AUG 16 — Erna Mahyuni’s opinion piece in The Malaysian Insider entitled “Why Dr M is Umno’s (and Anwar’s) fault” is almost faultless in its humour.
For readers who did not “get” it, I clarify below its satire. I number the relevant paragraphs from the article for easy cross-reference.
This commentator is of the belief that good humour should not go unnoticed or, worse, be mistaken for serious writing.
Joke No. 1: It’s all just “missteps”
Responding to a question about whether former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad should be condemned “for all he’s done”, the author asserts that Mahathir did not deserve to be vilified in spite of all of his “missteps” (paragraph 3).
“Missteps” should receive no vilification, so long as the person “really did believe his decisions were for the greater good” (paragraph 6).
Here are a couple of those missteps that Mahathir and his administration should never be vilified for:
• the missteps that might have been involved in the loss of roughly RM100 billion in four financial scandals that occurred during his tenure (see Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick);
• the misstep of instructing journalists to deny the then-outgoing prime minister Hussein Onn media coverage (as alleged by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in an NTV7 interview, available on YouTube as “Pak Lah balas serangan Tun Dr Mahathir”);
• the role in the Operasi Lalang misstep in 1987 (see Lim Kit Siang, “Mahathir rewriting history on Ops Lalang”, blog.limkitsiang.com, 9 Feb 2011);
• the missteps in the 1988 judicial crisis (see pages 140-142 in Shimon Shetreet et al’s The Culture of Judicial Independence);
• missteps in the 1998 bailout of Konsortium Perkapalan Berhad, a corporation owned by Mirzan Mahathir (page 170 in S. Haggard’s book, The Political Economy of the Asian Financial Crisis).
John D. Rockefeller had once said: “Don’t blame the marketing department. The buck stops with the chief executive’’. Rockefeller was obviously wrong.
Joke No. 2: Blame everyone else but the culprit
The title of the author’s article, “Why Dr M is Umno’s (and Anwar’s) fault”, conveys the impression that all Mahathirian phenomena are explainable by Umno and Anwar Ibrahim. Or “circumstances”, as when “Umno” and “Anwar” are conflated into one word (paragraph 6).
The absurd implication is that it is Umno and Anwar Ibrahim who ought to accept responsibility for Dr Mahathir’s actions and possible character and personality flaws. A portent of a legal mess.
Or that it was Umno and Anwar Ibrahim who had sought out Dr Mahathir to begin with, and not the other way around. Here’s one for surrealism.
The author goes the extra mile in the final paragraph: we “should not condemn Dr Mahathir because in many ways, he reflects all the worst in ourselves”.
In other words, we are not shaped by an administration’s socioeconomic policies and the period’s political-party culture; we, the people, asked for these— money politics, mass privatisations, the nurturing of a corporate-capitalist elite, and so on.
Joke No. 3: Make a bad thing sound good with goofy hyperboles
Dr Mahathir, the “über-controlling, extremely paranoid individual we know” (paragraph 5).
Here the impression is had of the friendly (though admittedly strange) next-door neighbour who kindly offers the occasional home-made pie.
Being brief about it would have certainly aided readability, like editing the said clause down to “authoritarian prime minister” or (for über-brevity) “autocrat”. But that would defeat the purpose— the joke would be defused and all we’d be left with is feeling scared.
Joke No. 4: Worship. And madly
“Dr Mahathir is probably the greatest politician our country ever had or will ever produce” (paragraph 15).
The impact of the author’s joke relies on the word “greatest” being left undefined. No evidence is given to support the claim, except perhaps sheer captivation. Or perhaps it refers to the suggestion that no other Malaysian prime minister can lay claim to as many “missteps”.
But no matter. Another comic kick swiftly follows: The absolute degree of confidence that Malaysia will probably never have a great prime minister ever again. Which is more a reason to be depressed than to be merry (bear run on the stock market, ad perpetuum).
Joke No. 5: The comical contradiction
“Malaysia needs statesmen, not politicians... Not Anwar... Not court jesters like Perkasa” (paragraph 15).
Here a contradictory self-reference is invoked to elicit the laughter of disbelief. For observe that if we eliminate court jesters like Perkasa, who then shall entertain the patron saint of Perkasa?
Joke No. 6: Hilarity by resort to honesty
Politicians may play complex roles and be expected to manoeuvre in complex environments, but that is hardly excuse for binning ethics or playing games with the public trust.
To sum up, therefore, with the author’s words: “Malaysia needs... leaders with vision, compassion and a sense of honour. Sadly, those traits do not seem to manifest in Malaysian politicians” (paragraph 15).
Indeed, and so much for the greatest politician our country will ever produce.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.