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A PM’s guide to political lexicon

April 24, 2012

Being silent first leads to dignified silence, then to deathly… and deafening…, and finally to downfall.


By Analogist

Silence – noun – This refers to the absence of response, spoken or written, when confronted with allegations of wrong-doing.

The first thing all politicians must learn is that the least controllable organ in the body is the mouth, although some may think the distinction belongs to the appendage lower down the anatomy. One of the serious consequences of a loose tongue is the foot-in-mouth disease, of course, but that is not what we’re talking about here.

Staying silent has its own power and eloquence which married couples understand. They engage in cold wars, each hoping his/her wordless weapon is more destructive than the other’s. Besides, who remembers anything from Castro’s six-hour speeches?

The benefits and pitfalls of keeping mum are best illustrated by the adjectives commonly used to describe it:

Dignified silence. This is what all prime ministers hope to maintain. The public thinks the accusation is disrespectful to your office and you wouldn’t deign to reply. Sympathy and support for you rises and your critics are forced to eat the dirt they’ve dug up.

However, this is getting harder and harder to achieve with opposition members continuing to dig up the dirt (they don’t grow up, do they?), holding up the tiniest bone fragment they find and crying foul murder, as they always do. And with digital media, anyone with a smartphone and a finger thinks he’s the judge and executioner.

But as any lawyer (whether Harvard- or Perry Mason-trained) will tell you, even prime ministers have the right to remain silent. Difficult as it is to swallow, being convicted in a court of law is far worse than being found guilty in the one of public opinion.

Deathly silence. When powerful explosives are set off in the jungle with a lifeless body somewhere in the undergrowth, what follows is deathly silence. Even the crickets stop rubbing their legs together. (Scorpions are not known to make sounds audible to human ears.) However, the deathly silence doesn’t last for long. What follows is …

Deafening silence. Opposition members (yes, them again) and social activists are scavengers, behaving like those bottom-feeders in your fish tanks. They feed on scraps. The difference is the din they make. Throw in aggrieved parents and you have a deafening roar, overwhelming your best attempts at maintaining a dignified silence.

In this scenario the best course of action is to create a diversion or distraction. Political scandals are excellent attention-grabbers. Since controversies in the other camp are not easy to throw up at short notice, scour your own side. It doesn’t matter if the scandals relate to cows or condos. Other times you get lucky, and your ministers or their offspring do you a favour by getting into the front pages. The trick is to feed people with fresh scraps at short intervals. By the time your critics react, the scandal would have been overtaken by new ones. This will keep them off-balance.

Is it a coincidence that all the words describing or associated with “silence” begin with the letter “d”? Probably not. A depressing thought. Hence, the advice to prime ministers is for them to avoid indulging their ding-a-lings. It leads, first, to dignified silence, then to deathly… and deafening…, and finally to downfall. Duh.

Moderation – noun – Meaning of the word depends on the audience and intended effect.

Examples of usage:

(a) In international forums to give the impression that the speaker is a progressive statesman in a Muslim-majority country. “Global Movement of Moderates” is an excellent platform for this.

(b) In statements aimed at targets of racial and religious threats to mean “do not react”.

The word is time- and place-sensitive. DO NOT use this word:

(a) During a raging controversy. However, sprinkle liberally when the issue has simmered down. Appear statesmanlike while doing so.

(b) To scold far-right groups even when they spew communal venom. Their supporters are a precious bloc of voters especially when the thieving and cunning opposition is trying to poach the majority in the middle ground. If questioned, refer to the rights of free speech which armchair activists so assiduously claim to support.

(c) At party general assemblies, especially before elections. Keris-wielding and fellow party leaders yelling bloody threats are potentially fatal to your standing as champion of the race. You don’t want to be out-flanked by those eyeing your position.

DO use this word :

(a) When speaking to Christian groups.

(b) In opening speeches at coalition component parties’ general assemblies. This is a cheap and easy way to look big to small folks. And to win headlines in the next day’s papers (including those controlled by the small folks.)

You help me, I help you. – sentence – This is a very useful collection of words, especially in the pre-election season. The power of the sentence lies in its implied threat, “If you don’t help me, God help you.”

Some observers call this political bribery. These people are either in the opposition or they were born this morning. All leaders with ambitions of longevity were born before yesterday.

It is a truism that voters have short memories. Therefore, “I help you…” is a promise you don’t have to fulfil. (Useful case studies of long-in-power politicians include Marcos, Mubarak, Mahathir.)

As the political arena is filled with back-stabbers, megalomaniacs and rascals of every description, an indispensable but unspeakable variant is “You don’t spill my beans and I won’t spill yours”. A long career in politics is bound to accrue its collection of beans, some as colourful as Smarties. You’d be well-advised to create an inventory of everyone else’s misdeeds. Trust no one, not even members of the executive branch. One day, one of them, say, the attorney-general, might hold a gun to your head, so to speak. Of course, this works both ways. It may turn out that you can’t move against him because he’s holding your balls. (Big beans are called balls.) Stiff excrement, as they say.

Warnings on use of the sentence:

Do not use it when under siege as it will smack of desperation. (However, if pushed to the wall – what the heck – what is there to lose?)

Do not reverse the clauses. “I help you, you help me” is what the electorate thinks it wants. Any politician worth his wealth must be able to manoeuvre the people away from this dangerous idea.

Whatever you do, do not remind them that “you help me …” is for the long term. The sentence for Malaysians is five years.

‘Analogist’ is a nom de plume of a young Malaysian who hopes to send the right message through this satirical piece.


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