Mahathir — Malaysia’s enigma

AUG 30 — To make sense of the various ongoing debates on the NEP, one has to have a sense of history especially for the time when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister.

During his 22 years as PM, the main priority of the nation was to develop at all costs. The man worked 16 hours a day, was well-read, intelligent, soft-spoken and most of all, he listened well.

He was tenacious when it came to policy; it was often his way or the highway. His detractors would call him a dictator for undermining institutions such as the judiciary and using the ISA against his political opponents.  Nevertheless, when he stepped down as PM in 2003, he was still largely popular among all the races in Malaysia.

It is only lately with the advent of Perkasa that Tun Mahathir’s popularity started to wane. Many, me included, want a new dawn in Malaysia with the ideals of 1 Malaysia and the NEM to be fully implemented in the country. Clearly this view differs markedly from Perkasa’s. However, to simply paint Tun Mahathir as a racist ignores his 22 years as PM when he was clearly not.

The first example was alluded to by SP Setia’s, Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, where he claimed that the Chinese too benefited from the NEP pointing to the 40 richest Malaysians where 73 per cent of the wealth in this group is held by the Chinese or where eight out of the top 10 are Chinese. Of course these benefits did not trickle down sufficiently to the other 99 per cent of the people, regardless of race, and that is where I believe most people actually object to the NEP.

But cronyism during Tun Mahathir’s time was a multiracial thing where you had a chance for a piece of the pie regardless of race. I can still remember the time when those in Umno complained that they had not got their just desserts and Tun Mahathir simply published a list of all the Malay beneficiaries which numbered in the thousands for all to see at the Umno annual general meeting.

The second example is unique to Sabah, where he promised that if the Barisan Nasional took Sabah, he would rotate the position of Chief Minister in Sabah among the major races. Against strong resistance from Umno Sabah, he kept his word.

The third example was his changing the education curriculum where science and mathematics were to be taught in English. He did this against a backdrop of major resistance from the Malay academics. To label Tun Mahathir a racist or an ultra Malay, especially during his time as PM is simply wrong.

From my perspective, having sometimes differed from Tun Mahathir even when he was PM, it is clear that he wants to save Umno and is prepared to put his legacy on the line to do it. While I sympathise with his predicament, I don’t believe we can turn back, for the current and future well-being of the nation. We must continue to fight for our individual human rights, meritocracy, justice, the elimination of corruption and to be Malaysian first and everything else second.

We must remember that some of the hottest topics today, such as the caning of women and the use of the “A” word, were never an issue when Tun Mahathir was the PM. The situation has changed and we must act to put things right.

If by reading this, you believe that I have a high regard for Tun Mahathir, you would be right and I make no apologies for that. However, I absolutely do not agree with him on Perkasa. I do not believe in the NEP. I do not believe in the “ketuanan” philosophy. I do not believe in perpetuating any abuse of power.

In any event it is the people who will decide through the ballot box as to which party wins the next election. It is my belief that the majority will vote for the party that is more liberal, tolerant and prepared to give the people their basic human rights and freedoms.

In essence, those in their forties and fifties, like me, have a duty to ensure that this country must be on the right path. We cannot abrogate our duty to faith or hope. It is our watch and we must do whatever it takes to protect this country. We should know better and it is incumbent on us to affect society in the right direction.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.



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