The Tale of the Rattlesnake

Spring comes early in my part of California.  Already there are exuberant splashes of dancing daffodils on the hillsides.  Soon the colorful California poppies will pop up.  With the weather becoming warmer, the rattlesnakes too will soon emerge from their winter slumber.

            Talking of rattlesnakes, I am reminded of the story of the kindly lady who saw one such weakling that was dying from the long cold winter.  Taking pity on the poor critter, she took it home and nursed it back to health.  One day while she was feeding the now robust creature, it took a swipe at her hand and bit her.

            As she lay dying she asked the snake why it had done that.  “You should have known better, lady!  You knew I was a rattlesnake, you should have killed me back then!”

            On March 8, 2008, Malaysia will have a general election, with Prime Minister Abdullah seeking a second term, having secured an overwhelming mandate back in 2004.  This will be the voters’ collective judgment of what Abdullah did with that mandate.

            If Barisan Nasional retains its supra-majority and Abdullah remains as Prime Minister, rest assured that he will continue the pattern he set in his first term.  He will once again reward his cronies and family members with sweetheart mega billion contracts san competition, just as he has done during his first term.  His excuse then was that he did not know that he was doing it!  He will continue dozing off during meetings in the mistaken belief that Malaysians approve of such mediocre performances.  Also, expect the bureaucracy to become even more bloated.  This self-styled “number one civil servant’s” answer to every problem is to spend more money and employ more staff.

            For Malays, expect more books on Islam to be banned and more raids by moral vigilante groups intent on keeping us on the “straight path.”  And expect this Imam of Islam Hadari to lead even more prayers in public, with the television cameras rolling on, of course.

            For non-Malays, expect more temples to be torn down to make way for “community development,” more cash demands from their insatiably greedy Ali Baba partners, and more reasons to take their children out of national schools.

            In short, Malaysians would be like that innocent lady who took pity on the emaciated rattlesnake.  Malaysians took pity on Abdullah and gave him another chance.  Unfortunately, true to form, this rattlesnake Abdullah Badawi will bite us back with a vengeance.

 

 

Who Should We Blame?

 

There is a little bit of that kind lady in all of us, of wanting to be helpful, and yes, also to be forgiving, of wanting to give someone especially our leaders another chance.  We believe in the basic goodness of our fellow human beings.  We are generous and believe that goodwill begets more goodwill.  In short, we are not rattlesnakes.

            Unfortunately, there are the small minority amongst us who are indeed rattlesnakes.  No matter how kind we are to them, their basic instinct is to bite back.

            When I find a rattlesnake near my house, I remove it away back to the hills.  If it returns, then I will not hesitate to kill it.  I give that critter only one chance; it is too dangerous to have a rattlesnake crawling around near my house.

            Malaysians have been too kind and for too long to this rattlesnake of a leader, Abdullah Badawi.  He interprets the huge mandate he received in2004 not as a trust given by citizens to lead them to greater heights, but as a license to indulge his private fantasies.  He is not at all embarrassed by being endlessly feted, or of him and his adult family members jetting off to far away destinations in his newly acquired (at taxpayers expense of course) luxurious Airbus.  Where and when did this grandson of a pious and humble village imam acquire his extravagant tastes?

            When Abdullah was appointed Deputy Prime Minister back in 1998, this is what I wrote in my book The Malay Dilemma Revisited:  “Abdullah is not known for his intellect or sense of mission.  Nor is he very inspiring. . . . He would be Malaysia’s Jimmy Carter, an honorable enough man but totally ineffective leader.”  I was wrong about the honorable part.

            I also wrote, “Abdullah’s only redeeming quality was his humility; a fine enough tribute for a friend but an overrated quality in a leader.”  As we now know, Abdullah has a lot to be humble about, to borrow Churchill’s quote.

 

 

Democracy:  Self Correcting

 

The mistake Malaysians made was in giving Abdullah that massive mandate in 2004.  That however, was understandable, prompted no doubt by the kind lady instinct in us all.  Unfortunately it cemented in Abdullah the delusion that his many inadequacies were indeed virtues.  Our intellectuals and pundits too were also taken in, mistaking Abdullah’s silence for substance, his humility for wisdom.  Had Malaysians been less generous and our intellectuals more critical, Abdullah would have a far less inflated sense of his own capabilities and virtues.  Who knows, we might be spared his vulgar excesses.

            Even Prime Minister Mahathir was fooled by Abdullah to appoint him as Mahathir’s successor.  At least Mahathir recognized his error of judgment (albeit belatedly) and is now working hard to remedy his greatest mistake.

            The beauty of democracy is that citizens can (or at least are given a chance to) correct our collective mistakes, or even those of our leaders.  In this upcoming election, voters in Kepala Batas could do a great national service if they were to boot Abdullah out.  That would effectively remove him as Prime Minister.  More significantly it would trigger a seismic shift in UMNO’s leadership.  With the party’s ban on contesting top posts effectively circumvented, it would get a chance to preview many other candidates.

            If Kepala Batas voters were shy in exercising this historic opportunity, then Malaysians could still teach Abdullah a lesson by substantially reducing his coalition’s victories.  That would also trigger a challenge to his leadership and we would have the same effect as the first scenario.

            We Malays have a saying that sometimes we have to be unkind or even cruel in order to be kind.  We may think that we are being kind by giving a five-ringgit note to a starving drug addict, but then he would just as quickly use that money to get his next fix.

            In the social sciences there is the concept of “enabler,” specifically referring to the battered wife syndrome, of the wife whose toleration of her husband’s abuses encourages him to be even more abusive.

            In this election voters will have to be cruel in order to be kind to our leaders, ourselves, and our nation.  Malaysians must be wise enough not to be inadvertent enablers of corrupt and incompetent leaders.  We must get rid of the rattlesnakes among our leaders before they bite us.

            If Malaysians were to continue on with business as usual with this election, then we have only ourselves to blame.  It would not be the fault of the rattlesnake if it were to bite us back, as surely it would.

           

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