July 10, 2012
GE-13 Shaping into a Contest of Personalities
by Terence Netto (07-08-12)@http://www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT It’s difficult to score – this one-upmanship game between Anwar Ibrahim and nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the matter of the Opposition Leader’s recently expressed, and now reiterated, desire to quit should the 13th General Election not result in victory for Pakatan Rakyat.
At this stage it appears Anwar enjoys a slight edge in the sweepstakes. He has succeeded in provoking Mahathir into publicly wishing that he quits now rather than wait for electoral defeat to induce him to do so.
Mahathir’s ire has helped shift the focus to where Anwar would want it to be in the final lap to a general election – who is responsible for the lamentable state the country is in, and who is the politician who has been most prescient about its downward trajectory and the reasons for it?
Of course, Mahathir would have a ready answer to the first part of the question – that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is principally responsible for the nation’s (and UMNO’s) present woes.
As an answer to the second part, Mahathir would scoff at any suggestion that Anwar could be perceptive about anything at all save, possibly, in the role of Prime Minister of Israel.
Often enough Mahathir has speculated that his former Deputy in UMNO and in government would make an ideal leader of what official parlance in this country refers to as the “Zionist entity.”
Such is the antagonism he feels for Anwar that he can only refer to him in the caustic accents of Muslim demonology.
It’s Mahathir vs Anwar
All this is prologue to the point that GE-13 is not just going to be about race, as Mahathir predicted, nor about corruption and abuse of power, as Pakatan leaders have contended.
From the alacrity with which the former Prime Minister jumped into the fray after Anwar earlier this week had hinted to the Financial Times of London that he may retire to teach if Pakatan doesn’t hit the Putrajaya jackpot at the coming polls, one thing can safely be predicted.
This is that the issue of personalities – Mahathir’s and Anwar’s and their antagonism – is going to bulk large in the final prelude to the vote. This is partly because politics as theatre is more potent when it is depicted as a conflict of personalities than as a contest of clashing visions or policies.
But wait, Mahathir is not a contender in this general election the way Anwar is – as a MP seeking re-election in Permatang Pauh and as Pakatan’s candidate to be Prime Minister should the opposition coalition emerge with a parliamentary plurality.
If it’s true what they say about an institution as being the lengthened shadow of one man, then UMNO-BN today can be described as the enlarged projection of Mahathir who built party and polity up physically and emasculated them morally.
The infelicitous term, “Mahathirism”, is being bandied about – and not just by DAP’s Lim Kit Siang whom Mahathir has chided for using it – to describe the destructive policies and practices and their malignant effects that Mahathir’s 22-year stay in power had wrought.
It strains credulity to claim that the five years of Badaw as Prime Minister brought the country and its once-dominant political party, UMNO, to their present dysfunctional condition.
Badawi’s tenure was an interregnum, begun in hopeful reform and stalled by his vacillation, between the authoritarianism and corruption of the Mahathir era and current PM Najib Razak’s delusive and doomed effort at reform.
Pak Lah’s Glasnost
Mahathir finds it convenient to blame Badawi for the weakened state of the nation and of UMNO-BN, but this attempt to turn his successor as PM into a scapegoat is coded language for what he cannot publicly avow.
This is that Badawi’s brief period of ‘glasnost’ (openness) made it possible for Anwar to be freed, on appeal, from jail in 2004 and this led to a concatenation of circumstances that has now made Anwar and Pakatan contenders for rights of residence to Putrajaya.
Mahathir had expected Anwar to languish in jail for longer than the six years he eventually had to endure and, when released, to have lost traction at home or go abroad, to where, presumably, the man can hobnob with his “Jewish” and “western” friends that the former premier derides him for being a tool of.
The mild glasnost that Badawi launched at the start of his administration in late 2003 led to the judiciary’s release of Anwar and though the latter went abroad, it was only to refresh and recharge for a renewed campaign of agitation and reform.
This campaign is now poised on the brink of electoral vindication, a possibility that nobody could plausibly have visualised when Anwar was first jailed in 1998 and only a few would have countenanced when he was released in 2004.
But political realities are more often the unknowable results of dynamic contingencies than the sterile rehearsal of pre-scripted outcomes.
The dice is always rolling and it’s hubris to think that you can control it. No personality can be big enough to do that and hope to succeed. Not even Mahathir.