I remember an interview we had with Dr Mahathir Mohamad. It was during the height of the Asian financial crisis in early 1998 and he was premier at the time.
That he was distracted was obvious. Every so often, an aide would come up and show him a slip of paper. He would glance at it and then turn back to us. After 40 minutes of this, I couldn’t contain my curiosity and asked him what it was all about.
He explained that the aide was bringing him the latest greenback-ringgit quotes. The exchange rate had been frenziedly volatile, and the premier wanted to keep his eye on the ball.
The Lord knows I’ve frequently been critical of Dr M but during the Asian financial crisis, he kept his eye firmly on the ball.
These are the times that try men’s souls, wrote Thomas Paine over two centuries ago. We have entered such a time now and what a horror it is! The crisis we face now makes the 1998 one appear frivolous, almost Winnie the Pooh-like in both its scale and its scope. Like it or not, we are looking down the barrel of a gun.
And can we confidently say our leaders have their eye on the ball?
If that ball is power, then yes. That’s all that seems to interest Umno or Bersatu these days and people are sick of their shenanigans.
Consider the following.
The Prime Minister is admitted to hospital over a week ago. The poor man seems very sick right up to Wednesday night, when Umno threatens to pull support from his fragile coalition.
Lo and behold, he makes a miraculous recovery and dashes to his residence where the first “crisis” meeting of the pandemic is held: TV footage shows limousines coming and going amid an air of urgency. Reporters assert that Weighty Matters of State are Unfolding.
The Attorney General is summoned and pronounces, with all the grave impartiality of a Lord Denning, that because there “are no clear” facts showing that the PM has lost the support of a majority of MPs, he can continue governing. Carry on, McMoo, he advises and the PM duly declares victory.
Over at the Putra World Trade Centre, Umno President Zahid Hamidi also declares victory, satisfied that Umno had fired a shot across the Prime Ministerial bow.
Two cheers for democracy!
Meanwhile, Ismail Sabri is promoted to deputy premier. It isn’t clear why, but it might have to do with his sadly lugubrious delivery of bad news.
Similarly, foreign minister Hishamuddin Hussain is promoted to senior minister for equally vague reasons. Insiders in the know, however, insist that it’s due to his masterful handling of foreign policy, noting that he kept Malaysia out of war for 16 months.
But hark, what of Master Azmin, a Master of the Universe and the Schemer behind the Sheraton Strategy?
But there is no joy in the Ministry of International Trade. Mr Azmin himself is spotted in contemplative prayer in a mosque in the Middle East, from where he will, doubtless, return, bearing much foreign investment and good cheer.
But before that, he will take a well-deserved holiday in Austria to unwind from the stresses and strains of holding high office.
Meanwhile, the rocket scientists in government continue to rock. On a day that Covid infections hit a new peak of 8,868 – a number that sent punter hearts aflutter – the Minister of Religion said that all mosques and suraus would be opened forthwith.
The future so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.