Sunday, October 12, 2008

From one flop to another

I’m sure you’ve experienced those moments before when you’re reading something and then you come across a quote or passage, which you didn’t expect and were not ready for – and the best part about it is that it happens to be so unintentionally ironic that it’s absolutely amusing, if not hilarious. Of course, these moments can quickly turn uncomfortable – that is, if you happen to be chewing on some curry puff, roti kelapa, kuih, or some other snack at the time; the laughter can quickly turn to discomfort as your try to figure out what to do about the food stuck in your throat!

Well, yes. I had precisely such an experience. You see, like most connoisseurs of quality news reporting, I went to the Malaysiakini website and saw the headline: ‘BN mulls new multi-racial group.’ Now, naturally it caught my attention, so I started to read the article. If you have seen the article I’m referring to, then you may recall there were several quotes attributed to Badawi speaking about the Barisan Nasional possibly creating some form of a multi-racial group where individual members would not have to be members of the component parties of Barisan. [Parenthetically, like a ‘Johnny-come-lately,’ this is admittedly a belated yet hollow response to try and dampen the appeal of the multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat. Perhaps I’ll deal with this specific issue another time. Now back to my main points.]

Then I got to the following part of the article where he turned his attention to Gerakan specifically: “’Gerakan wants to be multi-racial but it has not become what it should be,” said Abdullah as he turned to Gerakan president Dr Koh Tsu Koon and told the latter “you have not achieved the purpose” of why the party was founded.’”

Okay, I suppose you already know what happened to me at that very instance, right? I won’t go into all the details, as I’m sure you’ve got a good enough imagination. Amidst my amusement and chuckling - after I managed to clear my throat of the food, I pondered about just how so pompous and presumptuous of Badawi to be lecturing the Gerakan leadership and rank-and-file about their failure! After all, here is a man whose reign as primer has been, to put it mildly, nothing short of an utter disappointment. Okay, why hold back – it’s been an unmitigated failure. Given the euphoria in 2003 and then the unambiguous mandate he received from the voters in 2004, you’d think the man would have been on a roll and taken the country into new heights. Instead, he thoroughly squandered all that political goodwill and stumbled along like a lame-duck leader well before formally having his term in office turn into one.

I’m sure you don’t need me to recount the numerous ways he’s fallen far short of his agenda for reform. And here he is telling the members of Gerakan that ‘you have not achieved the purpose of why the party was founded.’ Oh, I know – the pot calling the kettle black,’ right? Sure – that characterisation does seem appropriate. But as I thought about it, it also seemed amusing simply for the fact that what we have is one flop telling someone else that the latter is a flop! I suppose who better to know what failure truly is than one who has himself been one! Now, that’s not only ironic – it’s blissful!

Now, I’ll just make two more points. Firstly, I would’ve loved to have known what Koh Tsu Koon must have been thinking – privately, of course – about Badawi’s remark regarding Gerakan not achieving it’s purpose. You don’t suppose he’d have thought something like this: ‘What nerve – to be lecturing us about having failed at our purpose! Have you looked at your own record of late, Mr. Prime Minister!’ But I suppose we’ll never know, will we? Now you might be wondering: ‘But it’s hard to deny that when it comes to being a multi-racial party, Gerakan has not been much of a success.’ True. I’m by no means suggesting that Badawi’s observation was not accurate. It’s the whole situation about the messenger and the message that seems so…blissful!

Second, I find this tradition of having the head of Umno addressing the annual gathering of the other BN parties such as Gerakan, MCA, and MIC just another aspect of this paternalism one finds emanating from Umno. Now I realise that the PM or DPM typically addresses these conventions in their capacity as leaders of the government – not as leaders of Umno. But yet, it is ultimately the case that they are the Umno leadership. You would think there would be some noteworthy reciprocity where leaders of the other main component parties could also address the Umno assembly.

I know it is wishful thinking that Gerakan, MCA or MIC will even develop enough of a backbone to be equal partners in the coalition. But this is precisely where this paternalistic culture practiced by Umno is most revealing. As we’ve know for long, these subservient parties are like toothless minnows – not only accustomed, but typically taking delight in being live bait for Umno. Imagine the day when the head of MCA or Gerakan can go to the Umno gathering and give the delegates and members there an earful! [Well, I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?]

But as a result of the subservient, meek, and timid posture assumed by parties like Gerakan, is it any wonder that a failed leader of Umno is perfectly at ease about reminding the former about its failure as a party.

G. Krishnan

P.S. Oh, and I’m trying but it’s hard to break the habit of reading and snacking at the same time.