From Terence Netto
For the umpteenth time in his long life, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is on the warpath.
As just about everyone knows by now, his motive is to pre-empt what may be coming to him: official investigation of the wealth his family has accumulated.
He is a master at the art of distraction which is why he has leapt on the hobby horse of stirring up the Malays so that the consequent commotion will divert attention from the need to expose allegedly illicit accumulation of wealth by his family.
Anwar Ibrahim’s campaign against corruption, which has long predated his ascension to prime ministerial office, inevitably has the Mahathir family wealth in its cross-hairs.
Former Cabinet minister Nazri Aziz has argued that Mahathir’s attempts to rouse the Malays to high dudgeon is brazen racial incitement.
Nazri felt that the unity government of Anwar ought to have no qualms about using the Sedition Act against a person who did not hesitate to use repressive laws against critics and oppositionists.
His suggestion that the Sedition Act be used against Mahathir is understandable by reason of his dislike for Mahathir but, on calmer reflection, it is precisely the weapon that would add fuel to Mahathir’s tank.
Repression is oxygen to causes such as the one that Mahathir is attempting to engender.
The unity government should disdain repressive methods favoured by past governments, including notably Mahathir’s, to counter dissent and opposition.
A better way to persuasively repel Mahathir’s campaign would be to take a leaf from the arguments adduced by Nazri in favour of using the Sedition Act.
This is that Mahathir has often in his career uttered derogatory things about the Malays and got away with it.
A campaign to rehash these instances of disparagement would be an antidote to the poison he is now spreading in the body politic.
Mahathir’s furtive style and chameleon instincts have long made it difficult to capture his true colours.
But given the length of his career, of now more than seven decades’ duration, it has become not too difficult to discern its characteristic feature.
This is its amorality which enables him to leap on to a hobby horse that can be ridden to advantage, even if he has in the past said derogatory things about the vehicle he has chosen to ride.
It appears there is a perception that Anwar’s unity government is not solicitous enough of Malay concerns for Islamic religion and its special privileges.
This perception is as sustainable as Vladimir Putin’s argument that the Russian attack on Ukraine is a campaign against de-Nazification.
Perceptions are important in politics, but they may not be the reality.
The latter has to be buttressed by facts on the ground. And the facts are that Anwar’s government is not indifferent to Malay concerns.
It wants to save money from leakages and misappropriation so that the savings can be used to clear national debt and finance campaigns to help the poor and the needy.
The unity government should keep its eyes firmly fixed on this core concern and disdain repression for persuasion that its current insistent critic is more interested in helping his cronies than in assisting the Malays.
Terence Netto is a senior journalist and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.