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Happy Birthday Pak Lah! 5 things you didn’t know Abdullah Badawi did as Prime Minister

(This article was originally written in 2016. Untuk membaca terjemahan dalam BM, klik sini.)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled day to tell you that the 26th Nov 2020 is actually Malaysia’s 5th Prime Minister Tun Dato’ Sri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi’s  81th birthday!!!

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Air bandungs all around!!1! From.giphy.com

Being a leader isn’t easy, what’s more being a leader of an entire country. Your image is based on the impression of millions of strangers; you’re surrounded by peers that could turn into your opponents, and yet you’ll have keep everything together; you’re expected to care for the welfare of millions of rakyat, understanding and caring for each of their unique woes and worries; all this while leading a nation from the forefront. Now imagine shouldering all this when you’re at the young and vibrant age of 64 – 70 years old.

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Eyes not needed to listen to rakyat’s problems. Image from financetwitter.com

The photos above sums up the image most people will have of him. Though more lovingly known as “Pak Lah”, he was also called “The Sleeping Prime Minister” because of his tendencies to fall asleep. His general image was of inept and weakness, and that was how his opponents liked portrayed him as such. Despite the attacks, Pak Lah rarely engaged in their verbal warfare.

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Original image from topnews.in

We bet most of you didn’t know his falling asleep was due to a medical condition called obstructive sleep apnoea, which kacaus your normal sleeping patterns, causing the person to be lose sleep and be tired most of the day. But not to worry, he has since undergone a successful surgery in Australia in 2007, and claims to be free from the condition.

In light of that, we present to you 5 other things you probably didn’t know Pak lah did:

 

1. He whipped the government agencies into shape

In the past few years, we’ve been enjoying more and more streamlined and convenient government services, thanks to the initiatives of PM Najib’s 10th Malaysian plan. Pak Lah was actually way ahead, and he took it a step further.

In this academic paper published in 2010, it was mentioned:

“Abdullah has made a number of unscheduled visits to several government agencies in order to ensure the upgrading and maintenance of good and quality civil service.”

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This was hung in every government office. Image from utaranews.wordpress.com

Like a loving boyfriend, he would take time out of his busy schedule to go spend time with his beloved, which in this case is the quality of civil service. Or in the civil servant’s case, it’s literally the biggest boss of the company dropping in by surprise to check on you.

Under his supervision,

  • The Board of Internal Revenue now process repayments in two days’ time instead of the previous two-week duration
  • Tax payments and refunds can be made via e-filing within the duration of 30 days
  • 14 various licenses required for the hotel industry have now been combined into one license;
  • Renewing of business licenses can be done within 15 minutes instead of the previous one-day requirement;
  • 98 percent of deals and works pertaining to land and property which had been left uncompleted and unsettled since 2001 was resolved

And that’s not even all of it. An efficient government had always been Pak Lah’s goal since taking office as Prime Minister, and he managed to deliver results on that front.

 

2. He took the economic plan from fancy buildings to … farming???

Mahathir is famous for his legacy of cool and expensive projects, which no doubt had put Malaysia in the international spotlight. But less famous (and impressive) are the debts the projects built up, not to mention other of his lesser known efforts that failed expensively.

“Can you imagine if I had succumbed to Mahathir’s continued pressure to spend when the deficit was already so high, how would Malaysia have weathered the oil and financial crisis which subsequently came up in 2008. If we had not been prudent then, and continued to spend, I can tell you we would be bankrupt by now…” – In an interview with the authors of Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia

Based on the quote, Pak Lah knew that continued spending and expansion is not the solution for Malaysia. So in his 9th Malaysia Plan, he poured 11.4 billion ringgit to stimulate the agriculture sector and its related industries, that’s 84% more than what was allocated in the 8th Malaysia plan.

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Agricultural stimulus package. From giphy.com

Pak Lah wanted to transform the agriculture industry into an industry capable of expanding Malaysia’s economy, which is why four of the five development corridor he established had emphasis on agriculture. So what FRUITS did his efforts produce?

In the mid-term review report by the Economic Planning Unit, export value of agriculture commodities grew from RM37.5 billion to RM52.4 billion from 2005 to 2007, that’s almost 40%!  Agricultural-based products increased from RM35.6 billion to RM45.3 billion at the same time as well. Other related aspects Pak Lah focused on were biotechnology and encouraging manufacture based SMEs, which created job opportunities and reduced poverty at the same time, you can read more about the results here.

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Although agriculture was not one of the main initiatives mentioned in the 10th Malaysia plan, Pak Lah’s corridor initiatives were continued. Thought contributing less and less to Malaysia’s income every year, agriculture remains an important industry as a means to feed the rakyat.

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3. He was the face of a world famous moderate Islam movement

Pak Lah the mufti was almost a reality, considering that he hails from a family of prominent religious and political figures.

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Left: Abdullah Fahim. Not left: Haji Ahmad Bin Haji Abdullah Fahim. Images from ptab.jpm.my

Pak Lah’s paternal grandfather, Tuan Guru Haji Abdullah bin Haji Ibrahim Ahmad bin Haji Abdullah, otherwise known as Abdullah Fahim, was a pioneer of UMNO credited with determining the date for Malaysia’s independence, the first mufti of Penang after independence, but later became a founding member of PAS.

His father, Haji Ahmad Bin Haji Abdullah Fahim, who was also a mufti, was instead a loyal supporter of UMNO. Even though he was once ADUN and an EXCO member of Penang, he refused to accept any allowances during his service.

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Alternate reality Pak Lah. Image from pakcikli00.wordpress.comrime

Badawi during his time as Prime Minister AND chairman of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which by the way is a SECOND largest inter-governmental organization in the world, introduced an ideology called Islam Hadhari (translation: civillisational islam). It’s a government concept that aims to develop a country both physically and spiritually. It aims to promote the fundamental values and noble ideals of Islam.

Pak Lah and his movement received international praise from muslims and non-muslims alike, calling it a global example of adapting Islam for modern challenges . Faith in God, mastery of knowledge, a trustworthy government, good quality of life and even protection of women and minority were among the ten principles hoped to achieved by Islam Hadhari, and his efforts in regard to a few of these aims will be demonstrated in the coming points.

 

 

4. He was the first to try to police the police

Setting up MACC to replace ACA was obviously not enough for Pak Lah. He has yet to see his own reflection in the clean government image of his vision. In light of the report and recommendation of the Malaysian Royal Commission, Pak Lah tried to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

Basically, IPCMC is an independent body aimed to investigate complaints against police officers. The reputation of Malaysia’s officers has rarely been something to brag about, and concerns of abuse and brutality by police officers and civilian deaths under police custody and pursuit, such as the case of  Aminulrasyid Amzah back in 2010.

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The Aminulrasyid Amzah tragedy in 2010. Image from astroawani.com

Pak Lah did not succeed in this endeavor. In fact, the establishment of IPCMC until now still remains a priority of the Bar Council and human rights group. What Pak Lah did managed to pass was a Special Commission Bill 2007, though it was criticized as being just a redundant body.

“…the SCC will not have any power to prosecute or punish, and will again have to rely on the existing authorities to do so. The position will, therefore, be back to square one.” – from malaysianbar.org.my

However, one could still call him a hypocrite. There were allegations of him favouring his family in gomen and overseas contracts, the latter involved his son’s company supplying components of nuclear weapons programme to Libya (who knew Malaysia was so canggih?!).

 

5. He changed the Constitution to protect women’s rights

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Original image from aliaazlanselvarajah.blogspot.my.

Pak Lah was also committed to transforming the rakyat into competent and independent individuals, and women were one of the groups he empowered.

“There is no doubt at all that women have important roles in all aspects of development. Women have contributed tremendously towards the nation’s development. Housewives and those who do not work full time contribute significantly towards socioeconomic development by nurturing family values and human development.” – Abdullah Badawi’s 9th Malaysian Plan Speech

Pak Lah managed to change a part of the Federal Constitution, specifically Article 8 (2), which enabled the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to “make their own corrections to any laws and regulations that are discriminating women.” These changes have allowed widowed government servants to continue receiving their husband’s pension even after they remarry, and gave women equal rights over the land they owned with their husbands. Given the frequency of amendments made to the constitution, it does seem quite impressive.

Speaking of rights, people somehow always associate Pak Lah with more press freedom, which is weird because he was still detaining online bloggers and raiding online news portals during his time. We couldn’t find actual instances of him encouraging media freedom,  so we’re guessing it was probably because he was less strict with criticism against the gomen.

 

Still water runs deep

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Or as the Malay proverb goes,”Diam-diam ubi berisi”. Image from malaysiapavilion2015.com.my

 

During Pak Lah’s premiership, BN had won both its best election result in 2004 and its worst (before the 2013 election happened) in 2008.

His image best remembered as incapable and lethargic, and some accuse him of being a puppet to others. But the evidence stands to show a quieter side. His campaign slogan “work with me, not for me” best describes how his peers saw him: as someone who valued the opinion of others, a leader  of consensus.

Pak Lah stepped down in June 2009 and into the shadows of history. With only 6 years as Prime Minister, sandwiched between the 22-year legacy of Dr M and the international scandal of our former PM Najib, perhaps it’s no wonder why his accomplishments went unnoticed and unmentioned. Who knows what more could have happened if he had been given more time.

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