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Southeast Asian Affairs 2005 MALAYSIA IN 2004 Abdullah Badawi Defines his Leadership Patricia A Martinez Politics and National Issues 2004 was very much Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's year. In defining his leadership, he experienced the whole gamut from the triumph of being the reason for one of the most sweeping election wins in history for the ruling coalition ... to heeding the rumblings that had him say publicly at the end of the year that his honeymoon was over. Abdullah quickly forged his own course for the nation, but kept some fundamental dynamics in consonance with his predecessor, the man who steered Malaysia for 22 years. One fundamental he shared with Mahathir Mohamed was a deep sense that it was the government, but more specifically the leader and "the role of leadership", which made the difference in the success or failure of a nation. Abdullah said, "Why is it that some Islamic countries are poor and weak? Why is it that some [Islamic] countries are not poor and weak? There is a difference, and the difference is in terms of the government, the role played by the government and the role of the leadership.1 Such a sense of leadership — whether Abdullah's or Mahathir's — is a heavy mantle to assume. It is even more burdensome when the medium and the messenger change. Mahathir's style of leadership was about deciding, demanding, and if necessary, deriding. However, Abdullah is courteous and consensual, not wont to showing — and thus giving notice — that he wants his way. But Abdullah Badawi knew the enormous task he faced as a leader, because of his huge mandate from the people. Amidst celebrations over their electoral victory in March, he constantly reminded his political party that much was now expected of them. PatriciaA Martinez is Associate Professor, Senior Research Fellow and Head ofIntercultural Studies, Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya. 1 92Patricia A Martinez With that overwhelming electoral mandate from Malaysians came expectations which he seemed to have not fulfilled sufficiently by the end of just one year. Abdullah has undertaken the enormity of reforming governance and politics, but at the helm of the same crew who are used to a far stronger style of leadership and the ensuing conformity it demanded. The 1 1 th General Elections After assuming the office of prime minister in October 2003, much of Abdullah's focus was on the 1 1th general elections that were described as a test ofhis acceptance by Malaysians and specifically his party's constituency of ethnic Malays. This was a widespread perception because even in his own party, he ascended by appointment instead of being voted into leadership. Abdullah's premiership was less than five months old when he dissolved parliament and called for a general election. Therefore the elections were too early to be interpreted as a referendum on his government. Instead, as the huge voter turnout indicated, the 11th general election was about a postcolonial electorate who felt empowered by the right to vote and who turned out in large numbers to do so. The positive and upbeat outlook of such an electorate resonated with the constructive optimism of the Abdullah campaign which offered Malaysians the slogan "Excellence, Glory and Distinction". But most of all, the election results were about hope — the hopes of an electorate with a feudal focus on personalities, and who were ready for a change of leadership even though they gave Mahathir a fond farwell. The vote for the Barisan Nasional (BN, the coalition of 14 multi-ethnic parties that is led by the United Malays National Organization or UMNO, Abdullah's party) was also the particularly developing-nation penchant of staying with the security of a government that delivers a better life, which is measured largely in material terms. In the 1999 general elections, held in the aftermath of the sacking of deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and various financial scandals and bail-outs, voters handed a rebuke to the Barisan Nasional by giving 41 parliamentary seats and a whole state to the opposition. The BN lost the northern state of Terenggannu to the Islamic opposition party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which also won 26 parliamentary and...


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