Can Pak Lah step up to the plate?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – Bernama

JULY 6 – After a week of high political drama, all eyes are now focused, once again on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Many feel he has been a passive bystander during the explosive exchange of fire between his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and opposition icon Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Both men have traded bloody blows – some way below the belt – in a fight reminiscent of Anwar taking on former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

While in the court of public opinion Najib has come out worse off, Anwar is also not without his detractors. The latest about turn made by private eye, P Balasubramaniam, in retracting his earlier statutorydeclaration has set Anwar’s charge against Najib back somewhat.

Clearly the situation between the two potential future Prime Ministers is fluid and it is anyone’s guess what the next salvo will be and from whom.

Amid this tit for tat, the stock market has dived and investor confidence was not helped by a full day suspension in trading on Thursday because of a technical glitch.

As if to compound bad news on a day of market jitters, the police announced that it would conduct joint exercises with the armed forces to ensure public order. To most people, having soldiers on the streets means nothing less than martial law.

All of these developments have worsened the sense of uncertainty that began right after Barisan Nasiona’s electoral setback in March. It comes at a time when inflation figures are creeping up partly due to the Government’s move to slash petrol subsidies and development expenditures have had to be reprioritized because of escalating costs.

For most Malaysians, if there was ever a need for strong leadership, it is now. The big question is whether Abdullah can step up to the challenge. The answer is, he has no choice but to do so.
He has to put together the best innings of his political career to get things back on track. Why? Because, for now, there is no other alternative.

With all the accusations and counter-accusations, Najib will need time to repair his image and credibility with the wider public even though UMNO appears unperturbed by the damage inflicted on Najib over the last weeks. Any move for him to succeed Abdullah in the immediate future will cause further instability especially since Anwar has claimed that he has more dirt to dish on Najib.Anwar himself is not an option. For all his huffing and puffing of crossovers from Barisan Nasional, not one has materialized so far. Even the renegade Sabah-based SAPP has decided not to leave Barisan Nasional.

Until Najib is able to resuscitate himself, Abdullah will have to dig deep into his reserve of experience, shake off his indecisiveness and take charge. He has to calm the market by appearing focused on the economy and getting his economic ministers to send out positive signals to investors and businessmen. Government bureaucracy for the implementation of the rest of the Ninth Malaysia Plan projects must be cut so that there is economic activity and the corresponding multiplier effect.

Abdullah must send a clear message to the armed forces to stand down and honour the division of duties between the police and the military. He needs to tackle the spat between Anwar and Najib by ensuring speedy and professional investigations into all the allegations, protecting at all times due process. In the case of the sodomy allegations against Anwar, Abdullah needs to get the police moving quickly to complete their investigations.On the allegations against Najib, a speedy resolution to the investigations into Balasubramaniam’s contradictory declarations will reduce the political temperature considerably.

Most importantly, Abdullah needs to stay in front of the news cycle. Many feel that he is being reactive and merely responding to events as they unfold. As the most powerful man in Malaysia, he should be pre-empting issues and directing swift and transparent responses that can ease speculation and rumour mongering.

This is a tall order for Abdullah. Yet, this is still his mandate and since he has indicated that he does not want to resign, he must prove himself by showing Malaysians that his mind and heart are still in the game. This is a chance for him to come back from the political dead and assert his leadership that has been absent or the last few years.

The odds are against him to succeed, but Malaysia has no other choice for now. Not with the global economic turmoil at our doorstep.


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