Can Dr Mahathir be trusted, asks The Economist

PETALING JAYA: Has Dr Mahathir Mohamad really changed or is he still the same shrewd and tough politician he has always been?

That is the question that an international business magazine asks in a commentary simply entitled “Can a leopard change its spots?”

The extent of Mahathir’s conversion to the Opposition still remains a doubt despite his obvious disdain for Prime Minister Najib Razak, The Economist reported.

“Less certain is whether, given a choice, he and his party would stop short of ousting Umno altogether. Previous splinters from Umno have eventually reattached themselves to the party,” the article said, adding that the government claims Mahathir’s real goal is to install his son Mukhriz Mahathir as prime minister.

As reported previously, Mahathir has dismissed any suggestion that he wants to return to Umno nor merge his new party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) with Umno in the event of Najib’s ouster from the ruling party under any circumstances.

Mahathir was quoted as saying that he once thought that replacing the prime minister would be enough to put Umno back on track, but has since changed his opinion because “Najib has totally corrupted the party, which now just functions to support him.”

The Economist report added that Mahathir went as far as saying that there was no way PPBM would consider a deal that leaves Umno in government, even under a new leader, because “the time for Umno is over.”

With PPBM aiming to field as many candidates as possible in the next general election, especially in taking on Umno in the Malay heartland, it would seem that a pact of some sort with Opposition parties PKR, DAP, Amanah and even PAS, would be essential to ensure the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is ousted.

“However, Malaysia’s liberals would feel much happier if Mahathir were more contrite about his part in the country’s present predicament.

“He (Mahathir) is probably right to insist that, on his watch, corruption was more limited than the lurid misdeeds of which the present leadership stands accused. But it was under his tenure that Umno’s leaders became so hard to dislodge, and Malaysia’s courts so cowed,” the report said.

Mahathir’s historic meeting with his former number two, Anwar Ibrahim, after an 18-year gap on September 5 also seemed to have gone some way towards reconciling the former prime minister to the party that was borne out of his actions leading to the sacking and arrest of Anwar in 1998.