by Kee Thuan Chye
09 August 2012
Mahathir Mohamad is an angel. A perfect being. He is incapable of doing wrong. He is a model to all Malaysians. He is wise. He is incorruptible. He never took a sen while in office. He saved his salary for his old age. Whatever goodies he received when he was prime minister, he gave to the Government. He only ate some of the fruits given as gifts because they would otherwise go bad.
During the Royal Commission of Inquiry on V.K. Lingam and the fixing of federal judges, he answered many of the questions with “I don’t remember”. He genuinely didn’t. He’s a geriatric, for goon-ness’ sake! Cut the old man some slack! How can he be expected to remember so many things in the 22 years of his premiership?
His administration was the best ever, and of course the cleanest. There were some scandals, but that happens with any administration in any part of the world. What’s more, Mahathir had nothing to do with them. Others were culpable; he was above it all. There were some bailouts, but the bailouts were necessary – no, critical. Without the bailouts, the country would have been hurt.
There has also been talk that he was involved in a plot togive citizenships to illegal immigrants in Sabah.This scheme started in the 1990s so that the grateful recipients would vote for Barisan Nasional (BN) and keep it in power there. Some call it Project IC, but others call it Project M, with ‘M’ standing for Mahathir.
But of course there is no evidence to link him to it. That’s why he can now come out to say that giving citizenships to immigrants in Sabah is right, and that those who oppose it are unfair and doing so for political reasons.
He says the immigrants have lived in Sabah a long time and they are fluent in Bahasa Malaysia,so why shouldn’t they be made citizens? Yes, indeed. What more solid reasons could there be?
Of course, he may have overlooked the fact that many spouses of Malaysians have been living in Malaysia as long, if not longer, and are as fluent in Bahasa Malaysia, if not more so, but they have not even been granted permanent residence (PR) – even though they have applied a few times.
But then maybe for PR, the Government needs to be more stringent. Could it be that PR also stands for Pakatan Rakyat, and that is something the Government doesn’t want to touch?
Whatever it is, the time is opportune for Mahathir to bring this matter up. Prime Minister Najib Razak has declared he will be visiting Sabah on Aug 11 to finally announce the terms of reference for a long-awaited Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the very same issue. If Mahathir is hinting that this would be a mistake, that in fact there should be no RCI, Najib should perhaps listen to the wise old man.
Or maybe Najib could come up with terms of reference that would just probe the issue superficially. After all, he just needs to make the Sabahans happy that an RCI is carried out at all; he doesn’t have to upset anyone’s applecart.
When Mahathir was PM, he never upset anyone’s applecart. And he also tried to make a lot of people happy. He created a number of Bumputera billionaires but he also gave the Chinese ample opportunities to be rich.
As he has always maintained, the media was free. He has said he never told the media not to be critical of him; it chose by itself not to be critical. The fault was not his; it was the media’s. He didn’t castrate the media owners and editors; they castrated themselves.
It is a measure of the man that he allowed media freedom although he himself believes that freedom can be a problem. Only last month, he said in the Philippines that freedom is enjoyed “at the expense of others, often at the expense of the community as a whole”.
He was always thinking of the whole community, the community that makes up the nation of Malaysia.
By the same token, he was guarded about freedom of information. As he also said in the Philippines: “ Secrets, including sensitive military secrets, are being leaked in the name of freedom of information. The whistle-blowers are hailed as heroes … When you create a problem by revealing people’s official secrets, something has to be done about it.”
One cannot be sure if he meant the alleged leaking of secrets during the Malaysian Government’s purchase of the Scorpene submarines, but it’s doubtful that he did.
As for whistle-blowers, he could have meant Rafizi Ramli and Johari Mohamad, both of whom were recently charged for leaking information related to the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal.
If he meant those two, of course he was right. They were not thinking of the community when they exposed the NFC scandal. They were not thinking of the shame and ridicule it would bring. At the expense of a Cabinet minister and her family, no less. No wonder the Government had to act against Rafizi and Johari. They deserved it.
Under Mahathir’s watch, there could never have been exposés like the Scorpene submarine deal or the NFC scandal.
That must explain why when he was prime minister, he had to stick with the Official Secrets Act – even though critics claimed it was protecting the corrupt. They wanted transparency from the deals the Government made on mega-projects. They blamed Mahathir for forsaking the tender system in favour of negotiated contracts.
They were misguided. Negotiated contracts were a necessity. He had to be certain that the big jobs were entrusted to people he knew; how else could he ensure that the projects would be successfully completed?
These naïve critics never understood that Mahathir’s responsibility was greater – and that was to look after his own people.
(So that you don’t misunderstand, “people” here refers to the rakyat of Malaysia.)
Now some people are saying that he was a dictator. How can this be? No wonder he is asking for proof that he was one. Calling him a dictator must be the unkindest cut of all.
Sure, Operation Lalang happened during his premiership and 106 people were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) then, but that was to prevent a potential racial riot. Well, don’t forget most of them were released soon enough. And if he did extend the detention of 40 of them to two years, it was because he genuinely thought they were a security threat.
At the very least, you have to admit that he’s consistent –last April, he still said the ISA was a good law because it “could curb potential threats”. He said it kept the country safe. See? He is always thinking of the country.
He was also doing the same when seven months earlier, he supported the repeal of the ISA because it would place Malaysia “on the moral high ground”. It meant that our country would be one notch higher than Britain and the U.S. because now “they are the ones” involved in “detaining people without trial”.
We should also take note of what he said about Malaysia: “Not all those who opened their mouth were immediately detained under the ISA … and the perception that there was no freedom in Malaysia was also not correct.”
Simply put, how could he have been a dictator? Not all who spoke up were detained. And those who were did not get detained immediately. What more freedom do we want?
Mahathir is perfect. He is always right. He was and still is a leader nonpareil. He has been the best prime minister we’ve ever had. To quote a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Here was a Caesar! Whence comes such another?”
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, now available in majorbookstores.