Rot started with Dr M, not 60 years ago, says ex-MP

Former Sungai Benut MP Tawfik Ismail.

PETALING JAYA: A former MP has questioned the fairness of blaming Umno’s 60-year rule for the alleged deterioration in race relations and growth of corruption in the country.

Tawfik Ismail, who as an Umno member once served as Sungai Benut MP, said he believed the rot started only during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tenure as prime minister.

To say otherwise would be to forget that the country’s first three prime ministers were statesmen who had integrity, he said.

He spoke of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Hussein Onn as leaders who did not rely on the politics of patronage or racial or religious politics to keep themselves in power.

He claimed that things changed after Mahathir took over as the country’s fourth prime minister, especially after the Umno leadership crisis in 1987 which led to the party’s deregistration.

In the aftermath, he added, Mahathir went on to emphasise loyalty and patronage above competence and integrity.

“The Umno of today is the Umno of 1987,” said Tawfik whose father Ismail Abdul Rahman served as deputy prime minister under Abdul Razak.

He said the Razak-initiated New Economic Policy was meant to be a temporary measure to enable the equal distribution of wealth among the various Malaysian races.

“Razak’s goal was to ensure that Malays could play a bigger role in the economy,” he said.

“Government institutions were set up to hold equity for the Malays and help them get on an equal footing with other races so that they could compete with them.

“The rot started after Mahathir began to make Umno more religious. He brought Anwar Ibrahim into his fold, and Anwar pushed his idea of infusing Islamic values into government processes.”

Religion soon became a key platform for Umno leaders, he added.

Political scientist Chandra Muzaffar said it would be simplistic to say that the past 60 years had been completely bad or completely good for the country because there had been both achievements and shortcomings.

Nevertheless, he added, both racial polarisation and corruption were much worse today than they were 30 to 40 years ago.

“So I feel the claim that Umno has been damaging the country for 60 years is unfair to our founding fathers.”

He said those making their allegations should not forget that Mahathir was a leading politician during much of the past 60 years.

“If everything has been bad for 60 years, why did the people choose him to lead the country again?”

Chandra said there were good things to say about the leadership of every prime minister. He noted that Najib Razak abolished the Internal Security Act and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi set up anti-corruption mechanisms.

“I think people must also remember that for over 60 years, they’ve had a large say in choosing their governments,” he added.