Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold (or Serigala lawan lembu, kuching menunggu!)

In the aftermath of the Malaysian General Elections of May 8, 2008 major convulsions are taking place within Barisan Nasional component parties, particularly UMNO. Instead of soul-searching and reviews of the electoral debacle, UMNO is fracturing. The cracks and fissures are the product of one man, Dr. Mahathir.
Having ruled UMNO and Malaysia with an iron fist for 22 years Dr. M has quite characteristically acquired a proprietary attitude towards UMNO. Dr. M has been attacking the present UMNO leader, Pak Lah for some time. Naturally, there are many theories being proferred on Dr. M's motivation for attacking Pak Lah and his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaludin.
But, whatever the motivations, Dr. M's inability to accept Pak Lah's leadership of UMNO or Malaysia, is inevitable. Why? Let's take a few examples:-
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman, in retirement, was a fly in the ointment for Tun Razak. His weekly column Viewpoints in The Star during the 1970s was an constant irritant to Tun Razak.

  • Tun Hussein Onn was more discreet than the Tunku. But Tun Hussein's opinion of Dr. M's leadership was well-known to political insiders culminating in Tun Hussein's support of the attempt to register a new UMNO Malaysia after UMNO was deregistered in 1987.

  • Margaret Thatcher, in retirement, was openly critical of her chosen successor, John Major.

  • Let's not forget the tension that existed between Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong in Singapore when the latter was Prime Minister.

  • And, the list goes on.

So, from a historical perspective, there is nothing unusual about a former leader feeling that his successor has failed to measure up to his high standards.

Dr. M is a predator. He is on the hunt. The prey is Pak Lah. Dr. M's single-minded focus to bring about the downfall of Pak Lah is very much in character. Just have a look at Dr. M's predatory and iconoclastic past:-

  • In 1969, after he had lost his parliamentary seat he wrote an open letter to demand the resignation of the Tunku. This was in an era when UMNO politics was supposed to be genteel, when UMNO was led by blue-blooded princes such as the Tunku, noblemen such as Tun Razak (who was Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar of Pekan, Pahang) and Tun Dr. Ismail (whose family was closely linked to the Johor palace).

  • In 1981, when he became Prime Minister he brazenly instituted the Buy British Last campaign and the Look East campaign which put a lot of stress of a traditonally warm relationship between Malaysian and the UK.

  • He also arranged the dawn raid of Guthrie at the London Stock Exchange that stunned the British establishment.

  • He then tried to corner the world tin market using Maminco with disastrous results when the United States released their tin stockpile.

  • In 1987, in an effort to stave off a serious challenge from Tengku Razaleigh, he allowed the old UMNO to be deregistered to enable the creation of UMNO Baru on his own terms.

  • He then caused the dismissal of the Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Tun Salleh Abas and put in place Tun Hamid Omar who emasculated the Judiciary.

  • Let us never forget Operation Lallang where Dr. M jailed 106 Malaysians under the Internal Security Act in 1987.

Clearly, Dr. M does not respect tradition and he certainly has no respect for constitutional institutions. He has held on to an unusual self-belief that he knows what is best for UMNO and Malaysia. Whether it is a psychosis or genius, Dr. M's vulpine ability falls within Max Weber's description of charismatic and legal leadership.

The characteristic of “charisma”, in Weber’s view was stated thus; “There is the authority of [charisma], the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. This is ‘charismatic’ domination, as exercised by the prophet or – in the field of politics – by the elected war lord, the plebiscitarian ruler, the great demagogue, or the political party leader.”

The characteristic of “legal” leadership was described thus by Weber; “Domination by virtue of ‘legality’ by virtue of the belief in the validity of legal statute and functional ‘competence’ based on rationally created rules. In this case, obedience is expected in discharging statutory obligations. This is the domination as exercised by the modern ‘servant of the state’ and by all those bearers of power who in this respect resemble him.”

The bovine nature of Pak Lah and UMNO

As the vulpine Dr. Mahathir circles the bovine herd that is UMNO, aiming to take a fatal bite at the jugular of the bovine leader, Pak Lah, the herd can only exhibit panic and fear. They are stampeding into each other.

As bystanders and observers, we are watching unfolding events the same way we watch the nature documentaries on the Discovery or National Geographic channels. It is a real spectacle to behold.

If Pak Lah is mindful of the political career of Dr. M, it will be patently obvious that Dr. M does not care if UMNO is torn asunder. After all, the present UMNO is only a 22-year old UMNO Baru. Many political wits have speculated that there can always be another UMNO Baru Baru! So, the destruction of UMNO Baru to bring about the downfall of Pak Lah is not big deal for Dr. M. It is in his character.

Marah nyamuk bakar kelambu and beyond

This Malay idiom is now often used to criticise Dr. M's attacks on Pak Lah. Its English equivalent may be, cutting off your nose to spite your face. But in this fratricidal saga of Dr. M versus Pak Lah the main beneficiary can only be Pakatan Rakyat, particularly Parti KeADILan Rakyat and Anwar Ibrahim.

With each notch that Dr. M removes from Pak Lah's stature as leader of UMNO and BN, the old empire that was UMNO's and BN's is crumbling. Those of us who are familiar with Chinese dynastic history, the history of the Roman empire or the fate of the Soviet Union will see clear parallels.

The cries of discontent from Sabah are reminiscent of the distant provinces that start asserting their autonomy as the center of government is weakened. Wasn't it William Butler Yeats who wrote in his poem, Second Coming, "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"?

So, picture this - the vulpine Dr. M leaps into the bovine herd that is UMNO, snarling with bared teeth - to bite into the leader of the herd, Pak Lah's jugular - throwing the herd into disarray - the camera pans away from the dusty swirls of the life-and-death struggle - the vista and landscape opens up - we see the verdant green of the lush tropical landscape and the clear azure sky - and, the camera pans and zoom into a rocky outcrop overlooking the terrible struggle in the plains below - behold! it is the outline of the feline guile of Anwar Ibrahim! - waiting to pounce on whomever that survives - and, then, the dust settles - the natural order of things is restored - the cycle of life is renewed!

Maybe a new Malay proverb has been invented, "Serigala lawan lembu, kuching menunggu"!!!!

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