“Perhaps the less we have, the more we are required to brag.”
– John Steinbeck from his book, East of Eden
The majority of the thinking society would feel that a political leader needs to be inherently intelligent enough to know that doing things right is paramount than doing things just to be popular.
Take for example the previous Prime Minister. He wanted to do things which will make him popular with a few factions of people which in the end, led him to become the shortest serving Prime Minister in the history of Malaysia (at 5 years and 5 months, less than Tun Hussein Onn’s at 5 years and 6 months).
Being popular is good for a career in politics but that must be complimented with genuine hardwork and results which people can really see and experienced.
If wanting to be popular for the sake of being popular then people can easily see through the leaders’ smokescreen and be exposed as fake, or a con-artist. Not so much a leader, but a buffoon trying too hard to be popular.
The current Prime Minister and his cabinet has this tendency to be popular with the masses while disregarding the concept of good leadership. We can see the apex of the attempts to gain popularity concocted up by his advisors during the run up of the recent general election.
Ranging from giving too much money to vernacular schools, running election campaigns much akin to the US Presidential election (personality-driven) rather than a cohesive, BN driven (coalition-centric) campaigns, repealing important laws just to pander towards opposition sponsored ‘human rights’, etc.
But all these bending over backwards just to become popular did not yield the returns that they had hoped for. In fact, just as we had foreseen, the majority of the people saw it through and were not impressed. Popularity is never about one-off announcements to wow the crowd. It has never been about shock-factor (just to borrow a few of consultants’ jargons), quick-wins or ‘picking the low hanging fruits’.
Having a crowd to pat you on the back after giving out goodies to people will not make you more popular.
Even Winston Churchill kept perspective on the crowds that gathered to hear him speak by conceding they would be twice as big if they gathered to see him hanged.
Popularity is a series of leadership by example, a series of doing the right things and not flip flopping on decisions that will make you be seen as less intelligent. Above all, popularity will come when you do not seek it.
It’s all about action and results.
Actively trying to be popular without any substance to begin with will only make you look pathetic. Just look at Anwar Ibrahim for example. Those with critical thinking knew him as a snake oil salesman, who would sell his principles just to be popular. Even a foreign publication had called him a chameleon.
Even in his hey days of popularity back in 90s, that couldn’t make him last long in politics. As history sees it, his popularity did not save him from falling in disgrace – exposed for his inefficient handling of the 1998 currency crisis and engaged in morally wrong conduct.
On the contrary and of course as a lesson to the current crop of leaders, going against the tide will often make you last longer in politics.
Take Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad for example. He did several unpopular things during his premiership which will bring dread even to the most courageous of politicians. He sacked Anwar Ibrahim at the height of his deputy’s popularity, he clashed against the monarchy and kept their behaviours in check when a few of the rulers were misbehaving and unruly towards the people. These were extremely unpopular decisions at that time and could spell an end to a political career if popularity is what a leader seek.
But it was the right thing to do and Tun Mahathir did it because it was good for the people.
He even agreed to accept all 600,000 members of Semangat 46 back into Umno’s fold in 1996 for the sake of malay unity – a decision which was highly unpopular among Umno members when the likes of Rais Yatim, Tengku Razaleigh and Shabery Cheek returned to Umno after nearly 8 years as an opposition in Semangat 46.
In 1984, after Musa Hitam defeated Tengku Razaleigh again for the post of deputy president in Umno General Election, Tun Mahathir still appointed the latter as a minister eventhough Musa Hitam, a powerful Deputy Prime Minister and a Home Minister at that time was so much against it.
But he still appointed Ku Li nevertheless as the minister in MITI (albeit downgraded him from the Finance Minister post) since Ku Li is a capable leader and as the malay proverb goes – “kalah sekali, bukanlah kalah semua.”
Tun Mahathir made many unpopular decisions – be it concerning the capital controls during the currency crisis, his unwavering stance in curbing racist and religious extremists as well as his decisions to chastise the west and the jews for their hypocrisy and terrorism.
All these led him to become the longest serving (at 22 years 3 months) Prime Minister in the history of Malaysia.
Can we imagine any of the Prime Ministers after him doing such unpopular things? Of course we can’t. What is lacking in the current crop of Umno leaders is gumption and the believe of doing things right. In its place is the mistaken belief that their careers will last longer if they are popular. Unfortunately, they had got it backwards.
And it’s also a fact that Tun Mahathir is arguably the most popular Prime Minister we ever had. He is a walking and living brand and is a successful one at that. And all that stemmed from the fact of doing things right and not wanting to be popular.
How many times have we hear him say that he is merely stating the truth and do not care what people think about him? Plenty of times. He lives by his principles and sticks to it like glue.
On the contrary, what we have now are Umno leaders desperately trying to be popular.
Take for instance, the Ketua Pemuda Umno who is also the Minister of Youths and Sports. Apparently the day the kalimah Allah judgment was read out in the Courts of Appeal, the youth wing leader of agama bangsa dan negara party was more busy tweeting and promoting himself for a popularity contest.
The Shout Awards is a popularity award show organised by Media Prima to honour popular artists in the field of music, tv, movies and radio.
But lo and behold, a minister crept in and found himself in the nominees list as well!
How more pitiful (deserving or arousing pity) can you be when you are already a minister but still want to vie in a popularity contest? A contest where you are not really in sync with any of the categories mentioned.
Truly this is a new low for Pemuda Umno and Umno as a whole. In the face of current issues facing the party and the malays such as the attacks on the kalimah ruling by the liberals, as well as on other fronts, did the Pemuda Umno made any statements to defend the position? The only notable but half hearted statement by Pemuda Umno was when they seek explanation over news of US spying from its KL embassy.
Apart from that, the now liberal Pemuda Umno Malaysia is more than happy to enter popularity contests or collect Pakatan Rakyat leaders as their fans. God forbid, even the incorrigible Lim Kit Siang is the number one fan of Ketua Pemuda Umno now.
Nobody pointed a gun to his head and made compulsory for him to join this fluffy event. Yet he is there, tweeting and soliciting votes from the masses to vote for him for this award.
The ridiculousness of this glam-craze escapade underlines a bizarre, yet comical attitude of the Ketua Pemuda in wanting to be popular at all cost. The less he have, the more he is required to brag.
But since this is an era of liberalism and where Umno leaders want to be popular regardless if they have any substance at all, we should not be surprised. The Prime Minister and his myriad of advisors themselves are also in the forefront and believer of populist movement.
Just sit back and enjoy the entertainment all these leaders are providing us. After all, Umno is now a play and some of their leaders are actors.
You might like to read this too.