Events since May 9 remind me of Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton was talking about physics but the ancient sages had a name for something similar when talking about life. They called it karma.
Simply put, without considering its nuances, this is what karma means: If my thoughts, words and actions are good, the effects are beneficial to me; but if my thoughts, words and actions are bad, the effects are harmful. And, depending on my real, not stated, intentions and moral conduct, karma can sting.
Why am I reminded of this?
When I see newspapers or online news portals or watch television, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s face stares at me or gives me that wry smile of his. His picture is everywhere, and soon, if it has not happened yet, it will be on the walls of all government offices and many business premises.
Hardly a month ago, the Election Commission (EC) prohibited his picture from being included on campaign banners and posters of Pakatan Harapan (PH), which was then in the opposition. The ridiculous reason given was that only the pictures of the top two officials of contesting parties could be included on campaign materials and, as PH and Mahathir’s own PPBM had yet to be registered, his face could not appear on these.
The EC, wanting to show it meant business, went even further: It cut off the face of Mahathir on some banners, leaving gaping holes in them. No way was the EC going to allow Mahathir to smile at me and other Malaysians.
But what has happened? EC officials and the Umno leadership did not want voters to see Mahathir’s face during the short campaign period, but now we, and they, will be seeing it every day for as long as he is prime minister. That’s karma.
The EC and Najib Razak’s government forced through an unpopular and unfair redelineation exercise just before the general election. What it did, in essence, was to reshape certain electoral boundaries by moving some non-Malay voters to constituencies that in the past had voted overwhelmingly for the opposition and some Malay voters to constituencies where the opposition or Barisan Nasional had previously won with small majorities.
I was one of those moved from a Malay-majority seat to its neighbouring Chinese-majority seat, and a DAP stronghold, although my polling station remained unchanged.
The reason some Malays were moved into marginal constituencies, many reasoned, was to tip the scale in favour of a BN victory based on the belief that Malay voters would vote for Umno and BN.
But what happened? Many of the Malays in these constituencies voted for the opposition instead. That’s karma.
The registration of PH and PPBM was delayed by the Registrar of Societies, almost certainly because someone figured this would leave the opposition in disarray and lead to PH partners DAP, PKR and Amanah contesting under their own banners and Mahathir and others in PPBM contesting as independents.
What happened? Whoever came up with that brilliant scheme to flummox PH did not count on a brilliant fox or two in PH. For, the PH partners decided to fight under one banner, that of PKR. So, instead of leaving the opposition in shambles, it enhanced opposition unity – a unity which the voter could clearly see; a unity which resulted in Putrajaya falling into the hands of PH. That’s karma.
Let’s not forget that Mahathir, the very man who sent Anwar Ibrahim to jail (the first time), was instrumental in getting him a royal pardon and freeing him after the May 9 general election. That’s karma.
Let’s also not forget that in GE14, as chairman of the PH coalition, Mahathir not only had to lead PKR, but also had to stand for election on a PKR ticket. So, the very party that was formed to unseat Mahathir during his previous stint as prime minister helped hugely in making him prime minister for a second time. That’s serious karma.
During Mahathir’s first stint as prime minister, those with dissenting views were often investigated and harassed, and even jailed. Government institutions were used to frustrate and penalise dissenting individuals and NGOs. The dissidents cried out that Mahathir had subverted and undermined government institutions such as the judiciary. Democracy, they lamented, was dead.
Mahathir himself was harassed and investigated over the past two years or so after joining the ranks of the dissidents, with government institutions used against him and some of his supporters. Mahathir said Najib had subverted and undermined government institutions such as the judiciary. Democracy, he lamented, was dead. That’s karma.
And here’s a very recent, and classic, example of karma: On Nov 1 last year, Mahathir complained that the police had withdrawn his personal bodyguard service. Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mohamad Fuzi Harun, in refuting the claim, said the security detail given to Mahathir had not been entirely withdrawn. Only the number had been reduced, he said, adding that this was normal procedure. Najib was then prime minister.
On May 29, Najib complained that his bodyguards, police outriders and officers had been withdrawn. IGP Fuzi, in refuting the claim, said the security detail given to Najib had not been entirely withdrawn. Only the number had been reduced, he said, adding that this was normal procedure. Mahathir is now prime minister.
I am sure readers can come up with many more examples of karma at work.
What’s clear is that karma has a way of catching up when you least expect it. I hope PH leaders and senior civil servants learn from this, and remind themselves constantly that inexorable karma is sitting right on their shoulders – watching and waiting to reward or penalise.
A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.