Adieu, Abdullah Tarmugi
Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi is finally hanging up his boots after almost 30 years in politics, one-third of those years as Minister for Muslim Affairs.
It remains to be seen if the talk of the town that he will be our next elected President will come to pass.
Now, here is a man worthy of respect, and he has especially earned mine.
Pak Lah (as I affectionately call him) is one of those rare politicians who’s got his heart in the right place, much like the late Haji Yaakob Mohamad.
A kampung boy made good, he displays a rare humility in the face of success. Even when he presented a good report card of the community’s performance and achievements, he would humbly give himself a C+ and say there’s a lot more work ahead.
The Malay community did chalk up good progress during his watch, but his stint was not without challenges. These include two rounds of arrests of the Jemaah Islamiyah suspects, the tudung issue, compulsory education and the fate of madrasahs, and others. One of his biggest challenges was the Collective Leadership Forum mounted by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) who sought a ‘backdoor listing’ into power without elections.
But he had on his team other MPs who were true bumiputeras – sons of the soil – who knew the ground and toiled in the trenches. People like Sidek Saniff, Harun A Ghani, Yatiman Yusoff, Mohd Maidin Packer. Together, they faced an angry public, aggregated and articulated their concerns and managed to soothe those ruffled feathers, one by one.
Pak Lah also attracted some of the most unkind and undeserving criticism for the most unreasonable reason – he has a Chinese wife who doesn’t wear the tudung! And this from a number of community leaders! It’s interesting that his successor who has a Latino wife and who is similarly (un)clad did not attract a single squeak, which speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of some of those people who call themselves leaders.
Yet, this is a man whose humility is exceeded by his sincerity. Pak Lah can speak to you as one kampung boy to another without any of the pretences of high office, in Javanese or Malay or English as you please. He will give you his sincere smile and you know he won’t knife you when your back is turned.
Such a man would have been pained by the attack mounted by AMP in their Collective Leadership Forum in 2000. It was a frontal assault not only on the Malay MPs, but on the entire system of parliamentary democracy in Singapore.
It was unfortunate that I had to be out of town and missed the CLF, but not before I fired a shot across the bow through the Straits Times. But from the reports I received on that event, Pak Lah’s own son stood up as one of the very few who opposed this diabolical scheme.
In a profession where discretion is the better part of valor, Pak Lah has not shared his thoughts or feelings on his successor and what he has wrought. The years since 2003 have seen contributions to the Mosque Building & Mendaki Fund raised twice, and this at a time when the mosque building programme has slowed. The Joint Madrasah System has divided our Islamic schools along the most unjust and inequitable terms. We have also seen homeless Malay families living in tents by the beaches or in void decks – in short things unthinkable during his tenure.
Now, in the grand tradition of ancient Javanese kings, Pak Lah is performing lengser kapubron, stepping down from high office to focus on higher deeds. Current loose talk that he will be our next President may be tightened soon enough. Personally, I cannot think of a better candidate.