Mahathir, despite his advanced age, is extremely unwilling to let go of his power. The man who practised dictatorial-style leadership and gerrymandering and misused institutional tools to manipulate an electoral process to stay in power for 22 years (from 1981 to 2003) became a prime minister for the second time after he led opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition to a stunning victory in May 2018.
He was hailed as the hero who slays the evil Najib Razak, the former premier who was, amusingly, handpicked by Mahathir himself. International news calling him the world’s oldest prime minister was enough to send the then-93-year-old man grinning from ear to ear. The defeat of the (previous) ruling Barisan Nasional after 61 years of one-party rule was arguably Mahathir’s biggest victory.
Initially, the country appeared to be moving in the right direction. The unpopular 6% GST (goods and services tax) was scrapped. Inflation fell to below 1% for the first time in 40 months. The fallen Najib Razak was slapped with charges of corruption and money laundering. Web sites critical of Najib were unblocked. Some crooks were either fired or charged.
Unfortunately, the newly crowned premier did not use his power and influence to do the right thing like fulfilling the coalition’s manifesto or promoting meritocracy and tolerance and respect in a multi-racial and multi-religious country. Mahathir’s arrogance began to emerge when he said the pre-election manifesto was not a bible that has to be followed and abided by religiously.
The prime minister thought he could throw away all the promises made in the manifesto because the people were merely obsessed with GST and Najib’s corruption. For that reason alone, Mahathir kept trumpeting about how he had led PH to ejecting Najib regime. He told all and sundry that Malaysia is no longer seen as a kleptocracy and is a respected nation again.
At first, it was both amusing and entertaining. Later, the drama became boring and stale – even annoying. People saw sagging economy, bearish stock market, rising costs of living, un-affordable housing and depreciating local currency. What they did not see is Najib and his wife Rosmah being sent to prison. In fact, not a single crook of the old regime goes to prison, at least not yet.
To be fair, Mahathir was equally frustrated with the long process of sending a crook like Najib to prison. But he was the same man who had destroyed the independence and integrity of the judiciary of the country during his era as the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. The judicial system was so broken and corrupt that he proposed to set up a Special Court on corruption last year.
To make matters worse, not only Mahathir leadership refused to condemn racism and extremism constantly spewed by oppositions UMNO and PAS, he decided to join the party instead – approves, subscribes and even promotes racist hatred, xenophobia, Malay supremacy and all forms of bigotry in his attempt to attract ethnic Malays to join his tiny party Bersatu (PPBM).
He happily harboured and protected Indian Muslim hate preacher Zakir Naik, a permanent resident of Malaysia who ignorantly but deliberately said the Malaysian Chinese aren’t born in the country so they, as the “old guests”, must go back to China first before he (the “new guest”) can be asked to leave. The fugitive preacher had also questioned Malaysian Hindu’s loyalty to PM Mahathir.
The 94-year-old premier tried to be more Malay than UMNO Malay nationalist party and more Islamic than PAS Islamist party. His divide-and-rule formula, which he had successfully deployed back in the 1980s to divide majority ethnic Malay and minorities Chinese and Indian, didn’t work in the era of social media.He lost a parliamentary seat in Tanjung Piai by-election.
Mr. Mahathir’s popularity plunged like a rock in less than 2 years he took over the new government. People have become smarter than he thought. Had he cracked down on racism and extremism played by the oppositions and cracked his head in growing the country’s economy instead, the premier will definitely receive an overwhelming request to continue leading the country.
However, based on comments on the internet, people are openly demanding the prime minister to resign – the quicker the better. As the 2 years approaches, the duration of premiership that Mahathir himself committed in Feb 2018, just 3 months before the historic election victory, the old man finally realises he can’t easily let go of the power he has been enjoying so far.
His reluctance to pass the baton to prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim can be seen clearly during a Q&A session after delivering his keynote speech at the Malaysia Future Leaders School – Tier 3 programme yesterday (Feb 20). Mahathir warned that there is no guarantee that a good policy will last forever if a leader or a government is changed.
“When I made the decision to resign in 2002, I believed that all the plans would be successful and would be continued so that we can achieve Vision 2020 and become a developed nation. But, after I resigned, what I saw was changes in terms of policies because of new leaders who wanted to introduce their own new ways,” – said the prime minister.
Perhaps Mahathir should elaborate which good policies of his that had been scrapped by his successors Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak resulting in the failure of the Vision 2020. Was it the crooked bridge scrapped by Badawi or the abolishment by Najib of the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) draconian law which allows detention without trial?
Or was he referring to the selling of government contracts, licences and approved permits (AP) which gave birth to a handful of billionaire cronies like AP King Nasimuddin, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, Halim Saad, Wan Azmi, Amin Shah, Tajuddin Ramli, Mohd Razali, Vincent Tan, Ting Pek Khiing, Yeoh Tiong Lay, Loy Hean Heong, Ananda Krishnan and even his own sons Mirzan and Mokhzani?
The Vision 2020 was never meant to be achieved, not with racist and discrimination policy like the NEP (New Economic Policy) derived from “Ketuanan Melayu”, the ideology of Malay supremacy espoused by UMNO (United Malays National Organization), which saw brain drain in the form of hundreds of thousands of technical skills went through a large scale migration to other countries.
Speaking further during the Q&A session, Mahathir also reminded that a nation’s success relied on its citizens’ characters, values, and knowledge while adding that an intelligent society always chose a leader who did not think only for himself. Clearly, he was referring to Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor. But who, if not Mahathir, chose the family of crooks in the first place?
Mahathir argued that good leaders should not think of their own agenda – “In a society, we need at least one leader. If there are too many leaders, there will be problems too, because they will fight with each other. They will forget their duties and waste their time and energy to compete with one another. Therefore, they will lose the ability to lead.”
It appeared that the egoistic prime minister was self-praising with his statements. The remarks also suggested that all the leaders of different parties – regardless of opposition UMNO and PAS or ruling PKR, DAP and Amanah – should kowtow, acknowledge and accept Mahathir as the Supreme Leader of the country.
Interestingly, in an interview with the Financial Times during the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in November 2019, Mahathir self-proclaimed that he considered himself as the only best person to lead the country. He claimed to be the only man with the necessary experience to solve the country’s financial problems – indirectly gave away hints that he was not ready to step down in 2020.
After 24 years running the country, including handpicked a leader who slept on the job while another became the world’s biggest crook and stole tens of billions of dollars, Mahathir has lost his legitimacy to say he’s still the best man for the job. At his current age, he’s like an old dog that can’t learn new tricks. After the failure of Proton, the defiant old man has today launched two new national car project.
Mahathir could not explain why for 35 years since the establishment of Proton in 1983, the national automaker needed special protection and billions of dollars of subsidies. Proton was given a variety of government assistance – waived taxes alone totalled up to RM13.9 billion. In fact, by the mid-1990s, Proton had sucked up RM12 billion of taxpayers money in the form of subsidies.
The simple fact that Proton has turned profitable after sold to China’s Geely speaks volumes about the failure of Mahathir’s policy in mixing politics with business. And since the stubborn and arrogant leader insisted on doing the same thing again, should not his capability and leadership be questioned? The premier is too afraid to lose power because his legacy would be dismantled.
Perhaps his only regret is that scientists have not found the secret to immortality. What he can do now is to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, so that he can enjoy his power for as long as he can. Mahathir revealed that one of the two world leaders that he admires the most is Peter the Great. Perhaps, like the Russian Emperor, Mahathir the Great would like to rule until his death.