Friday, February 13, 2009

The Trapped Elevator

Sometimes art imitates life and there are also occasions when life tends to imitate art. But neither of these two metaphors is particularly applicable to the recent incident of Badawi getting stuck in the elevator of the Putrajaya International Convention Centre. However, the incident itself is perhaps a particularly apt microcosmic personification of the prime minister’s tenure.

As the curtain continues to come down on the Badawi era, it really would not be unreasonable or off the mark if one were to characterise the prime minster as also one who was trapped in a political elevator during his time in Putrajaya. As much as he wanted to take his Barisan Nasional elevator upwards after he received a resounding mandate from the voters early on upon assuming office, his elevator never really got very far. Then it seemed like he pressed some wrong buttons in the elevator and it started going down. Indeed, all the false promises, expectations, and even smoke-and-mirrors, simply meant the UMNO/BN crew manning the national elevator somehow could not figure out how to stop the elevator or to reverse the direction it was going in.

Nothing seemed to work: Badawi seemed lost. None of his promised reforms seemed to get off the ground. It was as if there was no electricity to power the elevator. Yet, we kept being told that the elevator was moving – even going upwards – when it seemed stuck. But the rhetoric never changed. A sense of denial seemed to set in. When some more forthcoming and candid assessments begin to show that indeed the elevator was stuck, the regime resorted to its strong-arm tactics to muzzle those voices. The usual response…time and again…simply made it apparent to the public that this crew was incapable of distinguishing or simply had no desire to forthrightly acknowledge that the elevator was stuck.             

Those controlling the elevator simply kept insisting that they were headed in the right direction. One truly should not underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance. Despite all the glaring evidence staring one in the face, those of the Badawi political elevator simply kept convincing themselves that it was going in the right direction. But the public clearly knew better.

When the tsunami came along and shook things up, it seemed as if there might be some chance that those pushing the buttons on the Badawi elevator would indeed see that there was a massive malfunction of the system. But alas, we know this did not do much to change the approach being taken. The elevator remained stuck.

And while Badawi came out of the Putrajaya International Convention Centre elevator after being trapped for 30 minutes and “did not look upset or traumatised by the incident,” I don’t think we can say the same about us, the public, who have been trapped on the Badawi political elevator all these years.

Let’s just hope we don’t continue to be trapped by another similarly less than capable operator of the national elevator – and that the elevator can – for a change – move in the right direction. 

G. Krishnan