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The mistake that is Mahathir

October 1, 2014

A firm practitioner of selective retention, he forgets many things, choosing to remember only what delights his heart.


By Iskandar Mohamad

mahathir-mohamad400When Dr.Mahathir Mohamad said that “Umno needs to be reformed so that it can criticise its leaders more,” I wondered if it was his guilty conscience speaking with the realisation that his Machiavellian self had stamped out all manner of criticism when he was calling the shots as the Prime Minister of Malaysia for 22 years.

When Mahathir said Umno’s “culture is to support its leaders without question,” I wondered if he was remembering how many sycophants used to grovel before him, wondering if they had said anything that could be interpreted as criticism, and trembling at the thought that they were at the end of their days in Umno or in whatever position they held.

When Mahathir said that “the leader must be told about other views and cannot just do whatever he likes,” I wondered if it was because a moment of awakening had brought upon him the grim realisation that he had wreaked mass destruction upon this country. Behind the many towering office blocks in Kuala Lumpur that are beautifully decorated with glittering lights, and off the tracks of motorways and LRT systems, lies a landscape of blotches, blemishes and disfigurement painted by Mahathir.

And this same leader has the cheek to criticise our current prime minister.

Even his dearly beloved A. Kadir Jasin once had eyes enough to see the disfigurement of our country. He wrote in the New Sunday Times on July 8 2001 that although Kuala Lumpur boasted the world’s tallest buildings and had the appearance of a First World city, “the people responsible for its upkeep have a Third World mentality.” He asked, “What good does it do to have the world’s tallest building when from its windows we see slums and ghettos?”

Mahathir thinks he has every reason to be proud of his achievements with “unforgettable” projects such as Proton and its spin-offs, but these serve only to signify one man’s nationalist aspirations rather than make real contributions to the nation’s wealth.

A firm practitioner of selective retention, Mahathir forgets many things, choosing to remember only what delights his heart.

Every morning, when he sips his kopi susu in his retirement rocking chair, perhaps he should consider a few pertinent issues:

1. Which Prime Minister of Malaysia has seen two racial clashes happening during his reign?

Mahathir, of course. In his pursuit of glitzy projects, his gross neglect of the slums in the capital contributed to an outbreak of racial conflict in Kampung Rawa in March 1998 and in Kampung Medan in March 2001, which was the first serious violence between races since 1969.

2. Which Prime Minister in Malaysia spent billions of dollars on a mega project for a new administrative centre in Putrajaya – money that could have been used to tackle urban and racial problems, which could have helped citizens and avoided racial clashes?

Mahathir, of course.

3. Which former Prime Minister has this illusion that he is far above any before and after him and has the right to dictate what his successors should do, including when they start and finish their term of service?

Mahathir, of course. He is different from all other Prime Ministers in that he is the only one who has incessantly criticised his two successors.

4. During which Malaysian Prime Minister’s reign was the most number of notable leaders arrested and then detained in a crackdown, which also saw the banning of newspapers?

Mahathir, of course.

5. Which Malaysian Prime Minister could not get along with all of his deputies?

Mahathir, of course. He could not get along with Musa Hitam, Abdul Ghafar Baba, Anwar Ibrahim and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

I wonder what were the real reasons for the disconnect between Mahathir and his deputies. Ghafar served him for seven years and five months. The rest did not last more than five years.

In sharp contrast, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has had a good working relationship with Muhyiddin Yassin, who has served him since April 10 2009. From then until now, I believe Najib has not criticised or condemned any of his team members, including his deputy.

I wonder if Mahathir really sees his true self when he looks in the mirror each morning.

Perhaps he should look a bit harder, think a little deeper, and let go completely and forgive wholeheartedly, remembering he is human after all, just like all of us, full of imperfections.

If he can do all that, then in the words of Rudyard Kipling,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Iskandar Mohamad is an FMT reader


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