Last March 11, 2017, would have been Tun Razak’s 95th birthday. He died in 1976, his sixth year in office and two months shy of turning 54. On April 3, 2017, his son, Prime Minister Najib, will enter his ninth year in office.
Najib seems so different from his father. Or is he? Is Najib a reflection of his father? Just to pose that question is to commit secular blasphemy in Malaysia. Many Malaysians, Malays in particular, revere the Tun. He was buried at the Heroes Mausoleum at Masjid Negara. The country’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Bapak Merdeka (Father of Independence), was buried in the state and very provincial capital of Alor Star.
“Many” does not mean all. Among non-Malays, excluded from the largesse of Tun’s landmark New Economic Policy (NEP), memories of him are less charitable.
As a young surgeon in Canada in the 1970s I came across William Shaw’s glowing biography of Tun Razak. He was a legend at Malay College, a scholar-athlete par excellence. He breezed through his law studies, completing it well before his scholarship term ended. He could have been a successful lawyer there or have a lucrative career with one the many colonial firms.
Instead he chose to serve his country. He could have been the first native Governor of the proposed and subsequently-aborted Malayan Union. He was a rising star destined for great heights. Yet he gave all that up to join the fledgling UMNO, and with that, a very uncertain future. UMNO then, very unlike today, had no plump GLC directorships or lucrative government contracts to dole out.
Tun’s story as spun by Shaw inspired me to return. Then just days after I landed, the news of his unexpected death in London. Sudden and shocking! I was devastated. So too was the country
Razak’s legacy is NEP, and of course Najib. As for Najib’s, it’s too early to tell. This much however, is indisputable. He has burdened Malaysia with a humungous debt to be borne for generations. The full liabilities are not yet known. With most in foreign currencies and with the ringgit fast becoming worthless, those debts would only get worse. Crippling cuts to hospitals and universities are just the beginning.
Also indisputable is this. America’s Justice Department has filed its largest asset forfeiture lawsuit under its corruption and money laundering laws. “Malaysian Official 1,” aka Najib, is alleged to have siphoned off a staggering US$3.5 billion from 1MDB. Singapore has already convicted some of the culprits. Together with Switzerland, Singapore has also shuttered the banks involved.
Najib is both corrupt and incompetent, a lethal combination. Now desperate to hang on to power, Najib adds a third and volatile mix–religion. He regularly sports white jubbah and kopiah, a la the Bedouins. He unabashedly apes his predecessor in leading congregational prayers, an imam wannabe, with camera crew in tow of course. This from a man with Bill Clinton’s sexual proclivities but minus the compensating intellect.
Those desert accoutrements are harmless, more juvenile. Far more dangerous is his cavorting with extremist Islamists. Earlier, Najib exhorted UMNO Youths to emulate ISIS. Now he eggs on PAS Hadi with his mischievous RUU 355, the so-called Hudud Bill. In plural Malaysia, that is playing with religious fire, a potential hell on earth.
Razak too co-opted PAS following the 1969 race riot. While he acted from strength, Najib is from weakness. Make that desperation. These observations on Najib prompted me to reassess my hitherto hero, Tun Razak, spurred by the village wisdom, Bapak borek, anak rintik. Literally translated, frizzled roosters having spotted chicks; idiomatically, like father, like son. We do not become the characters we are out of nowhere. Our parents in particular shape, influence and develop our beliefs, morals, and assumptions.
As a kampung youngster back in the 1950s, I remember Minister of Education Razak exhorting Malays to send their children to the newly-established Malay secondary schools. Many fell for his sway, dis-enrolling their children out of English schools. The consequences of that initiative, and his education policies generally, are now plain.
I was a temporary teacher at one of those new Malay secondary schools back in 1963. I was appalled at the atrocious quality of the textbooks and the total lack of preparation for the new system. As a consequence, generations of Malay children paid and continue to pay a terrible price for Razak’s folly.
My saddest moment visiting the old village today is seeing my former English school classmates whose parents had switched them into the new Malay stream. They are stuck in the kampung; their education had failed them. Their only comment on seeing me was, “Your father was wiser than mine!”
What was my father’s wisdom? We should not listen to what our leaders say, rather follow what they do. What did Razak do for his children? He sent them all to English schools, and in England to boot! Hypocrisy would be too mild a term for that!
Today his son Najib is asking Malaysians to be frugal and civil servants not be corrupt. Laughable! Many in UMNO today are taking my father’s advice. They don’t listen to him but follow what he does! While Najib, his family, the Lows and a few of the highs like that Goldman Sach bonds salesman get hundreds of millions if not billions, those UMNO kutus are satisfied with a few devalued ringgits and some leftover contracts as rewards for their sucking up to Najib. Malays are not mudah lupa (forgetful lot), rather mudah puas hati (easily satisfied).
Returning to the shock of his death, Razak hid his lethal cancer from his family and country for years. Even his last desperate flight to England seeking medical treatment was undertaken in an elaborate ruse. A leader not trusting his people. Razak deceived not only Malaysians but also his loved ones.
Our Prophet(pbuh) counselled us to lead a life as if we would live forever (meaning, plan long term), but be prepared as if you will die tomorrow (keep your affairs in order so as not to leave a mess). Razak failed to prepare his young family as well as the nation. With five young sons, and a wife unprepared, that was the height of paternal irresponsibility.
In his memoir, Tunku lamented how Razak went through elaborate machinations to topple Tunku, or at least forced him to resign following the May 1969 riot. If only Razak had been straightforward and confided his wish to Tunku, he would have stepped aside sooner. There was no need for Razak to undertake those dirty, unseemly backroom maneuvers. Despite being comrade in arms for over a quarter of a century, Razak still did not take Tunku in his confidence.That was Tunku’s assessment of Razak’s character.
There is a picture of a young Razak in a Japanese Imperial Army uniform. His apologists spun that as his being a ‘secret agent’ for the British! Only with imminent Japanese surrender did he switch sides. There should be a special word to describe such Benedict Arnold duplicity. “Coward” and “traitor” would not do justice.
Young Razak was no Lieutenant Adnan. He wore his Malay Regiment uniform with pride defending his Tanah Air against the Japanese. Adnan gave the ultimate sacrifice; a wira sahih (genuine hero).
Note the parallel between Razak’s Japanese uniform and Najib’ Bedouin trappings. Najib also has a political father. Mahathir mentored Najib and more than just greased his ascent. Najib is Mahathir’s most obscene legacy. The redeeming grace is that Mahathir now recognizes his error and is desperate to rectify it. It must pain him to spend his retirement years on this onerous but necessary dirty duty.
Muslims believe that Allah punishes us in this world to spare us a more horrible one in the Hereafter. That belief is a salve to our current travails. As to what awaits us in the Hereafter, only He knows. That aside, I pray for Mahathir’s success, not for his salvation but Malaysia’s.
As for Razak, may his soul rest in peace. His early demise spared him the agony of witnessing what he had bequeathed unto Malaysia through his oldest son, Najib Razak