Tuesday June 26, 2012
Key agent of change in a new landscape
CERITALAH By KARIM RASLAN
Saifuddin Abdullah has proven time and again that Umno does possess leaders of intelligence, charm and maturity.
SAIFUDDIN Abdullah is enormously popular with the media.
Intelligent, thoughtful and humble, he has become one of Umno’s most adept salesmen – reaching out to young people of all races. Almost intuitively, he understands the importance of empathising: of the need to listen intently before speaking his mind.
For Saifuddin, engaging with people is a two-way flow. Modern and up-to-date in his use of technology (he tweets extensively), he also encapsulates Malay traditional values with his decorous manner (the term berbudi bahasa comes to mind) and grammatical use of the Malay language.
Ironically, Saifuddin’s growing media profile, his popularity among students and young people (incidentally, the key battleground constituency for the next general election) hasn’t endeared him to party conservatives.
Many in his own party resent Saifuddin’s independent-minded but diplomatic, bridge-building style. They also believe that the Opposition is beneath contempt and that Umno leaders shouldn’t deign to sit down with them as equals.
Of course, ordinary Malaysians don’t share such views. After all, many voted for the Opposition and they respect and like Saifuddin’s willingness to participate in the many open political debates currently taking place.
Indeed, as the Malay language daily newspaper Sinar Harian, with their Wacana series of debates (televised live by Astro Awani) has discovered, Malaysians want to hear what our leaders (from both sides of the political divide) have to say. We want to see how they express themselves and justify their policies.
Unfortunately many Umno leaders are institutional-type politicians. As a result, very few have developed the skills to operate in a more fluid and open environment – reaching out and dealing with the many millions of undecided and uncommitted voters.
This is where the Deputy Higher Education Minister excels.
He has the guts to go head-to-head with the Opposition’s top guns – Lim Guan Eng, Nurul Izzah Anwar and most recently, PAS’ Salahuddin Ayub.
While he may not always emerge the victor from these encounters, he has proven time and again that Umno does possess leaders of intelligence, charm and maturity.
Having said that, Saifuddin’s administrative skills remain untested and we will have to see how well he would perform managing a ministry himself.
Still, he’s easily one of Malaysia’s most articulate politicians. A capable debater, his oratory skills were honed early on as a national debating champion during his days at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).
The 52-year-old former Malaysian Youth Council president is also unafraid of speaking his mind – deliberating on issues such as Bersih and the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) as well as the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN).
Needless to say, he has riled many within the establishment in the process. Saifuddin also happens to belong to a group of like-minded MPs dubbed @YBsCanJump – a basketball team including P. Kamalanathan, Gan Ping Sieu and fellow debater Khairy Jamaluddin – proof that fun and politics aren’t mutually exclusive.
Saifuddin’s “cool” and approachable image has helped him with his portfolio, enabling him to build close ties with students across the country. Whether this will swing young voters back to Umno remains to be seen though.
Saifuddin himself acknowledges the changing landscape of Malaysian politics, describing it as entering a third stage of participatory democracy where the Government needs to engage with an increasingly educated public.
In 2008, he created the Temerloh Parliamentary Consultation Council (MPPT), a consensual/grassroots assembly to increase public participation in decision-making and comprising local village heads, district officers, police and state assemblymen.
It’ll be interesting to see if Saifuddin’s initiatives can reverse Temerloh’s sleepiness. Saifuddin is a man of promise. At this stage in Umno’s history, I feel he’s also an important agent of change and a catalyst.
His continued existence and progress within Umno is critical for the party’s rejuvenation, survival and eventual success. Tukang cerita wishes him all the best.