“When sometimes, behind his back, they called him a tyrant, he merely smiled and uttered this profound observation: ‘If someday I turn liberal, they will say I have let them down.’”
- Émile Zola, ‘His Excellency’
In a two-part interview, the former prime minister who for many, is the de facto opposition leader of this country, talks candidly about Umno and his new nemesis, Prime Minister Najib Razak.
My opinion of the former prime minister is a matter of public record. In person, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is soft spoken and has the remarkable ability to convey populist appeal without abandoning his hardline long-held beliefs that a paternalistic form of government is the only type of government suitable for Malaysians. Anyone speaking to the former prime minister realises that here is a man who finds currency in realpolitik and seeks consensus merely as a means to an end.
One gets the impression that he paints in broad strokes not because he doesn't get the details but rather because the former allows him more control of the narrative and he understands that people more often agree on the bigger picture but get bogged down in the details. It is a useful political and rhetorical tactic that appeals to the pragmatic nature of the polity that has sustained him all through his political career.
Mahathir is also the polar opposite of our current scandal-plagued prime minister. He genuinely believes that the apparatus of the state should be used to sustain a political ideology, an ideology of his creation, which over the years he has articulated as some sort of pragmatic conservatism. Corruption, racial and religious sensitivities and all those issues that comes with a multi-cultural polity, should be controlled as a means to maintain political hegemony and not eradicated to achieve some sort of utopic ideal.
This of course has led to numerous problems, political and social, that Mahathir and indeed many politicians - establishment and opposition - fail to see as something fundamentally wrong with our system and not merely partisan power plays.
Najib, on the other hand, believes that the apparatus of the state is there to serve his interests. It is no point detailing how I arrive at this conclusion because every day presents new opportunities for the minions of Putrajaya to remind the average Malaysian that he or she is at the mercy of the Najib state.
However, as activist cum lawyer Haris Ibrahim reminds us, we need not be afraid.
The Saudi foreign minister (Adel Al-Jubeir) has said that the donations came from Saudi Arabia - that he is satisfied with the AG (attorney-general) investigations and as far as the Saudis were concerned, the matter has been settled. What is Tun’s response to this?
Mahathir: That’s what he says. Investigations, you need documentary proof. If money is transferred, there must be something written down - the cheques, the records in the bank, the bank that is used.
A statement alone is not enough. So until I can view the documents, until they are publicised, any statement alone is not going to be believed...