Malaysians feel they took a decision back in March — for better or for worse — and now they want the political class to focus on the challenges of administration. No one appreciates watching as one side scores points off another.
Indeed, the anxiety over the economy has meant that public debate over matters of race and religion can and will assume a more “heated” quality.
Certainly, the mainstream Malay-language media and Umno have managed to make many in the community increasingly uneasy about their future.
At the same time, the middle classes, especially the Malay middle classes, are beginning to realise after the fatwa issued against yoga that there are no political parties out there to represent their interests. Moderate Malays have been short-changed by recent political developments. Their constitutional rights have been forgotten in the name of religious purity.
Still, the greatest scorn seems to be reserved for the politicians who can't resist in-fighting. The squabbling between Pas and the DAP — both components of the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat — infuriates everyone. Malaysians understand the deeply rooted structural differences between the two but right now they don't really care.
Thankfully, PR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has at last begun to realise that his most important KPI (Key Performance Indicator) isn't taking power at the federal level but dealing with disputes within his fractious coalition. Malaysians want him to achieve better administration in the five states held by the opposition. They are not interested in his sense of “manifest destiny”. The want results.
Anwar must face up to reality: relatively minor conflicts within the opposition alliance, whether over the sale of alcohol in Selangor or Bumiputera quotas in the Kedah property market, can shape public perceptions of his coalition and of him. If he wishes to be prime minister one day, he will have to learn to focus on the things that matter to ordinary Malaysians. Delivery is paramount. As the Nike ad put it: “Just do it.”
The public exasperation with Pakatan Rakyat should be benefiting the ruling Barisan Nasional. However, long drawn-out power struggles within virtually all of BN's component parties — most notably Umno — have meant that it is unable to benefit from PR's troubles.
Even Barisan leaders I have come across seem to be aware of their party's impending demise. Indeed, it's almost as if they're passengers on a runaway train that they're unable to stop. Money politics is the “kryptonite” factor that makes the whole situation so uncontrollable.
But once again, Malaysians are sick and tired of hearing of “money politics”. They want action, not hand-wringing. If “money politics” is a scourge, then root it out — that's their attitude. Charge the key perpetrators and shock the rest of the jokers into submission. There's a Chinese saying: “You must slaughter the chickens to frighten the monkeys.” At this juncture, most Malaysians would agree with that principle.
Curiously, United States President-elect Barack Obama hasn't been making things any easier for Malaysia's premier-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Obama remains a transformational figure even while doing something as prosaic as planning the composition of his administration. His focus on talent has been breathtaking. He has been willing to take on board former rivals, such as Hillary Clinton, as well as Republicans such as Defence Secretary Robert Gates. His emphasis on ability makes Umno's petty politicking look pathetic.In times of uncertainty, the people want a leader who can unite and inject hope and direction into the national debate. Ladies and gentlemen of the Malaysian political establishment: Malaysians want action, not politicking. And they want leaders who can tell the difference between the two.