AUG 15, 2012 ― “But don’t you think (Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) should be condemned for all he’s done?”
So asked a young, idealistic undergrad over supper.
My answer was, “No.” The young lady was intrigued enough to let me explain to her just why Dr Mahathir, for all his missteps, did not deserve to be vilified.
This is what I told her.
Dr Mahathir’s greatest flaw is his unwavering belief that the end justifies the means. Yet, as a Malaysian, I find myself unwilling to demonise this highly complex individual who, for better or worse, shaped this nation.
It all starts with the best of intentions and I think our former prime minister really did believe his decisions were for the greater good. But part of the reason he became the über-controlling, extremely paranoid individual we know is due to circumstances. Circumstances on which I blame Umno as well as de facto Pakatan Rakyat head Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Umno may have started out with patriotic, altruistic aims, but by the 80s it had become much like the cesspit we all know and love. It’s every man for himself, with members voluntarily playing a vicious round of musical chairs and the modus operandi being to push your opponent off his chair to win.
Anwar would probably be prime minister now if he hadn’t made the biggest career mistake of his life: Attempting to force Dr Mahathir to step down. Perhaps his ego persuaded him to believe that he could pull off what other Umno members had tried but failed to do. Tun Musa Hitam’s own joint coup attempt ended with his own political career virtually ended.
If Dr Mahathir hadn’t been constantly assailed by other Umno members jockeying for the prime ministership, would he have become a better leader? I wonder that, sometimes.
Smarter politicians would have recognised Dr Mahathir’s propensity to hold a grudge and his vengefulness. But Umno being the doofus-magnet that it is, Dr Mahathir probably realised quickly that he was surrounded by selfish incompetents all too ready to make clumsy attempts to backstab him.
While most of us do wish the supposedly retired Dr Mahathir would just clam up already, you can understand why he’s so vocal. Our prime minister is vulnerable like Dr Mahathir never was. While Dr Mahathir could bend the party to his will, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has to contend with his own set of fools with daggers.
For Dr Mahathir, it’s probably status quo. He’s still gnashing his teeth, feeling as though he’s surrounded by dimwits who won’t stop and listen to him. Because if there was one thing Dr Mahathir truly believed, it was that he was always right.
History proved him wrong, though. And it is a tragedy that what should have been a great legacy is tainted by civil rights abuses, rampant corruption, systemic racism and institutionalised government incompetence.
Before Barack Obama came up with “Yes, we can”, Dr Mahathir had his “Malaysia Boleh.” It should have become a rallying call, our way of believing what Dr Mahathir tried to impart ― that we had potential to be so much more than we are. Instead, it has become a mocking cry we utter when we comment on our nation’s many failings.
Dr Mahathir is probably the greatest politician our country ever had or will ever produce. But Malaysia needs statesmen, not politicians. Not Anwar, who, for all his showboating, achieved little during his ministerial tenures. Not court jesters like Perkasa or most of Pakatan’s own crazies. But leaders with vision, compassion and a sense of honour. Sadly, those traits do not seem to manifest in Malaysian politicians.
Malaysians also reflect the shortcomings of our politicians. We shortchange, empower corruption (boleh settle, boss?), top Asian rankings of laziest workers... because we have come to believe that it’s fine to only care about our own and do whatever it takes to protect our own interests. So long as my family/race/religion/business comes out on top, to heck with everyone else.
It is high time Malaysians start asking of themselves what they expect of their leaders: putting the nation above their own concerns, prove incorruptible and ensure fairness for all.
We should not condemn Dr Mahathir, because in many ways, he reflects all the worst in ourselves. Like him, we are learning too late that the end should never justify the means.