In June 1979, it was reported by several international news agencies that then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad threatened to shoot Vietnamese boat people if they attempted to land on Malaysian shores.
The New York Times reported that the refugees were mostly ethnic Chinese fleeing Vietnam, but included many escaping the war in Cambodia.
His remarks led to condemnations from several world leaders.
The then Home Minister Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie was reported to have later said that Dr M had merely threatened to “shoo” the new refugees away, not to “shoot” them. It was quick thinking indeed on his part to rescue his colleague.
This was Dr M’s grand entrance to the international scene I suppose.
I was 17 years old then and the above is my first memory related to “foot-in-mouth” disease by Malaysian politicians.
The “foot-in-mouth” disease can be described as a tendency to make remarks that are embarrassingly wrong and inappropriate. Actually, none of us is immune to this.
There are various degrees of this disease starting from the mild version where we occasionally slip up in a conversation. I’m sure most of us have had this version at one time or another.
Then there is the mid-level affliction. Perhaps the best example would be none other than Dr Maszlee Malik, our former education minister.
Yep, the one with the black shoes and socks fame. Not to mention swimming classes for all students although there are not enough pools or none existent pools in many communities.
Oh, and don’t forget his petrol stations in university campuses and asking Malayan religious teachers to educate our Sarawak kids on good values as though Sarawakians teachers can’t teach good values.
Then there was his suggestion to master a third or fourth language when even English as the second language has not been mastered. His saving grace was that he did not come across as malicious.
At this level, you will get noticed on the national level.
Then there is the more serious level of the ‘foot-in-mouth’ affliction. In addition to foolish and embarrassing, the words tactless, insensitive, irresponsible and heartless can be added here.
This category is virtually guaranteed to get one noticed at the international level, and recently we had a good example.
In brief, on May 24, there was a head-on collision between LRT No. 240 and No. 181 involving 213 passengers between the KLCC and Kampung Baru stations.
Sixty-seven persons were brought to hospital — six passengers in critical condition, 16 in semi-critical condition and 42, non-critical.
Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, the Prasarana Malaysia chairman, was tasked with conducting a press conference to update the public about this unfortunate accident.
He began by failing to wear a face mask at the press conference, then proceeded to refer to the woman on his left as cantik molek.
Tajuddin then described the accident in the tunnel as “Normal … only the two cars are together… they kissed each other…” and proceeded to laugh.
When a foreign journalist asked a question, he asked her where she was from! She said China. He responded “China. No wonder, lah” in an unbecoming tone.
The press conference was a disaster culminating in his removal on May 26. He had put both feet in his mouth, not a mean feat.
The surprising thing was his fast removal. I have a sneaky feeling the tipping point was his response to the Chinese journalist.
It was the wrong time to upset our elder Chinese brothers and sisters considering we desperately need vaccines from them and have an increased reliance on economic trade with them.
He has an unsavoury past track record as well. Good riddance, I say. But there is always a possibility of a comeback as he has made several comebacks in politics.
I don’t think this type of “foot-in-mouth” epidemic in Malaysia is going to end anytime soon. In fact, it will most likely last longer than the Covid-19 virus.
To date, the only effective vaccine would be if the public put their collective foot down and stop voting for this type of characters.
So, in the meantime, just put your foot up — I mean put your feet up, and enjoy the on-going “foot-in-mouth” dramas in Malaysia.
You are after all generously funding these dramas with your taxes.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.