Mahathir - saviour, showman or charlatan?

Opinion  |  Mariam Mokhtar
Published:  |  Modified:

One senior civil servant alleged, “Mahathir was corrupt, but he did it for the nation. On the other hand, Najib’s corruption serves only himself.”

How are we to move forwards when senior officials are part of the problem and cannot understand that corruption is wrong? It is theft, immoral and a sin.

Former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad ruled with an iron fist for 22 years. He resigned in a flood of tears, while being consoled by a swarm of Umno Baru supporters at the party’s general assembly in 2002.

Of all the people you might think should lead the charge against the festering Malaysian political crisis, the 91-year-old Mahathir would not be one.

Yet, he is taking centre-stage (again!), warning about corruption and, the attempts by PM Najib Abdul Razak to undermine him, his closest friends and family.

Despite his age, Mahathir is lucid, his mind sharp, and he is still able to hold the crowd’s attention.

Mahathir is eloquent. He makes things seem simple; like a maths teacher who can break down a complex trigonometry problem into easy, basic steps. His voice, with its grandfatherly tone, can disarm even his most ardent detractor.

The unpalatable thing about him is that behind the ageing mask is the first-rate mind of a consummate politician. He deflects questions as easily as a skilled child can avoid the enemy gunfire in Grand Theft Auto.

Last week, Mahathir claimed that Najib was attempting to weaken him. One tries to be sympathetic, but his treatment at Najib’s hands is the same as most of us received back in the 80s and 90s from Mahathir.

Mahathir’s reality check about the failing state of this nation is four decades late.

Mahathir complained about the removal of his police escort and the possibility of his cook being changed.

A small price to pay, when most of had our basic freedoms, the independence of our institutions, and a system of checks and balances to curb abuses of power, stolen by him and his administration.

He claimed that his business acquaintances were threatened by the Inland Revenue Board (IRB). So what else is new?

I have previously highlighted that in meetings between the private sector and government servants, any criticism of officialdom is swiftly followed by a visit from the IRB.

The trader will suddenly find that a particular application, or permit for foreign workers, or building fire regulation, is held up. So, we keep our mouths sealed for fear of repercussions.

Mahathir alleges that Najib wants Proton to go bankrupt for a possible firesale. How about the other golden geese of Malaysian industry which suffered during his tenure? Think MAS, or the decimation of the tin industry in Perak. What about the Sabahans who are swamped by migrants?

Those who applied to join the new political party Bersatu were threatened with expulsion from Umno Baru, loss of position in government, and may possibly be stopped from receiving scholarships and Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M). Again, what is new? Najib picked up many skills from his sifu.

During Mahathir's tenure, people who complained about corruption and power abuse had a choice. Civil servants who wanted to do their job without political interference were threatened with the sack, demoted or sidestepped. Others could face the Internal Security Act (ISA), or escape.

Non-Malays in the armed forces were treated as semi-hostile, and considered untrustworthy. Non-Malay applicants were not made welcome in the civil service.

Some senior Umno Baru politicians who openly complained about corruption allegedly received the ice-block treatment. Mahathir may claim that he was unaware that such tortures existed. This is uncharacteristic of him, because he is allegedly a control freak and micro-manager.

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