Commentary Politics

Surely Malaysians have had an overdose of Mahathir

The recent fallout between Muhyiddin (left) with Mahathir was messy, especially with the latter obviously not yet ready to finally retire despite nearing the age of 95 years.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

June 10, 2020

Recollections & Reflections

HE has been very much a name in Malaysian politics, especially from the time he had a good go at the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in the late 1960s. That dissenting stand against the Tunku’s leadership led him to be regarded as a Malay nationalist.

Mahathir Mohamad, a medical graduate, began his rise in national politics after being allowed back into Umno by Tunku’s successor Abdul Razak Hussein but it didn’t take him long to ease out Razak’s successor Hussein Onn, after the former military officer had occupied the seat for only five and a half years.

That take-over was to allow Mahathir to rule Malaysia for 22 years, during which he showed little tolerance for dissent and applied the law to the fullest to rope in those who he saw as going too far. It was also a period when he picked up fights with foreign leaders, from Singapore to Australia to Britain and the United States.

But within the Third World he found many admirers and that must have pleased the doctor to no end.

Domestically he was perceived as a leader who allowed corruption to breed within the Umno he led and was also seen as a head of government who took cronyism to a level never seen before in Malaysia. In Umno he introduced a system which made it almost impossible for anyone to mount a challenge against his leadership. When he finally decided to quit the government, many were happy to see the back of him and thought that that was it.

They were wrong.

It didn’t take long for Mahathir to take pot-shots at his anointed successor

Not long after his retirement Mahathir began to take pot-shots at his anointed successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, although it must be admitted that the man known popularly as Pak Lah should have been better off as a civil servant than a politician.

He appeared initially to not have any problem with Pak Lah’s successor Najib Razak, the man he told Pak Lah to appoint as his No. 2 at the expense of Muhyiddin Yassin, who it was speculated would have been Pak Lah’s choice, and Najib’s decision to give a position to Mahathir’s son Mukhriz in his administration obviously appeased Mahathir but soon it was more of the same, with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad issue the catalyst for Mahathir’s offensive against Najib. But it must be acknowledged that this was with many Malaysians a most popular move.

Najib and the Barisan Nasional were booted out in the May 2018 general elections, with Mahathir credited by most as the only man who could have pulled off that “coup”.

But despite all the promises made, there was much dejection and disappointment as one election promise after the other was pushed to the side by the new Pakatan Harapan government headed by Mahathir. There were changes but many were conveniently put on hold. Many of the institutional reforms never materialised and the changes that did happen were more personality-based. Thus the prime minister continued to retain all the powers to make critical appointments to head the Judiciary, the prosecutor’s office, the Election Commission, the chiefs of the military and the police, speaker of Parliament, everything.

The people’s objections and frustrations were expressed through the consecutive losses suffered by Pakatan in the by-elections. This led to cracks in the ruling coalition, beginning with Mahathir’s own Pribumi Bersatu party, and also partly due to his failure to honour a deal to hand over power to his one-time estranged deputy Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir’s most recent infighting in Pribumi Bersatu is an all too familiar story

Before Pakatan could even celebrate its first two years as a government, Mahathir was to be embroiled in yet another controversy – and one that not only ended Pakatan’s rule but also resulted in a fractious Pribumi Bersatu. This led to the party’s president Muhyiddin Yassin to head the new government called Perikatan Nasional which comprises many Umno leaders Muhyiddin had parted ways with when Najib sacked him as his deputy in late July 2015. Some may not know this but it was Muhyiddin who managed to persuade Mahathir to return to an Umno he left after open differences with Pak Lah.

In the last few months Mahathir hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down.

In fact he has been constantly sniping at Muhyiddin, telling Malaysians about what had happened behind closed doors during party meetings, all intended to embarrass Muhyiddin no doubt, although as a senior politician he knows that the only way he can dethrone Muhyiddin is via Parliament because the doors to a political party are closed on him after having his membership withdrawn recently by Pribumi Bersatu. So if Parliament is the only avenue, what good will stories told via a press that continues to give him so much space do? Nothing actually.

There is yet another chapter waiting to be written in the Mahathir saga and since recent months the main concern of Malaysians is the effects from Covid-19 and how to get their lives back on track and Mahathir’s latest theatrics do not fit into this frame of mind. Furthermore, after all these years surely Malaysians have had an overdose of Mahathir, unfortunately something the man himself doesn’t seem to be aware of.

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About the author

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.