If you live in Malaysia you’d have to be an utter worm not to notice that, at some fundamental level, the Government has gone off the rails. No one since Dr Mahathir has had the sheer balls to provide anything remotely resembling leadership—by which I mean doing what you think is good for the people even if the people are too daft to understand it.
Do you remember Morgan Freeman’s (i.e. Nelson Mandela’s) line in Invictus when he’s about to go head-on with his comrades at the sports club? Mahathir isn’t Mandela, but the principle is the same.
Now Dr M did a lot of things that I have a problem with, one of which being the complete emasculation of toadies I mean politicians to the point that we have the very same problem that I referred to earlier. That is the price to pay for leading a third-world country filled with peasants. Singapore has the same problem although by and large they lack the courage or plain recklessness to admit it.
There was also the business with the University and University Colleges Act and the judiciary, which, under his watch, turned into a pack of criminally negligent complaisant fools who make a virtue of betraying their oaths to the Constitution. They might hold me in contempt of court, but I hold the Courts in contempt of the People. And it is very easy to appeal to “the People” isn’t it? Everyone does it, and everyone inevitably falls for it. This is what happens when we have things like the University and University Colleges Act, but the People, such as they are, are too damned silly to protest.
Dr M governed by a mixture of abject fear and blind devotion that makes for a good study of classical Machiavellian political practice in an era of developmental economics. I just made up that last bit because it sounds somewhat intellectual. Politicians do this also, and people fall for it for the same reason. “I stand for civil society!” or transparency and accountability in administrative processes or whatever when really it’s merely ABU (Anything But UMNO).
People rally behind banners because they desperately want something to believe in, and they want to believe in leaders who are fundamentally “good” according to some definition that is as hazy as “the People” itself.
What these fools don’t realise is that this kind of unthinking activism in the cause of a “democracy” they don’t understand, or a ” civil society”, whatever the hell that is supposed to be, works according to exactly the same dynamic by which an individual or group achieves totalitarian control. By rallying to a cause, they devote themselves equally blindly to Anwar Ibrahim, the DAP or PAS or Perkasa in the same way that they once rushed to prostrate themselves before Dr Mahathir’s feet. And by and large our politicians are cunning enough to know this, or at least they understand how to use the dynamic to their temporary advantage. And the advantage is always temporary because the other side (or rivals on your own side) will eventually find some new toy to play with.
But none of them has the strength and conviction to provide national leadership. To do so in this country you’d have to be Hitler, or Mahathir. Even Mandela would not succeed. Our politicians play to the mob’s tune, and so someone like Zaid Ibrahim will go from Messianic hero to abject party-hopping villain (which he might really be) in the blink of an eye, while his lot decry their once-Beloved Leader Anwar as a snake in the grass (which he might really be) just as quickly. That’s all fine by me—it’s political business as usual—but what I fail to understand is the People’s capacity to be perpetually bamboozled by the same thing over and over and over again.
So much for the New Malaysia. Meanwhile the Old Malaysia is falling apart.
The People seem actually to want a fascist dictatorship because they want nothing more than to trust in a leader who will do their thinking for them. Sometimes I think this is unavoidable. The internet allows the common citizen to voice his or her concerns in public fora, but far too many common citizens are thugs. The internet in Malaysian political life has done little more than to make shoddy thinking ubiquitous.
This might all change with time and education, but if the history of political education teaches anything, it’s that it usually changes only with blood.