Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Will History Be Kind To Mahathir?

Hantu Laut

Mahathir still carries that mixed aura of love,hate and fear.This is the man you either love or hate and both feelings can be just as intense. He has had the greatest influence over the lives of Malaysians, more than any other prime minister before him. He has been the longest serving prime minister and one that have brought the nation to greater height.

As long as Mahathir lives, friends and foes , will not hear the last of him.His blog, is a testimony of his popularity.Whatever the political pundits say or write about him, he is an indelible icon of Malaysian politics.

Malaysians will remember him, in awe or in contempt, but the fact remains that he has done more for this nation than any of his detractors.

When he became prime minister in 1982 I was still in my youth. Now, almost 27 years later I must admit I have less stamina than our octogenarian ex-premier, a man endowed with so much energy and sound mental faculty, putting many younger men to shame.

Many books have been written about him, favourably or otherwise.The latest addition to the realm of Mahatirism was written by former Asian Wall Street Journal reporter Barry Wain.A review of the book was done by John Berthelsen of Asia Sentinel, which you can find in my earlier posting below.I have yet to get a copy.

I wrote the article below in September 2007, a few months after I started blogging.

Sunday, September 16, 2007



Tun Mahathir had his second heart bypass a week ago, eighteen years after his first. Not many man of his age could physically and emotionally be strong enough to go through such operation without fear of complications.The doctor operating him proclaimed him an octogenarian in a sexagenarian body. A man endowed with good physical and mental health that can only come from someone who leads a disciplined lifestyle.A close friend once joked and told me "Mahathir refuses to die before he sees Badawi out of office".

The day he was sacked from UMNO by the the late Tungku Abdul Rahman and his controversial book, the 'Malay Dilemma', which the Tungku took as an insult to the Malay race, was actually a book of self-examination and self-criticism... where and why the Malays have gone wrong and how to correct the social imbalance with other races in the country. He hasn't stopped trying ever since.

Mahathir, probably didn't realize that he has gone against the natural flow of Malay culture. The culture of subservience. An 'adat' of not questioning the elders, no matter how wrong they were. Such 'adat' exists, not only in the Malay culture, but in many other Asian culture as well.

During his tenure as Prime Minister he was probably the most misunderstood man. He has become an enigma to his own people.During his twenty two years in power he was also not short of controversies.He has thrown in prison opposition leaders, politicians to professionals and anyone whom he perceived as subversive element endangering security of the nation.Many Malaysians took this as an unpleasant behaviour of a dictator.As those who read Shakepeares would remember what Brutus told the people of Rome "Not that I loved Ceaser less, but that I loved Rome more." Mahathir has the same notion. He is prepared to sacrifice your personal liberty if he thinks you are a risk to the bigger number.

Any deviant Islamist movement that posed threats to national security would be nipped in the butt during his time.On hind sight, we may have to thank him for his foresight and prompt action to arrest those deviant groups before they become too influential and irretrievably entrenched in the Muslim community. Malaysia, so far had been spared from terrorist's attacks. Al-Qaeida had not been able to make any foothold here. The Philippines and Indonesia weren't as lucky.Pakistan, a country with strong Islamist movement is now becoming a hot bed for terrorism and a potential candidate of a failed state. Civil disobedience and suicide bombing are growing with each passing day.

On the 19th November 1985, a chartered MAS Airbus full of government officials, politicians and Malaysian businessmen was on it way to Beijing, China. Also on board was Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.It was a trade mission and the first visit by a Malaysian Prime Minister to China.I was one of the passengers on that aircraft.

Two hours out of Kuala Lumpur we received a terrible news about a massacre in Memali.The initial report was sketchy and gave heavy casualties on both sides. A much clearer picture emerged when we arrived Beijing.The toll was 14 Islamists dead, 4 policemen killed and an unknown number injured.

Mahathir, by the stroke of good luck escaped the tragic moment and the eventual blame. Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam has to carry the burden for the tragic loss of lives and was accused of gross negligence and mishandling of the crisis. Incidentally, the leader of the group, Ibrahim Mahmud, also known as Ibrahim Libya used to worked as a prosecutor in the Religious division of the Prime Minister's Department.A graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo he pursued further religious courses in India and Libya. He must have picked up the extreme version of Islam while in Libya. He was also an active member of PAS.

Another dark chapter in the nation's political history was the Sabah state elections in 1985 where PBS, an opposition party in the state won the elections with a simple majority. A power grab ensued,engineered by sore losers in Berjaya. Having won only 6 seats the dawn raiders used Tun Mustapha of USNO which won 16 seats giving them a coalition of only 22 seats to justify Mustapha to be sworn in as Chief Minister. The rightful candidate Joseph Pairin whose party garnered 26 seats was barred from entering the Istana for swearing in as the rightful chief minister.

By a stroke of good luck, Mahathir was again outside the country.It fell on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Musa Hitam to deal with the crisis. With a clear conscience and respect for democracy Musa averted an international outcry by advising the Yang Dipertuan Negeri to swear in Joseph Pairin. Mustapha, who has been sworn in earlier took the case to court but lost.After 11 months in office, PBS decided to call a fresh election and won with a bigger majority, collecting 34 out of 48 state seats.

Mahathir, certainly has not been free from faults. The rotation system for the Chief Minister of Sabah was a bad political decision.The system had put back the development of the state significantly behind other states in Malaysia due to break in continuity of a stable administration.If not for his high-handed ways people like Yong Tet Lee, Bernard Dompok and Chong Kah Kiat would never had a chance to be Chief Minister.

The constant bickering amongst the Sabah leaders and their selfishness were probably the reasons for the unconstitutional decision. I wouldn't completely blame Mahathir for it, he probably saw it as a suitable solution to the Sabahan problems.It's the greedy Sabah leaders who should take much of the blame. Even now, they are still harping on the issue of rotation. More ridiculous, there are people in Sabah UMNO who think the seat should be rotated amongst UMNO state leaders, a kind of Sabah UMNO musical chair.

Whatever wrongs he has done during his tenure as Prime Minister, he has done more for the good of the nation.The accelerated development of Malaysia from a tropical backwater into a modern nation was due to his visions and efforts. The whole GDP outlook changed during his time, from an agricultural based economy to multi-sector economy. Great emphasis was given in infrastructural developments. Major development of highways, ports, airports and other infrastructures were given priority.

The Penang Bridge at one time condemned and criticised by the oppositions as a megalomania and wasteful project has now reached maximum capacity. A second bridge is now needed to ease traffic congestion. Some of his seemingly grandiose projects, the butt of jokes and unfair criticism, are now the pride of the nation.

In 1982, when he took over office of Prime Minister, the Malaysia's GDP(at official exchange rate) was US$26.79 billion.In 2006, the GDP was US$138 billion.Much of the momentum for growth was set during his time.

In the early eighties, travel time by car from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore would take six hours or more.A nightmarish drive behind endless convoy of slow moving trucks and cars with little space for overtaking. A depressingly tense journey.Overtaking another vehicle is a risky business and a gamble with your life. Now, with the new highways, Singapore is just a stone's throw away from KL, a drive of less than 3 hours. When he first announced a toll system for the highways there were huge uproar from the opposition political parties and general public.Would anyone complain now that the new highways have cut down their travelling time and safer than before? Yes, they do.Malaysians want everything free.

Mahathir, is a man who learned a lot from observations.Things he sees on his visits to other countries which he thinks benefical to Malaysia would be introduced. His never ending search to pull the country out of the rut and on to the world stage have been met with scepticism, not only at home but also from the international community, particularly the West, whom were not exactly friendly with him.

Mahathir is a man of true grit. He will do what he had to do.No amount of criticism can discourage or stop him.

This man has a burning desire to rehabilitate the Malays.He had diagnosed the problem and believed he has the right prescription. He wanted them to excel in every fields particularly in commerce and industry.He wanted them to be good businessmen and leaders of industry. He wanted to build up the number of wealthy Malays in the hope that they would one day be the biggest contributor to the Malaysian economy and would then help other Malays to climb the corporate ladder. Many government owned companies were privatised to selected Malays whom he believed to have entrepreneurship qualities.He wanted them to be respected by their non-Malay peers.Unfortunately, many of those he helped had disappointed him. Good companies given on the platter were eventually wrecked by mismanagement, incompetence, greed and selfishness. MAS was one of his biggest mistakes. Others, like Pewaja, UEM and many others have incurred huge losses due to mismanagement and corruptions.

Towards the end of his fifth term in office, Mahathir had become very unpopular with his own people. The very people he tried very hard to help to change their mindset and progress with the time.The Malays have no more room for him.They have had enough of his domineering ways and often insulting remarks about his kinships. They wanted him out but nobody has the balls to tell him. Nobody knew how much support he stills has.Many complained that he had become a liability to the party but none dare tell him in his face.

On June 22, 2002, Mahathir dropped the biggest bombshell and made a big sacrifice by announcing his resignation as prime minister at the 56th UMNO General Assembly. The delegates were caught by surprise and were in shocking disbelief as there wasn't even a whimper of what they just heard.There was chaos on the floor as delegates tried to make sense of what they just heard.

Sobbing Mahathir was quickly surrounded by senior UMNO officials. The first to reach him were Rafidah Aziz and Hishammudin Onn, pleading and sobbing that he reconsiders his decision. Abdullah Badawi, his deputy requested the delegates to reject his resignation. Mahathir was shunted out of the hall to a closed door meeting. Behind closed doors deals were worked out.

The 'sandiwara' ended with slight deferment to the date of his stepping down. It was later announced that Mahathir will stay on until October 2003 after hosting the OIC Summit.

Mahathir finally stepped down in October 2003 and was replaced by his anointed successor, Abdullah Badawi. Within less than two years the two men have drifted apart.Mahathir continually attacking Badawi for having reneged on his promises.

Mahathir, once the most powerful man in the country, revered and feared by some, hated and feared by some, had become a thorn in the flesh of Abdullah and members his cabinet.The very same people who kissed his hand when he was the giver and the Prime Minister. Mahathir lamented "Melayu senang lupa"(Malays easily forget)

Mahathir didn't have to resign.With his good health he could still carry on for at least another term or two.

Without the slightest doubt, the man resigned to save UMNO from the humiliation of not doing well at the poll because of him. A good leader knew when his tenancy has expired, the one who didn't tend to overstay.

Abdullah's government is now fighting an uphill battle to keep its creditability.The recent exposure by the the Auditor-General of massive mismanagement and corruptions in a number of Ministries and the costly bail-out of the PKFZ would have serious repercussions on the BN in future general elections.

Whatever his enemies say, history will be kind to Mahathir.

1 comment:

Shahfii said...

I concur your sentiments, in every aspect.

-A Singaporean Malay-