Side Views

Whither Dr M? ― Zaid Ibrahim

MAY 19 ― We know that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had little say in the naming of the new Cabinet. This wasn’t because he didn’t try. Indeed, he was rebuffed by the prime minister who suddenly felt strong and energised by his so-called new mandate after the election.

Barisan Nasional (BN) likened Datuk Seri Najib Razak to a rock star, and put posters of him in all constituencies during the campaign period as if he were the most popular politician to ever grace this country. Now he is continuing on the same path with his list of new ministers.

It matters little what Umno or the Barisan Nasional (BN) think because it’s a list who will keep him at the helm for the next five years.

This is why I think Dr Mahathir has lost his influence, or at least the will to fight back. He must be disappointed with this turn of events, for, in his 22 years in power, he never once dispensed with Umno or BN during a general election as if they didn’t matter.

He never traded on his personal popularity or put up posters of himself as Najib has gleefully done. To Dr Mahathir, it was always about Umno and the Barisan, and not the personality of individual leaders.

Dr Mahathir, despite being the hard man that he was, would never abandon the component parties. He was always loyal to his allies even if he knew some of them to be corrupt or were no longer useful to the coalition. Friendships mattered to Dr Mahathir. He did not use people and then forget them later.

It must be painful for him to see Najib embracing people like Datuk Paul Low and P. Waythamoorthy, whom Najib met just three weeks before election, practically abandoning the MCA and MIC who have been steadfastly loyal for over 55 years. This is not the Alliance or the Barisan spirit. This is a massive ego trip on a temporary high.

So it’s up to Dr Mahathir’s son, Datuk Paduka Mukhriz Mahathir, and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to redeem the glorious past and remove Najib at the forthcoming Umno general assembly (that is, if they still have the Umno-BN spirit in them).

Many Umno members think Najib is due for some payback at the November assembly, even though members are not normally very demanding. They are easily satisfied if the leaders take care of them, making them feel important and making sure their opinions count in the big decisions of the party. Najib, however, abandoned the counsel of the members during the election and chose instead to trust Datuk Seri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis and the “war room operators”.

When Dr Mahathir was in charge, he would push through his own ideas and plans of action but he somehow made Umno members feel as if they were part of the decision-making process. This political astuteness was part of the reason why he lasted so long. Najib, on the other hand, tends to outsource everything.

Should we fear Muhyiddin and his unfortunate “Malay First” outburst? I know him well enough to say that he is no more “ultra” than the next Umno fellow. Muhyiddin will never say to Malaysians who supported opposition, “go live elsewhere if you don’t like it here”, as an Umno vice-president loudly proclaimed on his first day in office.

You always know where Muhyiddin stands. He is also a smart man and knows the realities of multiracial Malaysia. He has been in the government for many years and has always been guided by pragmatic considerations. He has always been sure of his identity had has had no need to prove his “Malay credentials”.

In short, he will make for a better prime minister should BN unexpectedly win again in 2018.

Why am I so keen for Umno and BN to be strong? Because I want democracy to function well. This can happen only when both sides are led by capable men and women. Only when we pit the strongest and the bravest in politics will change take place in the people’s interest.

Mediocre leaders on either side of the divide are of no use to anyone but themselves.

* Datuk Zaid Ibrahim reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider

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