Does Our Leader Need to be Smart?

I always landed up in hot water every time I bring this topic up on the dinner table with my Mum. She is a staunch UMNO supporter. Being born in Permatang Bertam, Kepala Batas - so was I - a mere 200 meters from Tun Abdullah's family home the whole kampung is very close to Tok Lah's family. Note that I use the term Tok Lah rather than Pak Lah, as only people outside the kampung call him Pak Lah. We from the same kampung have more respect for him. I am not saying that Tok Lah is no intellect, but if we compare to other national leaders at the international scene, we were clearly lagging behind.

The question really boils down to a few fundamental questions. Is an intellectual better at running the country compared to others? I think the problem here is the association of being an intellectual and possession of a degree. Is going to university equate to being an intellectual. Actually it's not. Prophet Muhammad (saw) and all the Caliph are smart people, but they went to no Cambridge. The point I am trying to make is, we need leaders that are wise. Not the ones who climbed up the ladder because of the family they are born into, the amount of money they spend in their campaign etc. We need people who are wise to lead, adapt and inspire the country froward. We don't want a leader for the sake of leading. They need to be innovative. Innovation can only come with wisdom and intellect. Even being an Ustaz, you need to be blessed with intelligence and wisdom let alone leading a nation.

Looking around, one cannot sit but to admire Barack Obama for his academic credentials. Graduating magna cum lauda from Harvard Law School, a brilliant writer and orator. Closer to home we have the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsein Loong. Son of Lee Kuan Yew, I am sure he had hardly needed to do anything should he be a Malaysian to become a leader one day. But no! He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1974 with a First Class Degree in Mathematics and a Diploma in Computer Science. He then got his Master's from Harvard in 1980. He was also an Officer in the Singaporean Air Force, with a stint of military training in the States. He retired in 1984 with a rank of Brigidier General.

When I brought up academics in politics here in Malaysia, 2 names always come to my mind. The late Alex Lee and Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon. Since Alex Lee is no longer with us, let just concentrate on Dr Koh. His first degree was in Physics from Princeton. He then completed his PhD from University of Chicago. Later he became Fulbright Fellow at Stanford University. Before joining politics, he was a Deputy Dean of the School of Education at USM until 1982.

Both Lee and Koh speaks better Malay than most of the Malay politician. They are always measured in the mannerism and does not resort to name calling while in a political debate. This is what we should see and nurtured from our future crop of politicians. Intellectuals and academics are generally fed up with the local politics in Malaysia to participate. Given choice they would rather stay away. This essentially contribute to the dearth of intellects in politics at home. Back to the main question now. Personally I think we should include intellectuals in higher politics. It can at least eliminate the yes man and keep our leaders informed rather than being showered with things they just like to listen to. One can but hope!