Many rational people have or prefer to have an exit strategy. Banker, financial planner, firefighter, performers, building planners and designers, somehow would have some sort of exit plans. However, the recent global financial meltdown and Victorian bushfire proved that exits strategy sometimes do not actually do the tricks. House and life were tragically lost.

This morning (February 12, 2009), I read with amusement that the 5th Malaysian Prime Minister has planned to sign off on 31st of March 2009. Comparing with his high profile take over in 2003 with a Mr. Clean image and affectionately referred to as Pak Lah, the planned departure reminds me of the differences between the opening and closing ceremonies of the 16th Commonwealth Game hosted by Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Both had spectacular entrances that end (or will be ending) with dull exits, yet both incidents (1998 closing and 2009 signing off) have the economy to blame. One could have argued that the 1998 was merely an Asian Financial crisis, in 2009, it is a global meltdown and recession. It is bigger and greater challenge that Malaysia likes to face up to!

My dearest Martha Clark once cautioned me of concentrating on “making an entrance” and forgetting about the “exit”. She said that “you don’t want to enter a room (or into a party) that people quickly ask ‘who is he or she’ but when you leave, they hastily said ‘who does he or she think she/she is’”? I totally agree with her in this. Now, many have wondered if the current Prime Minister actually cares about his reputation or the legacy he will soon leave behind. Legacy, as I have read elsewhere, is usually attached to people who are no longer with us. Yet, the world has come to a rather sad point that we are now asking about legacy from those who just left political office, for example, George W. Bush! And these politicians sincerely believe that “history” will somehow give them justice at the end. It is rather sad I think.

In a sharp contrast, our former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, once openly declared that he does not care about how the world would remember him and his so-called legacy. His charismatic persona and bombastic style of leadership are well known and his paradoxes and contradictory arguments now filled pages of academic inquiries and soon the thesis that will prove my intellectual worth in academic.

“Malaysia does not have a very long history” is what the former premier likes to remind Malaysia especially to encourage or rather to accentuate how his administration has brought to and done for Malaysia and the ethnic Malays in Malaysia. He would then hail and championed his government and political party – a rather classic logic of Mahathir’s political rhetoric.

Indeed, Malaysia’s history is short and the yet-to-be-dried-off ink of nationalists’ marks still dominates the diverse national history. Nonetheless, so far, we only have five Prime Ministers. In this case, we are “far” better than Singapore because they only have three so far. Yes, Singapore has a lot to catch up with us. Yet, all our Prime Ministers have achieved a rather enigmatic status. Yes, indeed all of them started out with ethnic chauvinist positions and some are known as ethnic Ultras. They are/were affectionately loved and feared. Nevertheless, once occupying the top position, they miraculously reinvented themselves to champion for the causes of a multiethnic Malaysia. Some call this a duality of Tuah/Jebat syndrome and some refer to it as the re-inventive power of Malaysian politics in which switching between a hero and villain is like flipping the coin – they are actually the same person/coin.

Amazingly, all of these Malaysia Prime Ministers also have exited in an unexpected ways. Unlike, for example, the US outgoing presidents that all have a so-called lame duck period. Our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, as many known, was forced to resign when communal riots broke out after the 1969 elections. He was later replaced by Tun Razak. To some political observers and analysts, the replacement was a conspiracy and many believe it until today. One thing for sure, the replacement signified the triumphant or takeover of UMNO by bureaucrats over the aristocrats. The second Prime Minister, Tun Razak, who was debilitating with leukemia, left of a “holiday” in England in December 1975 and news of his departure was reported on 14 January 1976. Our third Prime Minister, Tun Hussien Onn, handed over his Prime Minister position to Mahathir Mohamad because of illness. It was unexpected that the third premier departed this way but the country took it well as Tun Hussien Onn was affectionately loved, as I have read, by all Malaysians.

As we all know and I believe still could remember, Mahathir’s exit was with full drama and sandiwara (entertainment). I secretly think it was because of Malaysia’s intense Bollywood influences but I believe I should not have made such causal connection bluntly. In 2001’s UMNO general assembly, Mahathir cried and recited a poem to tell the Malays they have failed him because the Malay forget easily – Melayu Mudah Lupa. He also shock the audience and Malaysia by “informing” his departure and was persuaded to stay on. He did and finally handed the baton to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the firth. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi then led the BN government to their biggest electoral victory in 2004. Now, with his “approval” rating now not any better than George W Bush had in 2008, Pak Lah will handover the position (like a cup of hot Hainanese black coffee) to his successor, the you-know-who, who name we should not named here. Looking back, I wonder if we will someday refer to both of them as Tun, like all of our former Prime Ministers! What do you think?

With such repetition and reoccurring cycles (we shall not name it karma because it’s unIslamic), one would wonder if Malaysia actually need an exit strategy. We have had many unplanned exits and still the country stands strong. After all, like Mahathir countlessly reminded Malaysia, we are “unique”!