INHERITED TRAITS: The sense of mission and zeal that the second prime minister fostered continues with his son, Najib
READING the tribute by Datuk Seri Nazir Razak on the 38th anniversary of the death of his father and second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein this week brought back memories of my and Malaysians only experience of the passing of a sitting premier.
As a student in a secondary school in Kuching then, when black-and-white television was still a novelty, to say nothing of 24-hour television news channels, one couldn't help noticing that Razak appeared ubiquitous, campaigning during election time or tirelessly inspecting development projects across the nation.
It was almost surreal to wake up one morning to hear a teary-eyed Tun Hussein Onn, then deputy prime minister and taking on the job bequeathed to him just some two years before when a heart attack felled his predecessor Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, announcing to a shocked nation the sad news that Razak was no more with us. As we were later to find out, very few indeed, even among the inner circle of government, knew of Razak's lonely struggle against a fatal ailment.
Razak's legacy in safe hands ~Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was an ubiquitous presence
in the lives of Malaysians during his premiership.
The unexpected and untimely death of Razak was also to thrust upon his eldest son, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, almost fresh from university, a long and varied political apprenticeship, first in his home-state of Pahang and later nationally, culminating in assuming the mantle of prime ministership more than three decades after his father left it abruptly.
How the country has changed and evolved, from the time Razak, who assumed leadership when the nation faced political crisis brought on by the May 13, 1969 tragedy, through the tenure of Hussein, the prime ministership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and the complex political landscape of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration to the political legacy that is Najib's today.
Malaysians will naturally look back to the time of Razak with nostalgia and fondness for a far simpler time, with the nation assuredly on the ascendancy despite the severe political setback of 1969.
There was, to be sure, this sense of mission and zeal that Razak engendered and fostered, particularly among political leaders, that propelled the nation forward and which endures even today, no doubt serving as the guidepost for our continuing charge forward.
There are nay-sayers today who would argue that the nation has lost its way. The nation today undoubtedly faces challenges largely absent during Razak's time. But these are challenges largely brought about by the breakneck economic progress we have achieved through a leadership imbued with the zeal and sense of mission instilled by Razak.
If anything, that missionary zeal would only have been reinforced under Razak's son as prime minister. The political context may have changed beyond recognition and a vastly more complex and, therefore, more difficult political milieu thus confronts us today. That is only to be expected.
We thus hear today of various discordant political voices -- even within Umno and Barisan Nasional-- which can only be signs of a healthily vibrant democratic political culture.
That Najib today faces criticisms by political conservatives from within and liberals from without must surely indicate -- in the somewhat perverse but quite accurate yardstick Dr Mahathir uses to measure effectiveness and efficacy -- that the prime minister has got the political balance just about right.
It is equally to be expected that as the nation today navigates challenging waters as never before experienced, some would hark back to the simpler days of Razak while others hanker for the certainty of Dr Mahathir's more muscular wielding of power.
Both are unrealistic, as times have changed and with them, the imperative to adapt. Razak's stern and austere stewardship of the country fitted a nation coming out of a political crisis. Dr Mahathir's strong-willed leadership succeeded in getting the nation where he wanted it to be.
In the much more diffused political climate that the general election last year ushered in, a more deft hand and lighter touch of the leadership tiller should be just what the nation needs.
The nation will be reassured with the leadership zeal that is perhaps the most important legacy of Razak now passed on to his son, our current prime minister. It is perhaps the best guarantee that the nation will prevail, unlikely as it may seem to some -- then as now.
John Teo | firstname.lastname@example.org NST Online Opinion Columnist17/01/2014