Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Don't Let the Abdullah-Mahathir Fight Distract

Written by johnleemk on 5:21:54 pm Apr 14, 2007.
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A really annoying theme of present-day Malaysian politics is the spat between Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir has publicly criticised the policies of the present regime, often ignoring that these policies are sometimes identical to those of his own administration.

Whatever the case may be, it is simply stupid to focus on this issue. By getting caught up in the question of who is right and wrong, or trying to decide who is better — Abdullah or Mahathir — we get lost in the problems of partisan politics, and ignore the pressing problem of leadership that this country faces.

Mahathir is right. Abdullah is screwing the country over. Abdullah's policies lack vision and focus. Abdullah himself, not to mention his cabinet, is corrupt and focused on the luxurious trappings of leadership rather than leadership itself.

But Abdullah is also right. Mahathir screwed the country over. Mahathir's policies had vision and focus, but this vision and focus often was either targeted at screwing the country over. Witness the policy of making us breed like rabbits to produce 70 million Malaysians by 2100, or Mahathir's emphasis on pro-Malay policies that made a lacklustre New Economic Policy worse. And Mahathir may or may not have been corrupt, but we all know that his administration and its officials were in on a lot of dirty things.

For similar reasons, both Abdullah and Mahathir are good (or bad). By losing ourselves in a false dilemma of choosing between two extreme binary options, we have forgotten how terrible both men really are.

The pro-Abdullah (or anti-Mahathir) camp says, "Well, Abdullah may suck, but look, Mahathir really sucks!" Meanwhile, the pro-Mahathir (or anti-Abdullah) camp says, "Mahathir sucked, true, but Abdullah is sucking even worse!"

Am I the only one who sees how farcical this all is? Both men have failed the country, plain and simple. There's no point in arguing over who's right or who's better. They. Both. Stink.

Of course, there are occasionally people stuck in denial. The pro-Mahathir camp likes to emphasise that Mahathir never fell asleep in cabinet meetings, and was of high calibre. They conveniently forget that Mahathir didn't do much in terms of actual results for the country; his greatest claim to fame, putting us on the world map, is pretty much a convenient lie.

Meanwhile, the pro-Abdullah camp are so short on defences that they are reduced to "Give him more time," or "Mahathir shouldn't be sullying his own reputation by complaining about his own choice as successor".

For the first defence, well, Abdullah's had three years. How much more time does he need? There are heads of government who have set in motion policies to land a man on the moon, end segregation, ensure greater equality of opportunity, and restored the inspiration of a country in less time than that.

For the second defence, Mahathir has every right as a private citizen to criticise our head of government. It may be annoying to hear this "bloody old man" complain, but his criticisms are true — Abdullah does stifle press freedom, Abdullah has done little about corruption, and Abdullah is simply letting the country down.

That aside, it should of course irk every Malaysian that Mahathir's sole motivation for voicing these criticisms is that he and his cronies are now off the gravy train. This was revealed very clearly when he promised to shut up about the Abdullah administration's failures if they just commissioned a new crooked bridge to connect Malaysia and Singapore — a bridge that would yield bountiful benefits in taxpayer money for Mahathir's cronies.

But having said that, this Abdullah-Mahathir sideshow is just a distraction. Don't evaluate Abdullah and Mahathir side-to-side. It'll just give you a headache trying to decide who is right and who is wrong when in fact both are right.

Rather, judge Abdullah and Mahathir individually. Evaluate them critically on their own merits, without reference to anyone else. Draw your own conclusions of each man from that, rather than trying to ferret out a clear picture from the horrid jumble that is the Abdullah-Mahathir spat.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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