Sunday, July 25, 2021

And while he's alive, he's an $$$ whole

Don't speak ill of the dead

by Martin Vengadesan

COMMENT | It was pointed out to me recently that I had an obsession with obituaries. I can’t deny it – I suppose it began when I was a child and my late grandmother would have me read them out from the papers to see if there was anyone she recognised.

Certainly, I do think it’s important to put a historical context to one’s life and as such an obituary might be one of the most significant and final full-stops in any person’s life. That’s probably why I’ve spent part of the last couple of months reading every tagged obituary in Malaysiakini’s archives by the way.

At the same time, I can’t help noticing that many obituaries are rose-tinted and glossed over unsavoury aspects of an individuals’ legacy.

I suppose while Robert Mugabe or the convicted murderer Mokhtar Hashim, a former Umno minister, couldn’t escape mention of their sins, by and large, obituaries are glowing affairs, particularly if it features a local persona.

Someone such as Lim Kok Wing is feted for his achievements instead of having certain controversies highlighted – and fair enough, I suppose.

“Don’t speak ill of the dead,” goes the saying, and I agree to some extent – I would not want to intrude on the grief of family members at such a time.

But at the same time, does this principle mean that there is to be no critical assessment of the legacies of important figures? How can we learn if journalists and editors who helped cover up scandals such as 1MDB are lauded for their contributions?

I was thinking about this because earlier this month Malaysia’s most notorious senior citizen turned 96.

More power to him – but I was of course prepared for the usual glib dismissals of his failings. As predicted he went on the offensive in which he relied on the short memory and poor analysis of the majority and the blind loyalty of his diehard fans who are the sort one sees in personality-based feudal politics.

The godfather of Malaysian racial hate speech was busy telling comedian Harith Iskander that Malaysia still needed racial parties and was also quoted as saying that the current political quagmire is a result of the Sheraton Move happening because he promised to pass the prime minister seat to Anwar Ibrahim and Muhyiddin Yassin was not happy.

Now, I’ve thought about this – he is at an age where one can presume a majority of his life has been lived. And when he does leave us, I don’t want to be one of those viciously decrying the man who committed the most persistent damage to the country I love.

So while he is hale and hearty and attempting to whitewash history and before he gets feted beyond all logic and recognition once he is gone, let me just repeat once again, that we are in this mess because of him.

This is how I remember the prime minister of 22 years and 22 months – a lifetime of hate speech (remember the 'keling' fiasco) in which he persistently played the race card despite the best efforts of our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to thwart his rise and suppress this dangerous game.

During Operasi Lalang there was widespread use of the Internal Security Act to toss political opponents in jail and shut down papers. Judges such as the late Salleh Abas paid the price for attempting to maintain judicial independence.

In economic policy, yes there was a boom in a 22 year period but there were too many white elephant projects and instead of working on equitable distribution of wealth, we saw the creation of a new class of crony capitalist elites.

We talked of developed nation status but refused to empower our own working class and instead shifted to a reliance on cheap foreign labour that is still affecting us. And by the way, when he took over the currency exchange with Singapore it was basically 1:1 when he became prime minister, but had fallen to less than half that by the time he left in 2003. It's now RM3.10 to the Singapore dollar.

What was really unforgivable was blowing the chance at redemption by declining to do the honourable thing and hand over as promised, something that was hinted at in this column a year before the Sheraton Move.

Of course, now that his full-term and national unity government plan have failed and a number of his followers ran with Plan B, there is historical revisionism.

But look carefully – he accepted Umno defectors and courted both Umno and PAS support for a unity government which would free him of his election promise to hand over the reins to Anwar. Let’s not forget the revolting Malay Dignity Congress where he rolled back the years with a racist agenda and how he challenged PKR to prove their support even though that party had backed him.

I realise many suffer from a sort of Stockholm syndrome of identifying with the authoritarian leader of their past. How else to explain those Pakatan Harapan figures who were so easily manipulated into destabilising their own hard-won government and are now destined for the rubbish bin of history.

To this day, there are some who are still trying to peddle a false narrative over the turn of events that led us to this catastrophic political impasse – and others who will feel compelled to set the record straight.

Speaking of legacies, one can’t help but wonder if the MP from Pagoh will have any rivals in the race for worst and shortest-serving premier ever. I suspect not.

MARTIN VENGADESAN is an associate editor at Malaysiakini.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect there are many Malaysians who are waiting for the old buffoon to take a break permanently.

    The only consolation is that I do believe he will be with us at most for another 3 year (hopefully less than that).

    I wonder if anybody has started a pool to guess his "retirement" date. I would love to join in