Pakatan’s regression to Mahathirism

Calvin Sankaran

Ayn Rand, the American philosopher-novelist and a cult figure among the tech industry titans, was violently opposed to compromises. In her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, she wrote, “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

In naming Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 14th General Election (GE14), Pakatan Harapan (PH) has chosen to make exactly the kind of toxic compromise Rand so bitterly abhorred. With this decision, PH has concluded the classic Faustian bargain by sacrificing principles of good governance, human rights and democracy on the altar of political expediency.

As someone who has lived through the administrations of all our six prime ministers, I believe I am well positioned to judge and compare the performance of Mahathir in a balanced perspective.

There is no question that Mahathir brought a new dynamism and vision for the nation. His contributions for the national economic and industrial developments are beyond question. In his 22 years of rule, he steered the country’s GDP from a mere US$4 billion (RM15.8 billion) to US$110 billion. While some of his mega projects were expensive failures, on the balance his successes clearly outweighed the failures. However, all his contributions to the physical infrastructure of the country were completely undermined and undone by his repressive and dictatorial rule which saw severe erosion in civil liberties and loss of hundreds of billions of ringgits due to corruption and mismanagement.

After starting off brightly by invigorating Malaysians with fresh hopes with the motto of “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah,” his reign went downhill and grew increasingly draconian. He tore apart the walls of separation of powers between the three branches of the government — the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, independent institutions meant to keep the government in check and accountable were shackled, muzzled and eventually neutered to serve the all-powerful prime minister. When the judiciary stood up to his bullying, he engineered the sacking of the Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two other Supreme Court Judges, a move which our first PM Tunku Abdul Rahman described as “the most shocking story in modern legal and judicial history.” Abas and the judges were replaced with less independent-minded judges who acted as the tool of the Executive rather than delivering justice without fear or favour.

Barry Wain, author of The Malaysian Maverick, wrote that this episode had consequences far beyond just the loss of independence among the judiciary as it also opened the door for corruption seep into the justice system and giving rise to shocking miscarriages of justice.

The Election Commission too lost its independence and was used as the tool to gerrymander and malapportionment the electoral districts to rig the election in favour of the ruling party. The resulting electoral victory gave Mahathir an unassailable majority in the parliament enabling him to use it as a rubber stamp to pass repressive and discriminatory laws.

His own party was not spared either. He reacted with characteristic ruthlessness when faced with challenges from party members alarmed by his increasingly authoritarian rule and the rise of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. By using all powers and tools of the incumbency he ruthlessly eliminated his rivals and went on to manipulate the party constitution so that there will be no such challenges in the future.

Political opponents and even NGOs were often targeted, harassed and thrown into jail without trial. Operasi Lalang of 1987 saw more than 100 political opponents and civil liberty leaders arrested inthea massive crackdown and jailed without trial or providing reasons for their arrests.

To attain absolute power and total control, Mahathir borrowed extensively from the dictators’ playbook. One of his key strategies was to establish the culture of political patronage where his supporters and cronies were richly rewarded with government contracts and concessions. His actions ushered in and firmly embedded the culture of money politics into Umno.

All these actions served to legitimise corruption at the top and soon this deadly cancer spread rapidly and permeated every sector of the government, public service and the society. Despite his lamentation of corruption and money politics, the organisation responsible for fighting corruption (Anti-Corruption Agency, ACA) was made toothless and merely stood and watched while the nation was being eaten from within by this deadly parasite.

Another infamous legacy of Mahathirism was the privatization of government where the public assets were transferred into private hands, ostensibly to improve efficiency and reduce public sector burden. Barry Wain estimates that RM100 billion was transferred to favoured cronies under this programme.

In each and every case, privatisation proved to be a complete and utter failure due to corruption and mismanagement and Mahathir spent tens of billions more to bail out the private companies and individuals.

The list of scandals during Mahathir’s rule are too numerous to mention. One of the best chroniclers of these scandals was none other than Lim Kit Siang, who has authored numerous books detailing each of these scandals. Some of the biggest scandals and losses during this period were the Bank Negara forex loss, Proton, Perwaja, BMF, PKFZ, Maminco, MAS, etc.

The current PH chairman was also responsible for sweet-heart deals that burdened the Malaysians for decades to come. He awarded highly lopsided highway concessions to PLUS and other companies, burdening people with numerous tolls. He handed out similarly highly one-sided, lucrative contracts to cronies under the Independent Power Producers (IPP) project.

Mahathir also holds the unwanted honour as the man who contributed most damage to Malaysia’s ethnic relationship. Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz branded Mahathir as the father of racism while Lim Kit Siang called him the “greatest enemy of multiracial Malaysia.”

He authored The Malay Dilemma, a racially provocative book that was banned by Tunku’s government. His continual articulation of extremist racial views proved too much for Tunku who kicked him out of Umno. The ban on The Malay Dilemma was only lifted when Mahathir became the PM.

Islamisation of the government started with Mahathir and it was him who kickstarted the efforts to incorporate Islamic values into the government. In 2001, he even went further by declaring Malaysia as a fundamentalist Islamic country.

Even after leaving the government, he continued to take a racist stance and often created controversies by making highly divisive, hurtful statements and comments about the minorities. It was hardly a surprise that he was also the patron for Perkasa, the notorious racist far-right group.

The root cause of the hardcore Indian poor today can be directly attributed to Mahathir’s policies and lack of empathy. Thousands of poor Indians living in rubber plantations were forcibly displaced and ejected from the estates when the rubber trees were replaced by palm oil plantations or developed to build houses, townships, airports, etc.

Without employable skills and education, these Indians were left to fend for themselves in the alien and unforgiving environment of the cities. Despite appeals for help from the political parties and NGOs, Mahathir refused to extend support for these Indians who ended up as the urban hardcore poor or forced to turn to crime due to desperation.

Despite his ultra-Malay posturing, Mahathir didn’t help the ordinary Bumiputras either. When the NEP was launched in 1970, the Bumiputras held 1 per cent of the national wealth (measured in terms of corporate ownership). The objective of the NEP was to increase it to 30 per cent by 1990.

From 1970 to 1981, this percentage had tripled from 1 per cent to 3 per cent. However, during Mahathir’s 22-year rule this wealth actually declined to 2 per cent. Many economists hold Mahathir directly responsible for the failure of the NEP. While the NEP continued the real benefactors were the well-connected cronies while the ordinary bumiputras were fed with crumps.

Of all his sins, Project IC surely rank as the most evil of it all. This episode formed the darkest and most shameful period in Malaysian history. The details of the project is still shrouded in secrecy and was allegedly carried out by a secretive arm of the government under the orders from the very top.

The objective of the project was to bring the state of Sabah under his control and the aim was realised by issuing tens of thousands of Malaysian Identity cards to illegal Muslim immigrants from the southern Philippines. As a result, the population of Sabah increased by a shocking 390 per cent between 1970 and 2010. The biggest shock was the increase of 1,552 per cent in the number of Malays.

With his aims achieved, Mahathir, with the ample help from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, engineered the entry of Umno into Sabah and subsequently managed to capture the control of the state from the local parties.

Project IC completely changed the ethnic make-up of the state and led to numerous social, political, economic and security problems that would haunt Sabah and Malaysia in the decades to come.

For years Pakatan leaders have been continuously urging and cautioning Malaysians to reject BN so that the dark days of Mahathirism would not make a return. They even promised to throw Mahathir into jail if Pakatan forms the federal government.

However, now that Mahathir has agreed to join forces to help Pakatan in their march to Putrajaya, PH leadership suddenly had a change of mind and are willing to forget every sins and scandals from his iron-fisted reign.

To the ordinary Malaysians, it is evident Pakatan operates on the principle of the end justifies the means. If a political party prioritises power over principles, it is a clear sign the party will adopt the same operating principles if they were to form the federal government. With Mahathir at helm, Malaysia will be regressing to the dark days of dictatorship and unchecked, rampant corruption.

The make matters worse, Pakatan leaders use the Bush Doctrine of “You are either with us or against us” when challenged about their acceptance of and alliance with Mahathir. Their defence of their pact with this notorious tyrant ranges from the ridiculous (Mariam Mokhtar and the Mr Right analogy) to idiotic (Hannah Yeoh and her suncream).

While one can expect politicians to be flexible with principles, it is most disappointing to see respected civil liberty leaders and NGOs such as Maria Chin Abdullah, Ambiga Sreenivasan, Aliran, IRF and others to jump in defend Pakatan and Mahathir by offering the same “either/or” argument.

To me it is crystal clear that Pakatan and our civil liberty NGOs have lost their moral compass and failed Malaysians by prostituting their principles for political expediency. Therefore, they have no right in demanding that Malaysians vote for PH just because we disagree with BN.

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