Mahathir’s malignant legacy     

Mariam Mokhtar

OUTSPOKEN: Confusing the minds of the Malays is former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s forté. He plays on their insecurities, much like a cat plays with a mouse before pouncing on it. The predatory cat will bat the mouse from paw to paw, in an attempt to tire it out. Mahathir, like the cat, derives immense satisfaction from watching his prey suffer.

Towards the end of last month, Mahathir delivered a salvo of contradictory and hypocritical statements. He said the young needed to be disciplined and that they had no sense of shame. It is a stark contrast to his usual message, which he first delivered to the Malays in the 70s.

The change of tune has much to do with the entry of his son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir into the race for one of the three vice-presidential seats in Umno-Baru. Mahathir’s new role is the chief lobbyist for Mukhriz.

Four decades ago, Mahathir told the Malay community that Malaysia belonged to them, the people who rightfully deserved to reap the benefits of this land.

Mahathir omitted to mention that success would involve hard work, dedication and long-term commitment. Using the deep sense of superstition, insecurity, and fatalism among the Malays, Mahathir used them to increase his powerbase, at the expense of the other races.

The Malays bought Mahathir’s story, but today, when the country is facing a total breakdown of its economy, its ability to attract foreign investment, its social cohesion, its security along with a decline in morality and values, Mahathir chides them for having no sense of shame or guilt.

Mahathir sees himself as the Malay saviour, and his son as the second messiah. He fears that if he is unable to push Mukhriz into the limelight, he will lose the Mahathir legacy. This will mean the dismantling of the empire which he amassed during his 22 years of power.

Mahathir warned that Umno would die if it kept the stupid and old leaders. He told the party to elect younger leaders who are nationalistic, presumably meaning Mukhriz.

Mahathir accused the present leaders of preventing smarter people from ascending through the party, and said that they should not overstay their welcome. He ignored the fact that he had steadfastly clung to power for 22 years and was not averse to disposing of his deputies.

When the former Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) secretary-general Chin Peng died, Mahathir stressed that Chin Peng had wanted to create a communist state. He dissuaded further debate about Chin Peng’s ashes, for fear that further revelations would show he had reneged on the terms of the Peace Treaty signed in 1989 in Haadyai. He wanted people to think he was instrumental in achieving peace.

It is chilling that Mahathir does not see the comparisons between communism and the current state of affairs in Malaysia. In a communist state, any opposition is quashed, mostly with force. In Malaysia, opposition is not tolerated, even if that means the ruling party has to cheat in the elections and opposition politicians are hounded by thugs.

Senior members of the politburo, like the Umno president and deputy president, do not face competitive election. Saying the wrong thing would mean committing political suicide, although the communists do face house arrest and eventual execution. In both communism and Umno elections, loyalties are built on influence (and money for Umno). In both, senior leaders rarely retire for they can still dictate policies long after they step down from power.

In the communist state and in Malaysia, justice, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, religion, individualism and the arts are all crushed or fiercely controlled.

Mahathir said that young people needed a “strong sense of shame”, but Mahathir “mudah lupa”. Our youth did not take away the independence of the judiciary. They did not cause the old Umno to be declared an illegal party. None of our youth used the ISA to lock up opposition politicians or activists in Operation Lalang. Perhaps, this is why Mahathir said last week that Malaysia needed harsher and stricter laws.

Our youth do not have cronies who destroyed Bank Bumiputera, Perwaja Steel, Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ), MAS and many other companies. It was Mahathir who made billionaires out of his cronies and did not care that the average Malay cannot stump up the money to buy a modest home, despite the New Economic Policy. A prime minister who ignores the poor and suffering of the non-Malays is not fit to be called a leader of a multi-cultural nation.

Leaders come and go, but the irrepressible Mahathir refuses to retire. He is tetchy and a menace to his successors. He overshadows them and snipes at them when their policies displease him. Like a cobra lurking in the lalang, he tries to hypnotise his prey and spits venom at his opponents.

Of course, Mahathir wants to defend his son to preserve his legacy. If anyone should feel shame, it is Mahathir. He drove a wedge between the citizens of this country and under him, the divide between the Malays and non-Malays has grown, as has the divide between the rich and the poor.

Mukhriz is a poor copy of the father and if he has one ounce of patriotism and wants to save Malaysia, he should just opt out of politics.


Mariam Mokhtar is "a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth.