Friday, October 31, 2003

Ending Medication

Ending M-edication

The papers are filled with tributes to Dr M whose last day in office is today. There have been enough praises and criticisms levelled against the man who has led Malaysia for 22 years--all very well articulated by both his supporters and detractors. It'll be very boring for me to add anything to that.

I grew up during the Mahathir years. I remember having to discuss about "Pensyarikatan Malaysia" (Malaysia Incorporated) and "Dasar Pandang Timur" (Look East Policy) during our Form 6 Kertas Am (General Paper) classes. Our Kertas Am teacher is now the Chief Minister of Pahang (Even at that time, he was more interested in politics than teaching.)

I am old enough to know what Malaysia was like before and after Dr M came into power. I have been an ardent Dr M watcher for 22 years. I have read all the books that he has written and studied most of his speeches. Even when I wasn't in the country, I made sure that I downloaded and read all his UMNO assembly speeches in their original Malay, to get a better feel of their nuances.

When I was in Singapore, I lapped up everything written about him in the Singapore papers. Even afternoon tabloids like the New Paper often carry news about him and even there, one could sense a certain grudging admiration for this man.

I was in the States during the last general election but I followed all the going-ons in Malaysia through the internet with breathless attention. I smiled when I realised how Dr M. deceived everyone about the election date when he "pretended" to be going to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM 99), only to cancel it at the very last minute to declare general elections. That was the only election which I did not manage to vote since I became eligible to do so.

Sometimes I find him very repetitive. (Yes, yes, we know the trade in currencies is 20 times that of trade in goods). But one must compliment him on his consistency. His love for his people and country is evident even from his early writings as a medical student, under the pseudonym of Che Det. (In one of his articles, he describes the Malay dress as "picturesque").

Some of the criticisms levelled against him are naive, some of the praises, overboard. For better or worse, Dr M completely dominated our waking lives and shoved what he thought was good down our throats. For 22 years, he bombarded us almost daily with his exhortations, criticisms and chastisements. Even before he commented on anything, we would sort of like cringe in anticipation.

Having gotten used to all that, it felt strange for me when I was in living Singapore and Indonesia: Why is it that Goh Chok Tong or President Megawati never make a single press statement for weeks or months? I realised how different Dr M's style was from other leaders.

I had expected Dr M to declare his retirement before the next elections but the news still caught me by surprise. When I first heard it through an SMS from my sister in Malaysia, I realised, the old man couldn't have chosen have a better time and venue to make the announcement--it was vintage Dr M.

For 22 years we have been under Dr M's medication. It has been one long treatment. Our bodies are stronger now, we can walk with greater confidence and talk with greater coherence. Maybe we do not need such strong medication anymore. But after 22 years, who is to say we will not suffer any withdrawal symptoms?

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