IT is common knowledge and widely accepted that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, or more fondly known as Pak Lah, is a nice man.
But it is quite disappointing that there are some political commentators who, while stating the obvious about Pak Lah being a nice man, then use this as cover to be overly and unfairly critical of the man.
Their playing to the gallery can be quite disconcerting. It seems that they think they can play both sides; praise Pak Lah for being a nice man yet at the same time please his detractors who allude that Pak Lah is inefficient, weak and indecisive.
Those who are unfairly critical of Pak Lah are conveniently forgetting the circumstances in which he came to office and the baggage that came with the position, as well as the prevailing culture in his party and the general populace at large.
Some people do not understand that Pak Lah was very clear about what was needed to be done after the 2004 General Election.
There was no mistaking what the mandate was for which were reforms – a change of how things are done in Malaysia after the last 22 years of the previous prime minister’s rule and to a large extent the damage done by his maverick deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who actively pursued an Islamist agenda to the detriment of a multi-racial Malaysia.
But Pak Lah is no novice politician. He understood the implications of rocking the boat; he was in fact an astute strategist who found ways to go about getting things done without needing to upset party members and civil servants who needed time to get used to the changes proposed, understanding their ability to change incrementally.
But on the other side of the fence there were equally astute adversaries who knew that they could use this knowledge to their advantage, although they themselves knew it would be impossible for any prime minister to effect the monumental changes required in the short time given to Pak Lah.
Many who know Pak Lah at close range would agree with me that Pak Lah used his niceness to his advantage and at no time was it his weakness.
The strategy to paint Pak Lah as a weak and ineffective leader began in earnest as soon as his predecessor found out that he would not be getting his way in many matters of state.
There was an organised attempt to politicise the most innocent of intentions by Pak Lah to effect change.
The economic corridors concept was an attempt by Pak Lah to respond to the needs of investors who found that Malaysia’s bureaucracy and red tape was preventing them from investing in the country.
Pak Lah realised that he could not change this in as short a span of time as possible which would have required acceptance by a civil service so used to the old way of doing things.
The corridors helped bypass these obstacles so that the civil service would not feel they were burdened with more work and allowing them time to get into step at their own pace.
The 2008 General Election result was a result waiting to happen in 2004, that is if Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had remained as Prime Minister.
I dare say we would have lost more than five states had he been leading the charge then for Barisan Nasional.
But 22 years of excess cannot be corrected in four or even eight years. There is the issue of habit or culture which needs deft handling and I dare say we have the right man in the right place for that now.
Each of his policy announcements was carefully crafted to address a particular deficit – whether it be social, political or economic.
But his enemies within the party and outside were busy working towards denying him the credit he deserved.
A smear campaign was launched to portray him as a nice man but not an efficient Prime Minister.
A concerted effort was made to tarnish him with the same brush of nepotism, cronyism and corruption that was used against his predecessor.
Those employing these tactics were well versed in these tools having been previously the targets of these same allegations.
Political commentators must be careful not to fall into this trap or perpetuate a perception that has been deviously nurtured.
It is to Pak Lah’s credit that today we have a vibrant democratic environment for reforms to take place.
This would have been unimaginable under the previous administration.
And Dr Mahathir’s playing of the race card now is proof of this. And that is not being very nice.
President, National Youth Association of Malaysia.