The feel-good mood is back

by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad

Aristotle says man is by nature a political animal. No one should take offence if I say so-and-so is a political animal because every politician is a political animal. The difference is whether he is too much or sufficiently enough of a political animal.

But people should take offence, and correctly so, if I describe X is a political animal, with the accent on the second word.

In Malaysian politics we have many politicians imbued with too much animal instinct. Indeed, one or two were canine: dog-eats-dog type.

I know a political jackal too well. He had not a dog's chance to be prime minister democratically but he did try, not once but twice. Thank God he failed but many people paid a heavy price for it.

In the United States there were and are many political animals. A famous one was President Lyndon Baines Johnson in whose office when he was Vice-President I served as a Congressional intern in 1962.

Whatever the American people think of Johnson he was an effective president and for us he was a good friend of Malaysia. He supported us overtly (and covertly) against Sukarno's Indonesia's confrontation between (1962-66).

LBJ, as he was popularly known, remains the only American president who had ever visited our country.

In his book "New Political Dictionary", William Safire cites Arthur Krock, a well known New York Times columnist whom I had the pleasure, as an awe-struck young journalist, of meeting for about 45 minutes in 1961 as having often applied the term (political animal) to Johnson.

Writing on May 24, 1964, Arthur Krock noted: "The most political animal to occupy the White House since Andrew Jackson, if not since the creation of the Federal Governments has just completed the first six months of his presidency"

Politics is often compared to horse-racing, but according to many a more apt comparison might be to insurance underwriting especially when one is playing the odds.

Incumbents should always be conservative. The opposition and their foreign friends in the media and those who have not surfaced and even voters are fondly harbouring romantic notions about their favourite parties' long-shot chances of taking over the government from Barisan Nasional and do-or-die battle.

I was once an elected politician (two terms in parliament and more than two decades as Umno divisional chief) and most of my elected colleagues even non-elected politicians normally take a dim view of such provident behaviour. Politics is a profession wrought with risk especially in a developing nation. Risk is inevitable, we can only try to minimise it.

Few would envy the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, for the challenges facing him. and the nation are monumental. But most Malaysians should support him and the Barisan Nasional with his pragmatic approaches to meet those challenges head on.

Our country declined IMF assistance. Instead we deliberately chose to bite the bullet. After the government had introduced selective capital controls and a fixed exchange regime, then modified a bit to make them market-friendly via exit levy tax on short-term foreign portfolio capital overflow, the Malaysian economy today is liquid, solvent and viable.

Tun Daim the minister of finance, I am sure, is far from satisfied but the most important thing is our economy is picking up as are social and political life. There are still many challenges ahead but if we are united we will overcome them.

I write this column in Kuala Lumpur. No fair person even the biased foreign media can ignore facts about the growing confidence among Malaysians, the rising optimism, goodwill and the positive sentiments about the future. The generally feel-good atmosphere has returned.

Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea have pleased Washington by following IMF - style economic orthodoxy Good luck to them.

The West, their friends in Malaysia and in the opposition, continue to attack the government and criticise Mahathir in particular. They say that behind Mahathir's benign looks lie concealed toughness and stubbornness. Some uncharitable opponents even say behind that front lurks a man with shameless Machiavellian tendencies.

Supporters, Umno and Barisan Nasional component parties, I am sure, say it is these very qualities that have and can save Malaysia from future hiatus and mayhem.

Mahathir has brought us stability, peace and prosperity for eighteen years. He is now into his 19th year as Prime Minister (Lee Yew was Prime Minister 32 years) and I believe continue to lead us we the new century.

Mahathir is a pragmatic leader. He will deftly avoid what Lord Salisbury said commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcasses dead policies. When a mast falls overboard, you do not try to save a rope here and a spar there, in memory of their former utility; you cut away the hamper altogether".

It would be a long time before and one can write a book or study of Mahathir in retirement and being simply a grandfather. We will continue to hear and read about Mahathir's candour, fearless speeches and treatise for many more years to come.

You ought to realise by now that in Malaysia as in Singapore, politics changes slowly.