Malaysia: Out with the old, in with the new!

If yesterday everyone in Malaysia was stepping over one another to say “Goodbye!” to the beloved Dr. Mahathir, today they are doing the same thing — sort of.

Once again, the newspapers weigh a ton and are packed with supplements, just like yesterday. Once again, local businesses are jamming the papers with page after page of paid advertisements. Only today, they are not saying goodbye to Mahathir, but are instead welcoming the new PM.

The New Straits Times, in its upper right-hand corner, has a big bold headline, “We have faith in you!” And that’s basically what all the ads say. Again, the smiling pictures of the new benevolent yet powerful ruler, the maudlin greetings from the sycophants and the sugary tributes, as though God had touched down in KL. The media are so drunk with praise, that I almost wonder whether the government itself controls the press here. No; couldn’t be….

I tried to imagine a Western newspaper running such a headline (“We have faith in you!”) upon the election of a Western leader. Of course, that’s a futile exercise, as the cultures are so different; here it is absolutely the norm. In the US, once a leader is elected the press sees its function as tearing him down, or at least scrutinizing him mercilessly, looking for any flaw or screw-up.

I go back to Singapore tomorrow morning. This has been quite an adventure. I like Malaysia; it has an earthiness and unpredictability that Singapore lacks. The flight here is about 25 minutes, so KL may be my place to hang out on those weekends when I want to escape Singapore’s at-times stifling monotony.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Appreciate much the coverage of Mahathir’s stepdown. Speaking as a Sabah native “fully aware of having been marginalised” I do miss the warmth and earthiness back home that you describe. I also can acknowledge the growth and leadership Dato M’s provided. Not meaning to compare the two, but was wondering if there ever was an uproar in the international community when someone as revered as Winston Churchill compared Indians to monkeys (etc.etc.)?

November 1, 2003 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

About Churchill’s comment — I doubt if there was an uproar. Remember, times were different then, and such comments were not nearly as controversial as they are now.

November 2, 2003 @ 8:49 am | Comment

Actually the us press upon the election of a new president there’s a period of honeymoon where there is little said of critical nature. Not quite the “we have faith in you” stuff but there’s a lot of cheerleading going on during then.

November 2, 2003 @ 10:40 am | Comment

*chuckle* at least since 9/11, it would seem that the penalty for not wholeheartedly supporting the presidency and the party line in america has been to be tarred with the “treason!” brush. the press here has only just recently begun to stop being chicken about criticizing Bush’s war ambitions. one can’t blame people for acting on the instinct of self-preservation. there’s less need for govt censorship or control when the populace prudently takes self-censorship upon itself! ๐Ÿ™‚

November 2, 2003 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

I guess you had to be there to see how this differs from the usual honeymoon, which in the US consists of a a few weeks in which the media are nice to the newcomer. In KL, it was hero worship and slavish adoration, even before he was sworn in. Three separate newspaper suppllments, filled with paid ads saying We Welcome You! This kind of kowtowing by businesses had to be a political move to put the comanies on good ground with the new PM. The people I met told me it was insincere but not at all surprising, considering the history of politics in Malaysia.

November 2, 2003 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

Richard – yes I realize times and perceptions change. I suppose it’s difficult to accept that anyone you respect and admire is less than perfect, especially when it comes to just basic morals. I notice your interest in Wagner, for instance. I thought his music absolutely heavenly until I found out about his racist writings (opinions also rampant in his time I know). I still enjoy his operas, but the appreciation will now always be accompanied by slight unease.

November 3, 2003 @ 4:58 am | Comment

Especially as a Jew, my love for Wagner’s music was often a problem for me. But, as with any art, we simply have to divorce the artwork from the artist, difficult though that may be. There are going to be flaws in every hero (though with Wagner there are more flaws than usual).

November 3, 2003 @ 5:10 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.