The two sides of Mahathir Mohamad

The two sides of Mahathir Mohamad

I grew up during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tenure as Prime Minister of Malaysia. I lived through two versions of the Mahathir premiership. The first 10 years of Mahathir as Prime Minister witnessed Malaysia slowly becoming an ASEAN Tiger, the years Mahathir first introduced “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah”, his Look East Policy, his many industrialisation policies.

On Jan 1, 1982 Mahathir adjusted time by 30 minutes so that East and West Malaysia would have synchronised times, but more than that he wanted Malaysians in the peninsular to wake up earlier, go to work earlier and be more productive.

During those hey days of economic growth, there would be very little for the man on the street to complain about against Mahathir, besides there was very little information, no Internet to share the grouses that his political opponents had against him, not everyone read Aliran or the Rocket.

The economy was booming, the religious far right was kept in check, there was little need for racial posturing, Umno, MCA and to a lesser extent MIC was busy governing the country and had no need to play to the gallery for votes.

The first 10 years of Mahathir, there was no talk of Mahathir colluding with billionaires, no talk of his children being multimillionaires, no talk of exploitation of religion and race for power and wealth.

Then came the next 12 years, the final years of Mahathir as the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia, on the heels of Operasi Lalang and the fight between Team A and Team B in Umno, one by one the dismantling of institutions of their perceived independence, there was less expected from the judiciary, from Parliament and from the press.

Soon with the advent of the Internet started the chatter about corporate and political elites in Malaysia close to power, sharing wealth for themselves, chatter about children of politicians becoming rich beyond their capability or even their capacity. People started calling Mahathir “Mahazalim” and suddenly a legacy that was built on modern Malaysia, the KLCC, the Penang Bridge and the MSC was tainted, and Mahathir to his credit knew that his time was up, and he had to make sure he had to step down to save what left of his legacies.

Mahathir did not think his successors did live up to his expectations, he felt there was a real danger that his legacies were being dismantled.

Fast forward, post former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the 1MDB scandal, there appeared an opportunity for the return of the political maestro, long regarded as a Machiavellian genius when it came to politics.

Mahathir saw an opportunity and he took it. No one will blame him for it. In fact, he was encouraged by many of his bitter foes to make a comeback, surely this Mahathir was a different Mahathir with nothing to prove, surely all he wanted was the very best for Malaysia and to revive and leave behind a legacy untainted or so they rationalised.

2019 was not a very good year for those who were hoping for the return of Mahathir of circa the early years of the 80s, what we got was more of Mahathir of his later years, hence the return of the same faces, the same corporate elites. The return of racial politics and the exploitation of religion to stoke fear among the people.

Mahathir, by his own admission, has said that he was never any good at choosing talents, and yet Malaysians had little to complain about the majority of his picks for Cabinet during the first 10 years of his tenure, it was his following 12 years that Malaysians began to get worried about his selection.

Post GE14, people are still hoping that we will see the return of Mahathir of the early years, and yet the signs are worrying that this may not be the case. His selection of Cabinet members is now a source of concern and of much consternation among many Malaysians.

His statements in relation to international relationships are worrying many experts on international relations even within the country.

There have been signs that while the world has evolved and become more sophisticated, Mahathir has not. Many of the mistakes seem uncharacteristically Mahathir who was adept at manoeuvring international land mines during his first tenure as prime minister.

2020 is going to be more challenging economically as trade wars escalate, global tensions rising because of nationalism worldwide. We need Mahathir to be at his best, the Mahathir at his prime, not a Mahathir in his decline.

Stephen Doss is a resident political commentator

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online.


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Pakatan HarapanTun Dr Mahathir Mohamad