FMT LETTER: From Stephen Doss, via e-mail
In an interview with French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) Malaysia’s former premier of 22 years was critical of the current Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s efforts to reform many of Malaysia’s legal enactments which were enacted during the time of Malaysia’s emergency but later on became one of Dr Mahathir’s weapon of choice against political opponents.
Dr Mahathir was of the opinion that too much freedom would result in ethnic tension. In his own peculiar way of looking at things Dr Mahathir seemed to actually believe that during his tenure as Prime Minister, there was no ethnic tension and everything was hunky dory. Dr Mahathir went on to place the blame on rising tensions in the country today to Najib’s efforts at trying to be liberal.
Dr Mahathir left office in Oct 23, 2003, just nine years ago. Hardly enough for us to talk about a generational change, which therefore means that the same people who are unhappy with the state of affairs in the country today are the same people who were around when Dr Mahathir was PM. So which leads us to ask, are these people now unhappy with race relations because there is now more freedom for people to express themselves or were these people always unhappy with race relations in the country but were unable to express their unhappiness?
If the problems had always existed and it was just a matter of not being aired in the open due to fear of the government and problems being swept under the carpet, then was it not just a society living in conditions akin to a ‘pressure cooker which was waiting to explode’?
It is said that peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. There can be no substitute for human dignity, without which what exists is just a false sense of being.
Dr Mahathir may feel a sense of achievement that during his time, when the internet was not yet a vehicle for free expression, the absence of such expression meant that everyone was happy with the state of relations in the country. I do not blame Dr Mahathir for feeling the way he does, most politicians would rather not know of anything that would be considered negative against them or the way in which they were running the country.
And knowing Dr Mahathir, I doubt he was surrounded by advisors who would have been brave enough to make peoples true feelings known to him. Dr Mahathir may himself have been aware but chose not to pay heed. The absence of today’s social media platforms afforded him the luxury of choosing to deny to existence of any form of discontentment. I have also always had this nagging suspicion that Dr Mahathir had chosen the easy route to creating a legacy, which was to use the countries blessed oil reserves to build and continue building monuments for people to remember him by.
He may vilify Pak Lah for the lack of physical movement, but Malaysians by and large owe the reforms taking place in the country today to him. Therefore one wonders whether this is the reason that Dr Mahathir continues to attack policies that were started during the time of the 5th Prime Minster and continued by the current PM as history may judge these soft policies as being more beneficial to the country than the hard policies pursued by Dr Mahathir.
One gets the impression that the one thing Dr Mahathir craves is to be recognised as the best Prime Minister this country as ever had, anything less then such an accolade would not go down well with Malaysia’s longest serving Premier.
Pak Lah’s fate was sealed the moment he won the 12th GE with a result far better than Dr Mahathir could ever have hoped to achieve, and this alone would have irked the former premier no end as his position as the best premier ever would have been in question. Ever since then Dr Mahathir never let up on his criticism of Pak Lah.
Dato Seri Najib would do well to be advised to tread carefully for any sign that if he were to upstage Dr Mahathir’s legacy, this would probably not go down well too. And the all familiar cycle seems to have reared its ugly head already with Dr Mahathir being ever more critical of Najib’s policies.
I have always maintained that the heavy losses that led to the Barisan Nasional losing their 2/3 majority in the 12th general election was a loss waiting to happen since 1999 when Dr Mahathir was its Chairman. Problems accumulated and allowed to fester came to a boil soon after Pak Lah took over the helm.
People voted overwhelmingly in support of Barisan Nasional not so much at having Pak Lah as PM but rather the joy of seeing the back of Dr Mahathir. Unfortunately the change the people sought from the Barisan Nasional was not swift enough and the people subsequently punished the Barisan Nasional and Pak Lah for it.
Najib has little choice but to do better than Pak Lah and he must do so for the very survival of the Barisan Nasional or he will soon learn that Dr Mahathir’s misplaced view that Malaysians ‘mudah lupa’ may not be an accurate analysis.
Najib may think that being second best or playing second fiddle to Dr Mahathir is the safest option for his own political survival, but he may soon learn that people are not finished yet and people may yet take out on Najib the vestiges of anger from the era of Dr Mahathir which has yet to subside.
Stephen Doss is a social activist and political observer. He is currently the President of the International Social Media Chambers.