What the ‘500 countries’ slip says about Malaysians

As if on cue, we Malaysians reached for our pitchforks and torches the moment Health Minister Dr Adham Baba mis-stated that he had spoken to “500 countries” during a recent video conference, when he had meant 500 “participants”.

Why not? This is the same minister who dished out quack advice about drinking warm water to beat the coronavirus.

There was also a viral video clip where he was quoted as saying there are 15 states in Malaysia.

To many Malaysians, he is after all, a “backdoor” minister. His appointment didn’t go through the “normal” convention and if there’s a chance to pillory him, why waste it?

Therein lies the problem. We are more obsessed with getting back at leaders based on our political bias than we care to admit. We’d rather have our emotions rule than objective evaluations.

I am not trying to defend the minister. This is not about him, but rather about our collective prejudices.

He has been on the job for less than two months and we have already treated him like some grotesque political monstrosity. How is he supposed to perform or offer leadership at a time of national health crisis?

By comparison, the so-called Bangsar intelligentsia had been more accommodating to Pakatan Harapan ministers who had been equally, if not more, susceptible to gaffes in 22 months in power, than Perikatan Nasional’s two months.

One of the first policy announcements made by then-education minister Maszlee Malik was on – of all things – black shoes. But stomach it we did.

We gritted our teeth and prayed the stupidity would go away, but when it did not, he did (but only weeks before the PH government fell).

We also had a defence minister who was the butt of jokes for belittling the country’s own defence capability.

These are worse gaffes compared with mixing “countries” with “participants”, but we prefer to enjoy the adrenaline rush from tearing apart those who are diametrically opposed to our political position.

We get a high from the moral high ground.

But this is not about a race to the bottom. It is about whether we can sober up to make objective assessments about our leaders, free from the clench of bias and personal prejudices.

If a manager at a workplace is consumed by personal bias like race or gender, he or she will not be able to make an objective assessment of who should land promotion or get a pay rise. In the end, it’s the organisation that suffers.

If we continue to behave like the said employer by allowing hatred or racially tinted views to cloud our judgements, it is the country which will suffer.

For now, it sure feels good to let the heart rule, and worry about the consequences later.

Lucas Liu is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.