By Prof Hew Kuan Yau
(this is a translation done by Priscilla Tan).
Let’s get this out of the way: in the eyes of many in this country, Mahathir was an ambitious and ruthless ruler, a right-wing Malay nationalist who established the authoritarian ruling regime in Malaysia we know today. There are no questions about these traits that Mahathir has come to personify.
Let’s then talk about the Mahathir today. Even as Lim Kit Siang and the DAP join hands with Mahathir to overthrow BN, they have never attempted to redress Mahathir’s sins of the past, nor have they tried to sugarcoat or downplay his authoritarian persona when he was ruling the country. Lim Kit Siang has not forgotten Mahathir’s 22-year political legacy that had brought forth many of the problems that we see today, yet has declared it worthy to give Mahathir a chance to atone for his wrongdoings. In fact, Mahathir himself displays complete self-awareness over his iniquities, and to the Reformasi movement he declared, “it’s alright if you want to criticize and expose me; but first, let’s get rid of Najib”.
Now, I am not going to regard Mahathir a saintly person just because of this; on the contrary, I am still of the opinion that he is a formidable, domineering, ambitious and power-loving person. These traits characterised his rule as prime minister: he would use whatever means necessary to take down his political enemies, to silence democracy, and demolish the check-and-balances in the government. All these with the sole intention of bulldozing all that stand in his way and to pursue his ideology of “neo-liberalism” and to spearhead Malay supremacy as part of his nation-building strategy.
Well, they say a leopard never changes its spots. Even at his age and being out of office, he is still very much the warrior. A politician of this disposition is tenacious, loves a good fight and will come back stronger than the enemy, and will stop at nothing until his goal is achieved. And his one goal now is to topple Najib, overthrow UMNO, and to bring about change.
Let’s pause for a moment here, and put ourselves in Mahathir’s position in this day and age…
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, at 91 years of age, would you choose to spend your remaining life enjoying your family and playing with your grandchildren, or would you still go out to the battlefield to spar with Najib? If you were Mahathir, with all his financial wealth, would you choose to enjoy your golden years, or to continue fighting political battles?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, as a stalwart leader of the right-wing Malay political community, if you had embraced retirement you would be right up there in UMNO’s hall of fame. Would you throw that achievement away and risk losing your position in the annals of historical fame by launching an offensive towards Najib and the UMNO regime? While knowing full well that that if your campaign fails, you would be forever labelled as a traitor of the Malay people?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, would you risk your position as the Chairman of Petronas by confronting Najib, or would you stay put in his camp and continue to reap the bounty of Petronas?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, at your age, your main priority would naturally be your health. Would you still choose to tire yourself and overwork your heart by walking from one kampong to another to rally the people and raise awareness? Or would you rather stay in the comfort of your home and enjoy all the pampering that your wealth could afford you?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, and know deep down that you were not without blemish when you were in office, would you still stand out to expose 1MDB and all its corruption, and risk public scrutiny into the skeletons in your own closet?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, and let’s say what you really wanted was to pave the way for your son’s political future in UMNO. To achieve this goal, would it be more logical to lie in bed with UMNO, or to fight them?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, and in the last remaining years of your life, would you stand in front of your fellow Malays and offer your apologies to your political arch-nemesis Lim Kit Siang and the DAP, and admit to slandering them in the past by spreading lies that DAP was anti-Malays? Or would you just stick to your guns? Is there any personal incentive for making a U-turn now, at this point in your life?
Mahathir has now rallied all his past political enemies to stand together to create a tidal wave of change against the incumbent. If the campaign succeeds, there is a possibility of the new guard exposing his past wrongdoings and bringing him to justice. Whereas, status quo, his secrets are safe and he could have just pass on in peace. Why risk all that now? If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, would you?
If you were in Mahathir’s shoes, would you risk all of the above? Would you risk all that you have built and achieved, and put your family, personal wealth and reputation on the line, in order to engage in this mega “political gamble” with UMNO? Would you put all your cards on the table like this? Would you, really?
As a historian, I have observed that most people become more risk-averse as they grow older. It is human nature to go the path of least resistance and to be more inclined to self-preservation as people age, is it not? Not Mahathir – he goes the opposite of the risk-reward spectrum, in this case.
Look, even if you still harbour doubts over Mahathir’s sincerity in bringing about reformation, or suspect that he has his own shady personal agenda, it is indisputable that he wields sufficient influence within the Malay community to build up an armada that could be strong enough to bring down Najib and his cronies. And this particular strength is precisely what Pakatan Harapan needs among the grassroots.
For the greater good of democracy, even Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng have agreed to join hands with Mahathir. These people have been defamed and unjustly put in jail by none other than Mahathir himself. If they can look past all that and focus on the greater good, why can’t YOU do the same?
Najib’s greatest fear is the day that Mahathir, Anwar and Lim Kit Siang stand shoulder to shoulder, because they are formidable figures in their respective communities and together they are capable of awakening the waves of change. This is why Najib is desperate for an alliance with PAS to take on Pakatan Harapan and BERSATU.
Do not play into Najib’s hands, you are smarter than that. I urge you, do not clutch on to the “old Mahathir” and keep all of us divided as a result. Let us embrace the Mahathir of today – take it however you want, whether it is uniting with him, or merely using him to achieve the change that we have yearned for so long – the overarching objective here is that we progress, and we leap forward in a big way!
-Prof. Hew Kuan Yau-