by Mariam Mokhtar
Feb 12, 2013
He was a Machiavellian ruler who is alleged to have corrupted his way to the top, and became Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, but will the historians have to revise Malaysian history?
Some argue that former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for 22 years, should be remembered as a visionary leader and a tireless administrator. Others disagree and call him a ruthless dictator who silenced his critics and allowed corruption, cronyism and nepotism to flourish.
Today, Mahathir is as divisive as ever and despite being retired, has managed to upstage the current Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, many times during the latter’s tenure.
Najib could have ordered an investigation based on Mahathir’s own admission about the influx of illegal immigrants being given citizenship provided they voted for the ruling party; but Najib is more scared of Mahathir. If Najib had not been weighted down by so much baggage, he could have silenced Mahathir once and for all.
Many Malaysian housewives are familiar with the ‘Buku 555′; the four inches by three inches notebook in which they would record purchases from their travelling grocer. Mahathir is alleged to have a ‘Buku 555′, which is worth its weight in gold; it allegedly lists the wrongdoings of his cabinet ministers and cronies.
Few ministers would dare act honourably, fearful of the release of potentially explosive material which could end their political careers and jeopardise their ill-gotten fortunes.
Four decades ago, Mahathir used the Malays to further his own political ambitions. He and others realised that the Malays were in deep trouble. So, out came the economic policies which were supposed to help them but which only benefitted his close allies and family members.
Now, Mahathir is again using the backwardness of the Malays to urge them to vote for BN. He used emotive language such as “The British managed to conquer Malaya without losing a single soldier,” and that the Malay rulers had a hand in this.
If Mahathir’s memory was not so bad, he would have remembered his history lessons and known that the foreign invading forces had superior firepower. Perhaps the Malay rulers wanted to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. It is disingenuous and disrespectful of Mahathir to blame the Malay rulers in this flippant manner.
A few hundred years earlier, at the invasion of Malacca in 1511, the certain traders valued their trading rights more than their honour and betrayed the Malacca sultan, thus forcing him and his sons to retreat into the jungles and flee to Perak, Johor and Sumatra.
Last week, Mahathir accused the Malays of relinquishing their economic power to non-Malays. He said, “We let immigrants take over because we do not want to work and do not want to learn to do new things… we prefer to fish and plant padi.” Ironically, most of the immigrants were brought in by Mahathir in his ‘Project M’.
It was Umno which created this dependence culture and it was Umno’s affirmative action economic policies which made the Malay less competitive. Umno sold them the idea that the Malays were the greatest and they believed that they could achieve success, without hard work.
Today, Najib has carried this trend of affirmative action further, by giving them cash. When will the Malay become independent of government handouts?
Perhaps, Mahathir’s most despicable act is the call for the constitution to be amended, so that Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga can be stripped of her citizenship. She did not admit hundreds of thousands of foreigners to our shores. Mahathir did.
Umno does not respect diversity nor does it encourage fairness. It has reduced Malaysian politics to salacious entertainment.
Najib has appeared on television in Chinese New Year adverts dressed in Chinese costume and beating drums. In a radio advertisement, he speaks Mandarin with his son. This induced many to switch off their radios.
At Thaipusam, why did Najib not carry a kavadi and get pierced? Is the Indian vote not important? Did Najib think that doling out packets of rice to the Indians was sufficient? At Christmas, why did Najib not don a Father Christmas costume and dole out his BR1M vouchers from his sack of goodies?
It is time Najib stopped treating politics as a reality television show. If he wanted to get the public on his side, he should get a firm grip on his leadership, and punish the people who are responsible for police brutality, corruption and abuse of power.
Instead, he protects those who are guilty. No one has been made accountable, no one has been sacked, and no one has been shamed.
When Mahathir said that BN had to win a two-thirds majority in GE13, he was issuing a warning to Najib and to the greater public, especially the Malays. Najib had the audacity to remind the opposition not to create chaos should it lose the general election and yet, at press conferences, when he was asked if BN would agree to a smooth transition of power to the winner, Najib would not comment. He would just walk out and abruptly terminate the session.
Whatever the outcome of GE13, Mahathir already has a musical named after him, ‘Tun Mahathir’. Dance routines and songs depict his life from his childhood to his premiership; though it is more of a fairy tale than a musical. None of the corruption, cronyism and nepotism which flourished under his rule, are featured.
According to the Petronas blurb, the Twin Towers which dominate the KL skyline are supposed to symbolise modernity and a progressive nation. They are supposed to be the brainchild and inspiration of Mahathir and T Ananda Krishnan. The outline of the towers resembles the letter ‘M’ for Malaysia.
Who knows, one day, some sycophant might say that the ‘M’ stands for Mahathir and they will be renamed the Mahathir Towers.
How awful it would be if, every time we see the twin towers, we were reminded only of the twin evils of corruption and cronyism.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.