Playing cops and robbers with Dr Mahathir 2.0

I attended two weddings over the last few days, one a traditional wedding and another a civil registry marriage. It gave me an opportunity to mingle with many relatives, friends, and strangers who became new acquaintances.

Politics is not a popular topic at weddings, and it is easy to spot the small groups of men who are likely discussing politics.

The situation was different at these two weddings: Everyone appeared to be talking politics. Surprisingly, the women were more animated than the men in sharing their opinions of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) win and the fate of the Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties.

The housewives, especially, effused excitedly about the change in government and what this meant for Malaysia. This included several grandmothers whose main occupation is taking care of grandchildren and watching television dramas.

What a change I thought, as I listened to their eager explanations, theories and assessment of the state of politics in the nation.

I knew the toppling of the BN from its pedestal had resulted in greater awareness of, and interest in, politics among women but not to this extent. Especially so as it is now two months since the May 9 general election.

It seems some of these women have switched from make-believe dramas to the real-life drama unfolding before their eyes.

Everybody agreed that Umno’s arrogance and the impotency of the other BN component parties such as the MCA and MIC were a major cause of the BN’s downfall. Everyone also agreed that the 1MDB scandal was a major reason for the PH win.

They were stupefied by the luxurious, and most said wasteful, lifestyle of former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor, based on the police department’s seizure of items worth between RM900 million and RM1.1 billion from six residential units linked to them.

They were stunned that the baby-faced, charming man who had been their prime minister for about a decade, and his wife, had RM116.7 million in cash, 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 1,600 brooches, 14 tiaras, 567 expensive handbags, and 423 luxury watches.

Unfortunately none of them was willing to belief Najib’s claim that these were mostly gifts from foreign leaders and dignitaries and that the rest belonged to family members.

Poor Najib. It appears that in the court of public opinion, he is already guilty. None of those I spoke to mentioned the fact that Najib is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I feel sorry for him.

The women were wondering how on earth anyone would be able to find the occasion to wear so many pieces of jewellery, and carry all those handbags.

Then I heard something rather interesting. Two women told me how even their grandchildren were talking about politics these days – something that had not happened with other grandchildren at that age.

A relative at one of the weddings said her nine-year-old grandson told the family that the boys were talking about politics and the seizure of items from Najib-linked houses in school.

When one member of the family told him to stop discussing such things in school as he might get into trouble, the intrepid grandmother reminded everyone that this was a new Malaysia.

“I told them that we are now free to discuss any issue, as long as it is not done with the intention of creating trouble. The barriers have been broken by the PH government. We have the freedom that we yearned for,” she gushed.

She said, to her grandson, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was “the good guy who gets the bad guy”.

Another woman said her six-year-old grandson was playing cops and robbers using the names of Mahathir and Najib. No prizes for guessing who is the cop and whom the boy plays.

I would have thought that boys playing the cop would have chosen to play Federal Commercial Crime Investigation Department director Amar Singh who is heading the police investigation into the 1MDB affair and whose face is on television, news portals and newspapers so frequently.

However, it appears that while Singh may be king, Mahathir is a superhero. For, the 93-year-old has taken a spot alongside Spider-Man, Iron Man, Superman and Ultraman.

The older men at both weddings couldn’t stop discussing the dramatic change in Malaysia too, but because they had lived through the first Mahathir era they were not as credulous as the young boys.

They were well aware that the roots of many of the restrictions placed on liberty, democracy and human rights, and the imbalance in opportunities for Malaysians of various races could be traced to Mahathir’s earlier policies.

But they noted a different Mahathir at the helm of the nation today, and hoped Mahathir 2.0, learning from his past mistakes, would steer the nation towards greater prosperity and unity, where every Malaysian would feel “this is home”.

Mahathir has been given an opportunity to be remembered as the man who brought back democratic practices, good governance, unity, and freedom of expression and association; and the man who nailed corruption.

His decision to allow nine government agencies – including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Audit Department – to operate as independent entities reporting directly to Parliament effective July 1 sets just the right tone.

This was part of PH’s election manifesto pledge number 12: to limit the term of office of the prime minister and to restructure the Prime Minister’s Department.

In doing so, Mahathir is giving up some far-reaching powers. And that is good as it means future prime ministers cannot abuse these powers – such as instructing the MACC to stop investigating someone or other.

The power is returning to where it belongs – Parliament. Of course, I hope the parliamentarians – as representatives of voters – will scrutinise reports from these agencies thoroughly and ensure there is no abuse, including, say, by MACC officers.

The children playing cops-and-robbers won’t be doing so for long. They will outgrow it. But they will certainly appreciate, when they become adults, a well-governed nation where all Malaysians have equal opportunities to shine and the freedom to express themselves without fear of Big Brother.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT