does not like are removed from positions of influence.
If BN retains the federal government with a result worse than the 2008 general election, UMNO would still be wracked by instability. The difference is that there would be greater decorum in the way the ‘crocodiles’ are allowed to fight in their pit. UMNO would still be the governing party and it would not do to behave like a band of cut-throat pirates out to gobble the crown jewels.
But the outcome would not be much different. Najib would still have to go, although he may be given more time to make a ‘graceful’ exit. And unless the secret deals currently bubbling deep under the surface find the momentum to break up, such as Tengku Razaleigh gaining the support he still badly lacks as of now, plodding Muhyiddin will be crowned the new UMNO top dog. And sad to say – for Malaysians – their new PM!
Rooster No.1
Of course, if BN stunned all predictions and performed better than in 2008 or perhaps even regained their two-thirds of the 222-seats in Parliament, then Najib would crow. He would be Rooster No. 1. Rosmah would have all the overseas trips and doctorates if she so craved. Another dynasty would be entrenched, the Mahathirs would be kicked out. Hisham can then finally breathe easy and look forward to his reward of taking over once Najib is ready to relinquish the post.
Amazing? Comical? Stage-managed? Unbelievable? Then what about the antics of Perkasa, the butt-exercising army veterans at the home of Bersih chief Ambiga Sreenevasan, the disappearing immigration records of the murdered Altantuya Shaariibuu, the miraculous escape from prosecution of Mahathir and his Lingam tape cronies?Sad to say, even after 55 years of independence from colonial rule, this is still the state of play in Malaysia’s political arena. For how long more will such backward politics reign depends on how Malaysians vote in GE13. But even if they continued to choose UMNO-BN, reforms will still come to Malaysia eventually, although it may take another 55 years! Happily for Malaysians, this is the least likely scenario. Isn’t it?
As we’ve watched campaign 2012 at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, these ideas have been very much on our minds. How can the media create space for authentic dialogue and real ideas when politics have become so theatrical? Today at 12:45 p.m. MST in Denver, Aaron Sorkin, Senator Al Simpson, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Chuck Todd will join me for a conversation on the subject that can be viewed live online here. To show what we mean by Politics as Theater, we prepared a shortvideo of some classic examples, which you can watch here.
It is now a huge advantage, if not an absolute requirement, that a candidate for high national office be a good actor. Ronald Reagan’s delivery of his lines was that of an experienced thespian, and occasionally there is a natural, like Bill Clinton. But at a minimum, a credible candidate must be able to act authentic. Not be authentic. Act authentic. The theater of politics is a massive effort to manufacture a sense of authenticity.

Our realization that politics is saturated with showbiz has made our occasional glimpses of genuine authenticity highly prized. But in a poignant irony, the only political performances that are sure to be considered genuinely authentic are the disasters. The huge importance of gaffes is that they seem to reveal something unscripted, which means that genuine authenticity almost always harms those who commit it. Perhaps the most authentic thing in the 2000 presidential race was Al Gore’s awkward inability to appear sincere. If he could have convincingly acted sincere, we assume he would have.We yearn to feel that willing suspension of disbelief that makes movies and plays so engaging and real, and woe to those who fail. In the political arena, incompetent acting is punished more savagely than on the Broadway stage, and Gore’s bad acting was treated as a character flawClint Eastwood’s unscripted conversation with a chair was judged the only unquestionably authentic moment in a convention whose theatrical refinement was honed down to color of bunting and speed with which the balloons would flow. And the impact of Mitt Romney’s surreptitiously-taped speech about the 47% was all the more damning for being unintended for public view.The most terrible price we pay for politics as theater is that it taints some genuinely authentic political moments and robs them of their full power because the audience, conditioned to be cynical, senses the stage managers just out of camera range.

As we watch the debate tonight, we can be sure that both candidates have rehearsed prepared lines that they will speak regardless of the questions they are asked.But there will be two actors on the stage and the debate will be to some extent an improvisation where even the best prepared line can prove disastrous In 1992, Dan Quayle delivered a carefully crafted answer in the vice presidential debate to a question he knew he would face about his relative inexperience in Congress.”I have as much experience in Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency,” Quayle said. It wasn’t a bad line and might have worked for him had he not been up against Lloyd Bentsen, an opponent who apparently could improvise like a master. Or, more likely, he had anticipated the comparison and had his own lines ready.

After a dramatic pause, Bentsen said in a voice soaked with scorn, “I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” It was a rhetorical coup de grace.

And great theater.


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