From dictator to saviour?

charles-santigo,mahathir

By Charles Santiago

House of Cards is a hugely popular American political drama that centres around a politician’s elaborate plan to make himself the President of the US after he gets passed over for appointment as Secretary of State. Every episode is peppered with plots of manipulation and greed for power.

Kevin Spacey plays the ruthless politician who makes pacts with his nemesis and teams up with strange bedfellows to become the most powerful man on earth. The point here is that everyone who comes on board his bandwagon has a personal agenda, simmering vengeance, need for revenge: in short, an axe to grind.

On Friday, we saw a group of Opposition politicians, Bersih leaders and representatives from non-governmental organisations band together with former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to sign a Citizens’ Declaration to oust premier Najib Razak.

Dr Mahathir says the ‘Save Malaysia’ campaigners have come together as citizens to kick out the top guy in the country, who is single-handedly ruining Malaysia’s economy and tarnishing the image of the nation through autocratic means.

I agree that Najib must go for the better of the country and her people. But in this quest for justice one must also not forget that Dr Mahathir is the root cause of the rot that is affecting every Malaysian today.

One cannot deny that his 22 years in power was made possible by the use of draconian laws to jail dissidents and critics. Dr Mahathir introduced money politics in UMNO, robbed the judiciary of its independence, clamped down on street protests and kept a heavy lid on freedom of the media.

He also jailed his one-time prodigy and former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, who is still being persecuted under the guise of justice after a sham trial.

No matter what the controversy, Dr Mahathir found himself right smack in the middle of it when he held the top job in Malaysia.

Dismissing his autocratic ways does no justice to the scores of people and activists who were victims of his iron-fisted rule.

We fast forward to Friday, and nothing has fundamentally changed, although it was a historic meeting of people who built their careers opposing each other. The Declaration is to remove Najib and not to get rid of Umno. And it has no tangible mention of ways to find durable solutions for the people who are marginalised, discriminated and left to fend for themselves. It makes no reference to the aborigines or workers’ rights.

The Save Malaysia coalition has ironically only made a passing reference to reforming national institutions, which are crucial to ensure the next government would be accountable and transparent.

Not long ago close to half a million people took to the streets to demand for free and fair elections. Three Bersih rallies before saw scores of protesters being tear gassed for demanding for an independent election commission, independent judiciary and a free media.

These aspirations have not been clearly stipulated in the Declaration as the rallying cry of the people, except for a one-liner stating the obvious fact that the people are suffering.

Will ousting Najib while keeping Umno and the institution intact really solve the rakyat’s increasing financial hardship and other pressing problems?

This Declaration, therefore, is a rushed document that did not think through these pertinent issues. But now that we have a peoples’ manifesto, how do we use it to engage and mobilise them to remove Najib?

As for Mahathir critics, the question will still remain if this is an act of revenge because Najib has flatly refused to continue the former premier’s policies, setting in motion the crumbling of his legacy.

The onus is now on civil society representatives and political parties to ensure Dr Mahathir does not hijack the movement.

Clearly the jury is still out…

Charles Santiago is MP for Klang.

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