Monday, April 6, 2009

The Incurable Dr M exacerbates the Umno Malaise, hastening the abrupt demise of the patient...

Newly anointed Umno emperor Najib and BN's instant mentri besar eclipsed by their own propaganda

For me the BN ceramah in Simpang with featured guest speaker Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (who had applied to rejoin Umno 24 hours earlier) was a tiny glimpse of hell on earth.

It was a blisteringly hot morning and all the shady spots were spilling over with betudunged Wanita Umno, diehard Umno grassroots veterans, listless civil servants, and inveterate bootlickers from BN component parties.

BN ceramah at Simpang: not exactly an enthusiastic or inspired audience

In fact, it appeared that the majority of the estimated 2,000 odd crowd consisted of government servants who had been instructed to make up the numbers for the return of the Mean Old Man of Ketuanan Melayu politics.

Pamphlets demonizing the evil traitor, that closet Communist Nizar Jamaluddin, the Mentri Besar who refused to resign when the Sultan instructed him to, were handed out by a platoon of paid workers. No one in the Pakatan Rakyat leadership was spared. Well, if you can't win the argument through sound reasoning, resort to unmitigated calumny.

Cultural dancers from the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts & Heritage

A heady mix of wax culture and brownneck politics

Like all Umno/BN sponsored events the atmosphere was oppressive and claustrophobic in its stagnant mediocrity. This particular ceramah offered free food and entertainment in the form of cultural performances arranged by the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts & Heritage (don't bother filing a complaint with the Election Commission, this sort of hanky-panky is par for the course with a political party that regards itself as the permanent, unremovable government of Malaysia).

Getting ready to welcome the Mahafiraun with muhibbah drums

Just for fun I attended the ceramah wearing a PKR cap while another member of the Barisan Rakyat support group went in her NO-TO-ISA T-shirt. Naturally we were the recipients of suspicious looks, though at no time did we encounter outright hostility - except when an SB guy pointed his camera at me. I could sense his ingrained xenophobia oozing through every pore; indeed, I could almost see his hackles rise.

Musuh dalam selimut (enemy in the blanket) at the BN ceramah

What immediately struck me was the sheer predictability and tedium of the entire exercise. The ceramah was to mark Mahathir's return to Umno and the hoped-for rejuvenating effect on Malay voters of seeing the Grand Old Patriarch realigned with the party's "new" management. Umno's traditional power base has always been the culturally insular rural Malay. During the Mahathir era a huge proportion of Malays were urbanized and became instant millionaires (and even billionaires) by venturing into construction. His Vision 2020 involved a great deal of expensive infrastructure.

Suspected Special Branch officer's car with disarmingly honest sticker

In fact, if I can encapsulate Mahathir's greatest failure as the nation's godlike leader for 22 years, it was his gross overemphasis on the purely physical and superficial aspects of development, to the detriment of aesthetical, ethical and spiritual evolution and maturity. The result, sadly, is an entire generation of Malaysians who grew up craving the outward trappings of success, but without a clue about their own abysmal lack of intellectual depth and range - and without any authentic moral core apart from subscribing to petty notions of conspicuous piety, shallow religiosity, and sheer hypocrisy.

An oversupply of Little Napoleons in flak jackets

Since 1970 Umno has deliberately fostered a national culture of conformity and unquestioning loyalty to emblems of authority. This is what spawns mediocrity and the copycat mentality. And this was the energetic emanation of the docile and uninspired crowd that gathered under white tents to greet the prodigal Malay hero, Tun Dr Mahathir. It was the same sort of dead, depressing psychic atmosphere one might expect to encounter in any fascist, totalitarian culture held together by a doctrine of racial supremacy and topped off by chronic communal angst and ego insecurity.

Nizar Jamaluddin and his DAP state exco: ardent fans of the Marx brothers?

This particular congregation of well-behaved, authority-revering folk was not entirely unlovable nor were they without charm. I saw them essentially as descendants of countless generations of humble rice farmers, fisherfolk and itinerant traders. They had been fed a whole lot of propaganda about their unquestionable claim to indigenousness and the divine right of their rulers to continue bamboozling them unto forever.

Umno stalwart's car sticker: "Malays will lose power if too complacent..."

All that's required to reprogram and upgrade their neural circuitry is exposure to funkier music, more adventurous art, and a generous dose of intelligent discourse in the mainstream media - once they are unfettered by repressive laws.

Ah, but that would inevitably signal the abrupt demise of Umno. When its grassroots power base begins to awaken from generations of cultural stupor and throws off its tempurung, Umno members will defect to the much sexier Pakatan Rakyat.

Excitement ripples through the crowd as the "popstar" puppetmaster arrives

A clamor of Malay, Chinese and Indian drums signaled the arrival of featured speaker and Umno "secret weapon" Tun Dr Mahathir. The air turned fetid with the sweat of secret policemen and an absurd clutter of video cameras and photographers. Perfunctory cries of "Hidup Mahathir!" added to the obnoxiousness of the situation. People, this is the 21st century. Makes my flesh creep to hear people yelling stuff like "Hail Caesar!" or "Heil Hitler!"

The habitual sneer I shall not miss when the geezer finally goes

I made a half-hearted attempt to get up close enough to snap a picture of the past master of Machiavellian politics - but gave up when I realized I'd have to force my way through a dense thicket of frenzied adulators. In any case, we've all seen more than enough images of the incurable Dr M during his seemingly interminable reign as the Great Pharaoh of New Egypt aka Bolehland.

From a cartoon poster I drew in 1984 titled "The Incurable Dr M"

I couldn't bear the oppressive heat and diabolical mundanity of the ceramah a minute longer. The others in the party felt the same way too, so we all left before Dr M's speech. When we got to where our van was parked, we found the entire street doubleparked and there was no way we could squeeze out of that mess. None of us could endure the thought of staying till the whole circus act was over. Imagine our joy and relief when a couple of cabs showed up magically to transport us to the cozy familiarity of our makeshift media center at the Cherry Inn.