Lessons for the next leadership

STUDENTS and observers of leadership were treated to a rare "case" of comparative leadership styles on the eve of the polling day. It involved two personalities who have been at the forefront in their own right. Both directly engaged the people to get their endorsement as well as mandate to lead the nation. Both had similar opportunities to do so and their performances are "open" to scrutiny.

More interestingly they used to be in the same camp for decades and were supportive of each other come what may – cronyism and all, even as others were revolting against it. The "teamwork" between the two was likened as "kuku dan isi" – to quote the Malay proverb that describes the level of intimacy.

This was more apparent when one became the preferred successor of the other. A choice that the whole party endorsed (even at the expense of another who had to make way for the "anointed" one).

There was hardly any protest and the transition was as smooth as could be expected. The decision regarded as "politically correct" (if not "perfect" – almost, under the circumstances) met with some caution by those who saw this as the first "test" of a direct "dynasty" (allegedly blue-blooded too) leadership transition for the country.

That the legacy left by the second prime minister somehow gave an assurance of some sort, yet several sceptics – until today – remain pointing to the many "failures" of such transitions. One was that of George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the US – arguably the worst (think "war-on-terror").

Nevertheless, Malaysia took the "risk" hoping that our experience would be different. Whether the "risk" is worth taking will be "read" as the GE14 outcome is unveiled after almost a decade of the "dynastic" rule. This election can be regarded as a national "referendum" on the issue. This is vital so that the next time around we are better informed as there are already a number of potential dynasties in the offing across the political divide. We will not be so naive any more.

With that as background, the two grand finale speeches made about the same time on May 8 from different locations were instructive. Essentially, they were worlds apart. Despite being in sync politically for so long the styles were arguably distinctive, let alone in "substance". More specifically, in terms of styles, the BBC described one as being withering and witty" with delivery in a "relaxed and chatty manner" and "unassisted". Whereas the other was said to be "more stilted" that "lacks the stage presence and biting wit" despite the "powerful advantages" (in terms of unhindered visibility and support) in reference to a separate event that mirrors what was seen on the eve of the election day.

In terms of "substance", the gap is even more striking. That the event took place simultaneously and independently made the assessment more objective – even better than a political debate that somehow has eluded Malaysians. In any case, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the event seems to demonstrate. This is because it has provided an undistracted platform to judge.

Overall, it is plain to conclude that one is a "statesman" while the other is a "transactional leader" at best (see MyView, April 11). The latter is evident from the package of three transactions which was announced to include: full tax exemption for those aged 26 and below, "from 2017 onwards, with immediate effect". The other two are "special holiday for two days – May 14 and May 15", and five-day toll-free Hari Raya Aidlfitri "offer" nationwide, should the said political party win. Dubbed as "the three pieces of good news", they complemented the many earlier ones as per the official manifesto making them look like an "after-thought". All these are to happen hurriedly; this is typical of a transactional leadership style.

In contrast, the other speech made no such "last minute" offers, instead asked for "sacrifice" (without having to lay down lives as in other countries) "to restore and save our beloved country" and "stop the rot" with a mere "plea for Malaysians to go out in force and vote". This call goes beyond the present day but that of "our grandchildren" so as not to pawn the future of our country "for that little bit of money which will not last". Of course, to the counterpart, this is all irrelevant because it envisaged "there is no need to save the country" as it claimed that "country is doing well". And "we are not a party of the past which needs former leaders to be brought back to fight for them."

The perceived gap is baffling and made more so when we consider what and how each speaker was "griping" about. For example, one was focused on Malaysia's poor image internationally as "one of the 10 most corrupt countries", the loss of its dignity and respect.

In contrast, the other leader was lamenting more about "personal attacks" which have been tolerated as part of the national brand of gutter politics.

These are but some of many useful lessons that can be drawn from GE14 "experiences" as depicted by the two party leaders who have since bitterly parted company.

Dwelling in-depth will help further understand what citizens expect from leaders of the next government.

Transactional leadership is no longer acceptable. Fulfilling promises is not good enough any more if all the human values and socio-cultural decorums are trampled on and squandered without any qualms.

The "Rabu" (Rakyat Asas Benteng Utuh) spirit is here to stay.

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