Friday, May 22, 2009

Leading Through Change

Speech By Chew Mei Fun @ Hainan Pro Nite
on 21/5/09 @Thean Hou Temple

I have heard of a professional group under the umbrella of the association of Hainan for quite some time. However, I did not expect to have the opportunity today to meet you and to share some personal views for today's theme of "LEADING THROUGH CHANGE". Thank you for inviting me to officiate your seminar today.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not an economist. I cannot tell you how we could change in the economic arena to achieve greater progress. However, from the perspective of an individual, in particular, after experiencing ups and downs of life, the uncertainties in life, and at the same time expecting to face more challenges in the future, I think I have a certain amount of understanding on what must be changed in order to respond to situations or to look beyond current success or failures!

What I want to talk about today is the changes in the Malaysian political arena over the past few years. Let us look into Pak Lah taking over the premiership in 2003 to become the 5th prime minister and in 2004 led the National Front to an unprecedented victory. At that time, why the National Front won brilliantly? Because having experienced 22 years of leadership by Tun Dr Mahathir, people began to feel dissatisfied with the situation then, and began to wonder if the State were still to be led by the same leadership, would we will experience any difference or will there be any changes and improvements? Looking back, in the past 22 years, we rose up from an underdeveloped country to achieving economic boom and development, but how long can this boom last? Yes, no doubt that we're making progress, are our neighbouring countries progressing more rapidly than us? Therefore, we all look forward to a new life, a new idea, or even to a new stimulus. Pak Lah took over at the time when people started to feel bored with Tun Mahathir’s leadership. And when people wanted to see implementation of commitments, Pak Lah succeeded in giving the people boundless of hopes and injected vitality into the country at that time particularly with the tagline “Work with me and not for me”!

By 2008, the people had experienced Pak Lah ‘s five years of leadership. The initial joy of hope turned into anger and disappointment. If we were to say that Pak Lah was not committed to change and was just out to win votes, I would say it is very unfair to Pak Lah! We could only say that the reform mission of Pak Lah could not cope with the mounting pressure of vested interests group, which eventually forced him to delay reform until the time he fell to the pit from the highest point. And finally when he decided to step down and fearlessly implemented some reform, unfortunately by then the people were not expecting anything from his leadership.

Today, the 6th prime minister took office, he raised a slogan of “One Malaysia”, which gives a feel good feeling of inclusiveness, sense of belonging and sense of togetherness. Although some may feel that this is merely a concept, but the certainty is that our Prime Minister was prepared to listen and has heard the voices of civil society, and thus began to shake off the shackles of ethnic politics and to be people-oriented! He came to power with good directives premised on change and in the interest of all. Subsequent to the policy on religion of children in the event one parent converts to Islam, he suffered and was even attacked by the Islamic Party and the religious fundamentalists. They accused the directive as a violation of the Constitution. The opening up of 27 fields of equity has also led to criticism of him as an unfilial son changing the economic policies of his late father! Our current prime minister came into power with a heavy personal and political burden. He is also surrounded by accusations and allegations although there is no proven evidence produced but still possessed, like ghosts and refused to go away. In addition, he also has to face up to the country's political instability. BN has suffered an unprecedented array of challenges! In the interest of all, he is leading the National Front on a path to the future, thus obviously, Najib has to drive change, and this change must be big, bold, and exiting! Particularly in the current man-made political chaos, if change were not bold enough, he would not garner attention nor support and would certainly lose out in terms of political mileage!

However, that change has a price to pay! Najib came to power with a few policies which were generally well received! But at the same time it has awakened the ethnic and religious "Tigers" to defend their sovereignty. While we have repeatedly claimed that there is no more communal politics, however until the day of announcement of the results, no one knew the effects of communal politics! As we can observe from the 308 general election, we knew as a fact that there was a strong current. However, no one knew exactly the extent of it. Take for instance my own experience: I understand the mentality of the voters in my constituency; as a result I am ready for defeat. But even until the day before the election, there were many who still favoured me to the extent of speculating a majority of 9 thousand votes. There were comrades who told me that they did not believe that 8 years of hard work can just destroyed by a gust of wind! But the fact remains. Even after the results, a radio DJ told me that she asked her boss repeatedly in disbelief: "Chew Mei Fun lost it?”. One can not change the fact! People change, the desire to change is strong!

Let’s take SHUKIKOH Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat as an example; he always gives us the impression of being outspoken. Recently when the Malay organization (PERKASA) sternly criticised him, he still did not change his colour in responding in a very direct manner! He insisted on the moral values, he insisted on the principle, he will not compromise on things which cannot and should not be compromised. His leadership style is a great deal of change to some, and such a change, also caused him to suffer from some severe criticism!

Our former MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting proposed a term limit for party leader. He was the first president to introduce such policy based on the rationale that holding onto a position for too long may result in abuse of power. In fact, he initiated the slogan "Integrity, Fair and just, commitment in discharging duties". He wanted to create a healthy political culture. He actually understood the crux of the matter before the 308 election, he knew that if there were no change in political culture, corruption and abuse of power will permeate the party and failure would await. However, it is a pity while MCA is changing, we can not quite change the whole political culture of the National Front. Unfortunately, despite MCA undergoing change in the last few years, MCA could not catch up with the speed of change of the people, thus resulting in the loss of more than half of the seats contested by MCA.

Ladies and gentlemen, as a conclusion, change is necessary, even if we must pay the price. Change must be timely and must be fast. It would be pointless to change at a low speed. Delay in changing, may result in us having to spend a longer period time to win back and regain trust. Thus, in any case as long as there is will to change and make a change, even if one were to be defeated, that would only be a temporary failure- for at least once the foundation is solidly build, it would be good enough to make a comeback!

A leader who drives to change the people before changes come, will always be in need. A leader who changes when people change, can still hold her ground. Leaders, who wake up only when changes are needed, still have the opportunity to stand up again. However, a leader who is stubborn when there is a need for change, will always be a lonely failure! Therefore, Change is necessary, “Change" is our motto to make progress and to strive for excellence!

With that, I would now announce the official opening of the seminar, thank you.

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