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Which legacy will Mahathir leave for Malaysians?

  • In the new back-door government, both Mahathir and Malaysians are the real losers.

By Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

As talks of a back-door government becomes stronger by the day, Malaysians who voted for the Pakatan Harapan government have two simple reactions. One of complete anger and disgust and the other of …sheer helplessness.

That all their hopes and concerns can be determined by a simple number in parliament made many completely aware of a clear flaw of our parliamentary system. This is the time when most Malaysians feel that a referendum of the rakyat on such a drastic and unpopular move should be a first consideration for the GE15 manifesto.

Mark my words, the rakyat will come out in full force in the next general election to elect a new government, and none of the leaders of this back-door move will be chosen.

The civil society has finally realized that talking may no longer be an option but putting their names on the ballot box is now paramount. The rakyat will rise again, I have no doubt, for they are fighting for a life of equality, dignity and mutual respect for all.

In the coming GE15, ordinary Malaysians from Semenanjung will come out in strength together with the new wave of nationalistic awareness of their brethren in Sabah and Sarawak. Semenanjung Malaysians are ready to allow Sabah and Sarawak to lead Malaysia away from the Melayu and Islam rhetoric and hopefully, finally, we will get it right this time.

September 16th will be the new rallying cry, no longer the 31st of August. Malayans will light a candle to remember the 31st but will parade grandly on the 16th as Malaysians. Putrajaya will shift to the East and may all our hopes as well.

In this coming era of new hope and new politics, how will Dr. Mahathir be remembered?

As Malays come, none would doubt Mahathir’s decisiveness, strength of will, tireless industry, visionary ideas and outspokenness of a true Malaysian that was born to this country. That this Malay was thrown out not once but twice by Malays in a Malay party speaks volumes about his commitment to being a Malaysian.

Only if you are a true Malaysian can your own kind reject you. Some of us Malays feel the same way when our own peers, families and relatives reject our simple ideas of civility, equality and dignity for all. I am sure other leaders of different races have been rejected in the similar way in their fight for a vision of simple togetherness and the idea of an extended family called Malaysia.

When Mahathir came into the political scenario, Malays were uneasy with his tough words on the Malay culture and expectations of the world. The non-Malays disliked him for his stance on protecting and elevating the Malays into the modern economies and knowledge society. I was a product of his vision and that of the other Malay forefathers who were aided by leaders of other races who had the magnanimity and strength of conscience to veer away from race based concerns.

In 1987, half of the Malays was ready to reject Dr. Mahathir. Those who helped him stay on to power were Malays who believed in a modern Islam and not a kampong Islam as well as a legacy of working hard and working together as opposed to the traditional and conservative forces whose mantra was simply…Malays deserve everything because this was their land.

The other pillar of Mahathir’s strength came from Malaysians who had abandoned race-based politics and embraced an economic sharing policy of Mahathir’s visions.

The two pillars of Mahathir had been and I think always have been progressive Malays and magnanimous Malaysians. It has been proven time and again that conservatism of Malayness and the false piety of so called religious cleric-politicians have no place in a Mahathirian blueprint for Malaysia. Yes, it is true, he believes in a strong Malay party to lead the nation and forge a ‘forced-harmony’ but that may not be tenable in the new era of equality with the other 39 ethnicities of this country. We are heading into new politics. The conservatives in Semenanjung can ’bitch’ and curse all day long but we do not want a Kongres Maruah Melayu nonsense in our next flight into a globalized future. Other nations are already airborne, some are ready to land while we are left behind checking tires and baggage compartment on race and religious issues.

When Mahathir left the office of the Prime Minister, he did so crying. I have often wondered how a hard man and seasoned politicians would do such a thing. I now know that despite many believing that Mahathir was there to enrich his cronies and children, I still believe that he had a strong vision for both the Malays and Malaysia. I think he succeeded in putting Malaysia on the map but failed to produce a Malay leadership that understands what it takes to lead a nation in a global construct.

That’s was why he cried. He was never dragged to the courts like Najib so why would he cry? And then, when Abdullah Badawi and Najib failed miserably as leaders, he came down very hard on Umno and the Malays to the point of him being rejected again by his own party.

Before GE14, Mahathir’s legacy was as a destroyer of public institutions like the judiciary, the police and the civil servants. Mahathir’s legacy for the Malays was the one who violated the sacred relationship between chieftain and rakyat by undressing the dignity of another Malay. His other legacy to conservative Malays were that of a pengkhianat to Umno. With the conservative Islamic groups, he was a sworn enemy. Before GE14, Mahathir has left a negative legacy among Malays and Malaysians alike. I did not think anyone would mourn his passing then if it had happened.

But GE14 came and Mahathir was given by providence a new lease of life. He stepped up to the plate and worked tirelessly to reform a coalition of enemies that were mostly Malaysians. Many had apprehension about him leading the pact, truthfully…even me. But as I tossed and turn at night there was no other formula of leadership that was viable…Mahathir had to lead. I wrote and talked to many in support of that idea.

As a 20 year Reformasi follower, I was not going to let a chance of a lifetime slip through at actually seeing the mighty BN fall to its knees. That half of our Reformasi life were fighting the old man disappeared like a flicker from a gust of wind. We Malaysians were ready to forgive and look beyond and honor the leader and we prayed hard that the harsh lessons of politics would bring remorse and reflection to the most colorful leader in Malaysia’s history. Malaysians was ready to remember Mahathir’s new legacy and forget the old one.

But now it seems that Mahathir has been presented with a change in legacy. If the back-door government comes, the new cabinet would be filled by people of dishonor and those who would not appreciate nor care for whatever legacy Mahathir might have. Once in power these dishonorable leaders, who has no idea of what being Malaysian is all about, will, in all probability, bury Mahathir in their complete lust for power and racial dominance. Malaysians would be most disappointed about Mahathir’s probable new legacy that would wiped out his six decades of building the nation.

Will Malaysians light a candle to remember Mahathir? His ‘new friends’, which may form the government without the consent of the rakyat, I am most sure… will definitely not. In the new back-door government, I think, both Mahathir and Malaysians are the real losers.

(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)


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