The Prime Minister's Health Gives Rise to Concern

by MGG Pillai

The Prime Minister remains in intensive care at the IJN National Heart Centre in Kuala Lumpur four days after he was rushed there at 2.30 am for a worsening lung infection. My sources say his blood pressure went almost out of control yesterday and he had respiratory problems last night. But he is holding up well, given his age and his history of heart problems; he had had cardiovascular bypass surgery ten years ago. His punishing political and governmental pace, interspersed with overseas travel, unusual in a man of 74, is given as the cause, but it also underlines his determination to ensure that, at the least, He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost is stopped dead in his political tracks. His political misclaculations in wanting to destroy the political future of his once deputy, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, haunts him. His political, legal and other battles with his nemesis, who dictates the national agenda from his prison cell in Sungei Buloh, unfortunately, makes it life threatening for him.

Dr Mahathir is also mired in growing doubts about his pilgrimage to Mecca. The best information I have got -- and this could well be wrong; official confirmation of this being near impossible -- is that he did not go to either Medina or Arafat. Only one member of the party did manage to do so, but he fell ill in Medina and is hospitalised there. One source was blunt: the Prime Minister could not perform the Haj. This is talked about in the coffee shops throughout the country, giving as the source one member of the party. The Prime Minister's Department should take the public into its confidence and given an unvarnished truthful account of the Pilgrimage, including an explanation why the Prime Minister decided to leave this to the last possible moment.

The government, National Front, UMNO is losing the public relations battle. Government statements, frankly, are disbelieved. UMNO threatens to sue Internet posters for what it calls "lies" instead of confronting and challenging these "lies"; the PKN, immediately on its formation, has a website that is so brilliantly done, and reacts with such efficiency that it has more than stolen a march. Political contestation necessary would challenge the opponents' viewpoints; reacting with law suits is not how to deal with them. The sad fact is that the government, National Front and UMNO forgot that the Internet, skilfully used, is a more powerful means to spread the message than the newspapers and other traditional sources of news dissemination. Blind Stone Age thinking cannot outpace modern technology. But the Stone Age thinking of the ruling coalition is all there to see: sue the fellow who has a different political view; ban the import of machines for fast duplication of CD-Roms to counter the effective use of CD Roms to spread their message in the absence of any other source; the belief that political support must be static because it is the government;  the belief that the public has only role in modern governance: to vote the government into power.

The Prime Minister's health problems is aggravated by his nemesis's skilful seizing not only of public concern but also distancing them from the government and UMNO. That is probably not enough to unseat the National Front in the next general elections, but it has spread a climate of fear into the spines of UMNO leaders. The daily newspapers carries litanies of these leaders about why PKN cannot succeed, as if to convincing themselves that PKN is only a mosquito party. As the JE epidemic shows, even mosquitos can kill, with the Culex variety even causing filiarisis. Like Malaysia's Public Health Officials about the JE outbreak, UMNO leaders cannot decide if PKN is a political Anopheles, Aedes or Culex mosquito. The parallel concerns of Dr Mahathir and the MCA president, Dato'Seri Ling Liong Sik, over their respective mosquitos, underlines the problems.

M.G.G. Pillai