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LETTER | In the annals of Malaysian politics, there is a tale of a man whose journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. It is a story of power, politics and ultimately, redemption.

In a recent turn of events, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a towering figure in Malaysian history, publicly acknowledged a grave mistake from his past - a blunder that had for years haunted the east coast states of the peninsular.

The stage for this revelation was set at the Perdana Leadership Foundation, where Mahathir, stood before an eager audience. In a moment of candour, he confessed that he had wronged the states during his tenure.

His political party's opposition to PAS, which governed those states, had caused a long-standing neglect that he now seeks to rectify.

Mahathir, a formidable leader known for his strong-willed governance, explained that during his time as prime minister, his focus had been disproportionately on the west coast states, leaving the east coast in the shadows.

It was a decision that had stunted their growth, resulting in a glaring underdevelopment and a dearth of attention. In his own words, "It's high time for me to correct the mistakes I made."

‘Backward PAS’

The genesis of this narrative can be traced back to the 1980s and 1990s when Mahathir's administration viewed PAS as a "backward" political party.

At the heart of their ideological clash were issues surrounding an Islamic state and Syariah criminal code, which PAS advocated for, Mahathir, along with his party Umno, vehemently opposed these notions.

The standoff led to a blockage of PAS's endeavours, with Mahathir criticising the party for not adhering to the "correct" version of Islam.

One of the most notable consequences of this political enmity was Mahathir's refusal to grant Kelantan its rightful oil royalty. In a twist of revenge politics, he even halted all financial aid and cancelled a significant loan meant for upgrading Kelantan's water supply.

To add insult to injury, he publicly mocked the state, asserting that its inability to provide clean water to its people was emblematic of PAS's failures. Mahathir went so far as to say that turning on your tap in Kelantan would yield "teh tarik" instead of water.

The repercussions of Mahathir's punitive approach to the east coast states were dire. Cholera outbreaks ravaged Kelantan, a crisis that the former prime minister seemed to regard with indifference, blaming it on the absence of Umno rule.

What makes this narrative intriguing is the subsequent contrast in leadership styles. In the post-Mahathir era, leaders, notably Najib Abdul Razak, adopted a different approach.

While Mahathir had pressured and punished Kelantan for their support of PAS in past elections, Najib's leadership seemed more focused on addressing the state's issues.

The irony in this story is profound. After decades of repression and political animosity, Mahathir found himself returning to the centre stage, this time not as a powerful leader but as an elder statesman. He acknowledged his past errors and embarked on a journey to right those wrongs.

This narrative of Mahathir's journey in politics serves as a testament to the power of his long-lost legacy. It is a reminder that even the most influential figures can admit their mistakes and strive to rectify them.

However, in Mahathir’s case, it is a weak attempt for him to regain his relevancy in a world that continues to ignore him.

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

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