When personal ambition leads to democracy’s downfall

MARCH 2 — The last week of February 2020 will be always be remembered as the day New Malaysia was dealt a near-fatal blow because many of the people whom the rakyat trusted to safeguard reforms and democracy in the country put themselves above the people. 

These folks messed up because they believed that partisan in-fighting was relatively “harmless”, that no outcome could be so bad that Old Malaysia could return, that the ripple effects could be controlled, that — indeed — there was no fundamental contradiction between pursuing personal gain and bringing real reform to the country.

Oh boy, how completely wrong and messed up is that!?

Because of the actions of these people, whom Malaysian voters trusted, the country is now in turmoil. 

Because a few people showed less patience and self-control than a kid in a toy shop, the country is now headed by a dubious scandal-hit coalition and will, in all likelihood, undergo a heavy period of instability. 

Because one or two leaders decided to take matters into their own hands instead of burying the hatchet for the sake of the people, there is now a high chance that certain big-ticket names with serious criminal charges will walk away scot-free.

There are important lessons here for us “mere mortals” who only do simple things like line up in a school and vote. 

And it’s not just that we gotta quit obsessing about our own position. 

It’s also that we suck at predicting, let alone controlling anything.

Honestly, how many Malaysians believed that Tun Mahathir was going to resign on that fateful Monday? 

Also, how many of us — a day before Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was declared by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to be the next PM — could’ve guessed that he was at all a top candidate, let alone that he would win? 

Even a few days after Tun resigned, the candidates most of us expected for next PM were Anwar Ibrahim, Azmin Ali, Hishammuddin Hussein or, as most people were saying, Tun himself.

Thankfully, for 99 per cent of us, getting our predictions wrong came with a very low, if not entirely zero, downside. 

I hope nobody bet anything big on any one particular event happening or not happening. 

However, is it possible that one reason why Pakatan Harapan unravelled practically overnight is because the key people at the top had too much faith in their own predictive power? 

Or, at the very least, in their power to control outcomes and events; surely a bigger delusion than the power of prediction?

A quick recall of some key events easily proves how even these top people failed to see that the future in their heads and reality don’t easily match up: 

  1. Someone thought that he could get an audience with a key person and push things forward, failed to anticipate the tremors even a rumour of this could create
  2. Another someone decided to marshall his supporters and launch a coup from some dinner in some hotel, clearly mis-evaluating his actual support
  3. Another someone decided to tender his resignation, wrongly calculating what would unfold over the next few days
  4. One party at first threw their support for someone, then later withdrew support, then later supported him again, proving how completely devoid of “future-reading power” they are
  5. Then another someone made a decision based on a likelihood of something being true
  6. Then someone else tried to show that things weren’t as initially thought, while failing to predict that a certain someone will no longer let him speak, etc. 
  7. Ad infinitum

So many “black swans” in one week. So much uncertainty. Yet so many of Malaysia’s “best and brightest” behaved in ways which suggest severe over-confidence in their forecasting.

Power not only corrupts, it also corrodes our future-seeing and reality-directing abilities. Maybe that’s why the best prophets are also the most humble?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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