October 3, 2019.
Recollections & Reflections
WHEN it emerged that Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was going to lead the fight in the 14th general elections last year in an attempt to oust an Umno-led Barisan Nasional that was seen as corrupt, Malaysians generally looked at it positively, bearing in mind that the then opposition didn’t have any other option although there was a former deputy prime minister in their ranks.
What upped the tempo of the support by the electorate who began to have high hopes and expectations were the promises in the election manifesto on goodies intended to reduce the ever-rising cost of living and more crucially for the urban middle-class, much hoped for institutional reforms.
Someone with inside knowledge talked about how some personalities critical of the government and of the “old” Mahathir suddenly began to believe in him and were convinced that the man who previously ruled the country for 22 years with zero tolerance for dissenting views was a changed man ready to take Malaysia into new uncharted territory. A new Malaysia they called it.
But close to 17 months later and the mood has changed.
In fact, according to a friend, his friends and acquaintances began thinking differently even months ago and were already contemplating a change in government in possibly three and a half years’ time, having realised that nothing of much significance has changed with Mahathir.
Who can blame them, having seen the Pakatan Harapan manifesto being torn to pieces, its promises often referred to as mere talking points put together by a coalition that didn’t expect to win the elections.
Thus far Mahathir is fortunate that his position as prime minister looks very safe because whatever critical voices coming from those within Pakatan have been from people outside of his government and who do not represent any significant pressure group. Some of those who used to be critical of him and had called him all manner of names are now in his Cabinet and appear happy and comfortable with the trappings of office and have gone so far as to be the typical political apple-polisher, knowing fully well that whatever privileges from their positions can be lost at the flick of a finger if Mahathir one day decides that they are surplus to requirement.
One senior citizen though recently surprised Malaysians with what can be described as the most scathing indictment of Mahathir’s leadership.
Rare for Syed Husin to use strong language
For so many years Syed Husin Ali, a socialist and former deputy president of PKR, stayed clear of any condemnation of Mahathir. Even when he was in the opposition with his Parti Rakyat Malaysia Syed Husin was never known to use strong language against anyone, which is why what he said in reaction to Mahathir’s speech before the Council of Foreign Relations in New York a few days ago was most unexpected.
Simply put, Syed Husin considered Mahathir to have lied and specifically alluded to Mahathir’s remark about having to work 18 hours a day to try and put things right in the country. Syed Husin’s opinion on this is based purely on Mahathir’s age, which is 94 years. It was also at this event that Mahathir again changed tack about when he will retire: he needs three more years, said Mahathir, which roughly calculated means seeing a full five-year term from May last year. That means Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the man who is absolutely sure he will take over from Mahathir later next year, will have to recalibrate his plans and ambitions.
Real power is with the Pakatan presidential council
There have been many statements and opinions on what was agreed by the Pakatan presidential council before the elections but what looks consistent is that despite talking about the handover from Mahathir to Anwar as PM, the document does not place a timeline. Nevertheless Mahathir previously said he would this in two years after becoming PM a second time last year, then changed it to maybe three years and “maybe earlier, maybe later”. In New York it was back to another three years and the most recent was for him to say deciding on a timeline was going to be difficult.
Some have also raised the point that by having only 13 MPs who won in GE14, Mahathir shouldn’t be pounding his chest as if he is the most powerful man in the coalition because PKR has 50 MPs, which makes it the party with the strongest bargaining power in Pakatan, while Pribumi Bersatu is only third biggest in the four-party Pakatan.
Furthermore, Mahathir’s position as PM started with the Pakatan presidential council and it is this council that by convention holds the power to decide who should be the coalition’s choice as PM.
In other areas of the government, it is obvious to many by now that the big promise on institutional reforms is no longer high on the list of priorities under Pakatan, or rather in Mahathir’s thinking.
What we continue to see instead is a Mahathir who remains intolerant of any dissenting view, a man who has never kept an open mind on any criticism of his leadership, no matter how balanced and sincere it sounds, or appears to be prepared to consider a suggestion that differs from what he has in mind.
And when was the last time you heard Mahathir showing any humility? If you can’t this isn’t a surprise because Malaysia has at its helm some who is conceited, a Machiavellian with a tinge of arrogance, someone so much into himself that everyone else falls short by his self-proclaimed high standards.