In Dr M vs Lim it’s advantage, Kit Siang

Terence Netto
Nov 9, 2013

COMMENT The latest round of skirmishing between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Lim Kt Siang testify to the enduring nature of some political vendettas.

It appears ageing politicians don’t easily forget their resentment of some opponents; they just nurse it to higher degrees of virulence.

Former prime minister Mahathir has often displayed a visceral antagonism towards DAP adviser Kit Siang, one that goes beyond the usual bounds of political rivalry and contention.

From the time they first jousted in Parliament in the 1970s, through the 22 years of Mahathir’s premiership (1981-2003), and continuing into the post-Mahathir era, the Umno stalwart and the DAP strongman have traded blows in one of Malaysian politics’ more enduring examples of loathing.

An examination of this antagonism would find that Mahathir had more often than not been the initiator of hostilities.

Quick and combative as a mongoose, Mahathir seldom wastes a chance to deliver a dig at Kit Siang’s expense.

This is not a surprise coming from someone who tends to see politics as a matter of public antagonism and who cannot resist the low blow where others would prefer a straightforward punch.

On his part, the DAP durable has rarely been slow on the uptake, adept at giving back as good as he takes.

Even when the stimulus was as trivial as Kit Siang’s understandable, if petulant, snatching of a ticket at a Plus tollgate during a long traffic snarl in the early days of the North-South Expressway, Mahathir could not let the occasion pass without comment.

He denounced Kit Siang’s behaviour as indicative of someone who had no respect for the law, treating the oppositionist’s audacity like it savoured of mutiny against king and country.

A dish best tasted cold

The latest skirmish concerns the older man’s bemusement over his bete noire’s unduly – according to Mahathir – deferred retirement.

If vengeance is a dish best tasted cold, invective is a weapon best delivered clinically.

Kit Siang’s response to Mahathir’s sarcasm combined a withering litany of instances of the latter’s diminishing influence with a wish that the man lives long enough to see his noxious legacy buried for good.

Rarely in the annals of democratic debate between political antagonists in Malaysia has one had the other in his cross-hairs with a defter combination of precision targeting and dripping scorn.

Mahathir, skilled at trotting out pretexts for deferring his own retirement during his protracted premiership, is fond of equating the year of his start as a parliamentarian (1964) with Kit Siang’s beginnings in politics.

This is a misleading equation, because Mahathir was 39 at that time and Kit Siang was only starting out as a political aide to his mentor, Devan Nair, at the age of 23.

With that lopsided equation, Mahathir can paint himself as having quit active politics in 2003 when he retired as PM (he was 78 then) while showing that the now 72-year-old Kit Siang, with the supposedly same starting year as Mahathir’s, as still lounging around in the arena, overstaying his welcome.

Mahathir had an earlier start to his political career than the year of his election as MP for Kota Setar Selatan in 1964. His political commentaries, under the pseudonym ‘Che Det’, appeared in newspapers as long ago as the late 1940s.

In those days, a column counted for currency in the political arena, so a political columnist was not a person merely at an observatory post as he/she is these days.

Several who wrote for the Malay language papers especially, were active political operatives; the boundaries between politics and journalism were pretty fluid then.

If those early years are taken as the commencement of Mahathir’s political career, he has had a longer stay in the arena (late 1940s to 2003) than Kit Siang’s, which is now a 49-year innings.

A tryst with democratic destiny

Really, these length-of-tenancy comparisons are tendentious, but they need be made for perspective.

Actually, a more objective comparison would be to see if the career in question has attained the aims it had set for itself at its outset.

Mahathir’s career, with its aim of bringing about Malay socioeconomic advancement, had, by his own admission, not attained the objective he himself sought for it.

But he has had his chance – nothing less than a 22-year tenancy at the pinnacle of political power in the country – to achieve it.

Kit Siang’s career, occupied as it was and continues to be, with a return to the spirit of the country’s 1957 Merdeka constitution, has begun to glimpse the realisation of what, prior to the 2008 general election, seemed unattainable: a tryst with the democratic destiny spelled out in the Merdeka Proclamation.

In that sense, one cannot say now it is the “useless” career that Mahathir had once derided it as having been.

In fact, as comparison, it can be said that Mahathir’s career has been a personal success but a corporate failure, whereas Kit Siang’s may well turn out to be a personal and corporate success.

The point – considering a career’s goals and the possibility of their realisation – about length of tenancy, then, becomes nugatory.

Some goals are worth going to your grave with your boots on, provided of course they haven’t seen any use in trampling on rivals’ careers.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 11 November 2013 - 8:47 am

    Ultimately Mahathir is going to lose – look at Marcos-Aquino and others like it, the losers are always the strongmen who can’t adapt. Aquino is the hero, Marcos the villian forever. So it will be for Mahathir-LKS.

    • #2 by loo on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 - 1:09 pm

      But then Marcos’s wife & sons are still in politics just like Mukriz’s mamak’s son

  2. #3 by Winston on Monday, 11 November 2013 - 9:27 am

    The whole UMNO/BN is infected by a strain of virulent virus called the Mamak strain!
    It’s far more virulent than the Ebola!!!

  3. #4 by pulau_sibu on Monday, 11 November 2013 - 10:39 am

    the use of dirty tactic by imprisoning kit sing under ISA only showed that mahathir is a coward. until today, he has no gut to apologize also showed that he is not a gentleman politician. it will be too heavy for him to bring all these to the grave

  4. #5 by vsp on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 - 12:48 am

    Never has Terence been so wrong in equating Mahathir as a mongoose. Rather the opposite is more true: Mahathir is the cobra and LKS is the mongoose. LKS had survived many a poisonous attacks from the Kerala cobra to its eternal dismay. Mahathir has all the powers but could not kill off LKS politically. In the end Mahathir had to survive on the goodwill of the Chinese while loosing the support of the Malays. Intelligent Malays in urban areas such as Gelang Patah, Shah Alam, Pasir Mas and Sungai Limau have wised up to this faked constitutional Malay in destroying the Malays’ integrity and have rejected him. Even now, the Chinese too have repudiated this ungrateful scam artist. Sane Malaysians of all races have at last realized that Mahathir is the cancer of the nation. The only support that Mahathir can depend on are from the lunatic fringes and the ignorant and uneducated masses from the poor rural areas. Mahathir cannot even depend on his former cronies to help him anymore.

    LKS is loved by Malaysians for his tenacity in defending a multiracial Malaysia while Mahathir is hankering for the return of a feudalistic “Tanah Melayu”, where the Malays were held in bondage and servitude under the elitist upper class for centuries. Mahathir is a spent force while LKS still has the spirit to go on. That’s the difference between a champion and a sore loser.

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