How Tajuddin’s boorish conduct united Malaysians in their outrage

It was 24 hours that rattled the PN government, whose ineptitude is providing rich comic material for creative talents

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Tajuddin Rahman’s appalling conduct at a press conference on 25 May after a collision between two light rail trains the night before outraged many viewers.  

The Prasarana chairman’s condescending dismissiveness of reporters’ probing questions, his lack of empathy for the victims and his sneering remark with racial overtones towards a woman reporter from China were apparent for all to see.

With his appalling conduct, he unwittingly succeeded in uniting the nation in the public backlash that followed. This was clear when stand-up comic Douglas Lim received many positive comments from a multiracial audience for taking the mickey out of Tajuddin’s appalling press conference in a spoof. The transparent plastic container on Lim’s face, mimicking Tajuddin’s unusual face shield (which goes for RM245, complete with a built-in air purifier!) was hilarious.

On the heels of Lim’s video was a music video “probok probok you know english not” by a spirited singer, who goes by the nickname Takahara Suiko. In her video, with its catchy beat and energetic rendition, she mocked Tajuddin’s accusation that the reporters were out to “provoke” him with their probing questions.

The Perikatan Nasional government’s ineptitude, bungling and insensitivity is providing rich material for cartoonists, satirical artists, stand-up comics and creative talents (witness all those witty memes as well). So, it is indirectly helping to bring Malaysians together – through comedy!

As cartoonist Zunar once noted, there’s nothing that politicians and leaders dread more than people laughing at them.

It was not all humour, though. So strong was the outrage against Tajuddin soon after his press conference on 25 May that an online petition calling for his sacking bagged 100,000 signatures in 21 hours. The petition, which was started at 7pm on 25 May, drew almost 140,000 in just over 24 hours, ie by 8pm on 26 May). This must have been some kind of a record.

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By nightfall, the dam could no longer hold back the outpouring of public indignation. News broke that Tajuddin was dismissed as Prasarana chairman with immediate effect – presumably to appease mounting public anger. “Victory! TAJUDDIN TELAH DIPECAT!!!” (Tajuddin has been sacked), the online petition declared.

This episode shows us how, after decades of race-based policies and the casting aside of meritocracy in leadership, the cream at the top has largely disappeared, allowing the mediocre and the shallow to rise to the top.

In times of crisis when the occasion calls for competence in crisis management and compassion for victims, what we saw instead was arrogance and boorish conduct.  

This was not something that happened overnight. In Tajuddin’s case, he had displayed such crassness much earlier. Who can forget how he mocked Teresa Kok’s name in Parliament. For years, he had been a slow-motion ‘train wreck’ waiting to happen.

But this episode is not all about Tajuddin, nor even the way appointments to government-linked companies are handed to political appointees (this is also happening in Pakatan Harapan-ruled states, mind you).

It is also about a system that has broken down and is now mired in warped racial and religious rhetoric. Out of this bog, we see rising to the top, those ill-equipped for the demands of top leadership and crisis management.

Many found this entire episode depressing, even infuriating. An old friend of mine asked me: “Can we ever reform? I see not in my lifetime and maybe another lifetime…” regarding how the administration was handling its latest crisis.

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I replied: “The young people are waking up and many are now seeing the failure of the racial and religious parties… so there is still hope.” Look at how Tajuddin was unceremoniously booted out within a day.

No wonder, we see a reluctance in certain quarters to expedite the lowering of the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. They fear the political awakening among many restless youths and the time of reckoning that could follow.  

This was 24 hours that shook those in the Muhyiddin Yassin administration. Without a doubt, as they stumble from crisis to crisis, they must know they cannot take the seething masses for granted anymore.

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