The Keralan Rise
In June 1969, a month after the 13 May tragedy, Mahathir wrote a letter to Tunku Abdul Rahman and began it with the following sentence:
“Patek berasa dukachita kerana tujuan patek membuat kenyataan kepada akhbar telah di-salah faham oleh Y.T.M. Tunku. Sa-benar-nya tujuan patek sama-lah juga dengan tujuan Tunku, ia-itu untok menyelamatkan negara ini daripada bahaya yang menganchamkan-nya.”
The Tunku’s popularity was at an all-time low. He had lost control over the issues that were dogging the population and had allowed that to spiral into a nationwide communal violence. Mahathir saw that as an opportunity to finally conclude a personal battle against the Tunku that had begun 27 years earlier, and end the latter’s political career.
That letter earned the Tunku’s wrath. Mahathir was expelled from UMNO. Seeing that the end is nigh, the Tunku chose to step down a day after his nephew, Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, was sworn in as the Yang DiPertuan Agong.
Mahathir was brought back into UMNO’s folds by the Tunku’s successor, Tun Abdul Razak, with the recommendation by Selangor Menteri Besar, Harun Idris. When Razak died in January 1976, his cousin Hussein moved up and Mahathir became his deputy.
In 1981, Hussein had had to go for a coronary bypass surgery at the Harley Street Clinic in London. Mahathir saw this as an opportunity to have Hussein out of the way. In a post taken from Tian Chua’s Malaysia Chronicles, it is said that the DAP mysteriously received documents alleging that Hussein’s wife, Suhaila, was running Petronas from their residence in Sri Taman (now Memorial Tun Razak). There were also documents alleging that Exxon was stealing oil from Malaysian oilfields without Petronas’s knowledge.
In the same article, it was reported that it was Mahathir himself who started a rumour when Hussein was seeking treatment in London saying that the latter had a “terrible heart condition” and would be stepping down as Prime Minister upon his return from London “for health reasons”.
Purging of Cabinet Members and Interference in the Judiciary
After Hussein was gone, Mahathir had to remove other obstacles. The biggest obstacle was in the form of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. The ‘Team A’ versus ‘Team B’ rivalry saw Mahathir being returned after beating Razaleigh 761 votes to 718, Mahathir took further steps to eradicate Razaleigh’s influence by purging all Team B members from his cabinet.
This led to 12 Team B members to bring the matter to the High Court alleging that 78 of the delegates had been selected by branches not registered with the Registrar of Societies, and as a result were not eligible to vote. They also claimed that certain documents related to the election had been “tampered with”. Although Razaleigh was not among the twelve plaintiffs, he was widely believed to be funding and co-ordinating the suit
As a result, Justice Harun Hashim declared UMNO “an unlawful society” in 1987, but it took Mahathir, who was also the Home Minister then, just two weeks to have UMNO (Baru) registered – a process that would have taken months, if not years. The Registrar of Societies come under the Home Minister’s purview after all.
Mahathir did not take Harun Hashim’s judgment lightly. In an attack on the judiciary, he had several judges, including Harun Hashim, reassigned to other divisions. Salleh Abas, who was the Lord President of the Supreme Court, was pressured to convene a meeting with 20 Supreme Court and High Court judges where they agreed that the Lord President should write to the Yang DiPertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers expressing their grievances against Mahathir’s interference in the Judiciary.
Being the opportunist that he is, Mahathir knew that the then-Yang DiPertuan Agong was not in favour with Salleh Abas, over an issue about the noises that came from the construction of His Majesty’s private house which was in Salleh Abas’s neighbourhood, took advantage of the situation to agree with the Yang DiPertuan Agong that Salleh be removed.
A tribunal was set up. Five Supreme Court judges were removed – Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh, Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and Datuk George Seah. With the Supreme Court suspended, the challenge toward the legality of the tribunal could not be heard.
Salleh Abas was removed as the Lord President. Soon after, two other Supreme Court judges were also removed. They were Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman and Datuk George Seah.
Removal of Dissent via Ops Lalang
In 1987, tensions between the Malays and Chinese were high, partly as a result of Anwar Ibrahim’s education policies in particular the replacing of Chinese-educated assistant headmasters of Chinese schools with those unversed in Chinese language (Mandarin) On 5 September 1987, Lim Kit Siang had to send a wire to Anwar Ibrahim asking him to stop all transfers until the issue had been resolved. What did Mahathir do? Absolutely nothing to appease both sides.
Within a month, the tensions turned ugly and the threat of another 13 May loomed. The police had to take drastic action by executing Ops Lalang. A list of troublemakers and potential trouble makers were drawn up in a meeting between senior police officers in Fraser’s Hills, away from the eyes of the public, and when the danger of a racial clash was imminent, the police arrested those shortlisted.
The police did not have to seek the blessing from the Home Minister (who was Mahathir then) to conduct the arrests. However, the police would have to brief the Home Minister on the person(s) arrested. According to the now defunct Internal Security Act, 1960, only the Home Minister could sign a detention order to put a person behind bars without trial for a period not exceeding two years, IF THE HOME MINISTER IS SATISFIED WITH THE REASONS FOR ARREST. If not, they should be released.
And only the Home Minister was given the power to review the detention of a person, and extend the detention period for a period not exceeding two years each time. Not the police.
Turning the Brits into Suckers
The UK economy was in a bad shape back in the 1980s. Mahathir took the opportunity to strike at the UK by starting the ‘Buy British Last’ campaign in order to launch the infamous “Dawn Raid”. It was a time when Thatcher was trying to tackle high inflation. She tightened up her fiscal policy and aimed at reducing inflation by increasing taxes and interest rates, and cut spendings. As a result, the British government decided to increase foreign students’ fees by threefolds, from around £300 to £900. That was one of the reasons for the “Dawn Raid”.
In the end, it was an excuse to get the already weakened British government to provide financial aid to Malaysia in what is now known as the ‘Pergau Dam Affair‘. According to UK’s The Independent, Thatcher’s determination ‘to bat for Britain’ led her to agree to a huge development aid package as part of an arms deal which she negotiated during a visit to Kuala Lumpur in September 1988. The deal, at that time involving the sale of Tornado jet fighters, artillery, radar, submarines and Rapier missiles, was so sensitive that civil servants were banished from the room during the final stages of the negotiation.
The original Tornado jets deal, worth more than £1 billion, was cancelled when Mahathir decided to buy instead 18 MiG-29N fighters from Russia and eight F/A-18 Hornet fighters from the US. The deal with Britain was reduced to a mere £400 million sale of 28 BAe Hawk 108s and 208s.
More Treacheries In The 1990s
In 1986, Mahathir persuaded the docile Ghafar Baba to become his deputy. This move was to appease those who were against him in UMNO, and was made of want to be seen to welcome some form of neutrality. But really Anwar was his choice for a deputy. But Anwar was still “too young” then in political terms. Furthermore, Ghafar pledged his loyalty to Mahathir – a weakness that Mahathir exploited very well.
In 1993, Anwar was ready to take on the seasoned Ghafar Baba. When asked why did he not fight back, Ghafar had this to say:
“I had no means to fight, no money. Also, I did not want to attack Anwar then. How could I? We were in the same party. It would have only benefited the Opposition. My mistake was I did not see that politics had changed. In the past, they supported you based on your track record. Now it’s something else –this money politics.”
What did Mahathir do to stop Anwar from attacking Ghafar? As usual, nothing.
Anwar Ibrahim’s meteoric rise to the No.2 spot made him a very popular man especially with the youth. Many were already disenfranchised with Mahathir who not only by then had been in power for 12 years, but had two deputies removed before Anwar.
Soon, Anwar’s popularity became a threat to Mahathir. When the Asian Economic Crisis caused a financial meltdown, Mahathir allowed it to go on. On 3 December 1997, a cabinet meeting was held in Langkawi. Mahathir got a shock when, upon arrival, seeing that the meeting had been chaired by Anwar and had already been concluded. The cabinet members had decided to adopt an austerity plan similar to those imposed on neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia by the International Monetary Fund. The plan would cut public spending and halt infrastructure projects championed by Mahathir.
Mahathir agreed to go along with the cabinet’s decision. However, the very next day he announced that he would proceed with a controversial USD2.7 billion rail and pipeline project, effectively shooting down the cabinet decision. That sent alarms to investors and caused the Malaysian Ringgit to tumble to a new low.
As Prime Minister, Mahathir did nothing to arrest the fall of the Ringgit. At one point in January 1988, the Ringgit was traded at RM4.88 to the USD. Anwar being the impatient Anwar, launched a veiled attack on Mahathir with his “cronyism, nepotism” war-cry. Mahathir was then handed on a silver platter two reasons to get rid of Anwar.
The Opportunistic Hyena Now
Observers commented that Mahathir now spits at the sky. When his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made errors of political judgment and received salvoes of fire from the Opposition, Mahathir saw that his successor may not win the 12th general elections – an event that would not augur well with Mahathir. Furthermore, Abdullah refused to interfere in the Federal Court’s decision to quash the sodomy conviction against Anwar. Anwar would then be released and was free to launch attacks on his former boss.
When Najib Razak was being attacked over the 1MDB issue, Mahathir thought that there was no way that the former would be able to explain himself. Naturally, the Barisan Nasional could even lose the next general elections. In the run up to the 13th General Elections, the Opposition promised that they would bring Mahathir to trial for his sins as the 4th Prime Minister. If BN loses, Mahathir would be sitting duck.
Being the opportunistic political hyena, Mahathir launched an all-out attack on Najib. At one point, political observers were very sure that Najib was going to crumble. However, when Najib fought back and started to gain grounds, Mahathir was left with no choice but to align himself with the very people he sent to prison without trial.
Mahathir’s fear has always been of being prosecuted in a court of law for corrupt practices during his tenure as the Prime Minister. He needs a strong Prime Minister who could protect him. By getting on the wrong side of Najib, he had lost all the protection he could get from the BN government. His solution was to form an alliance with his enemies, form a political party and join the Pakatan coalition. At least if Pakatan wins the next elections, he would be protected.
But at the back of his mind he knew that someone in Pakatan might turn his or her back on him and decide that he should stand trial for corruption – and that the billions his family owns would be frozen and confiscated. Therefore, he made his other move – be Pakatan’s Prime Minister-designate. All he needs is about two years if he lives that long, to escape the law.
As for now, Mahathir would say just about anything to show his relevancy, and to plead to the voters to accept him as their Prime Minister again – just as how his long-time friend Robert Mugabe has decided to form his own political party. It does not matter how damaging his words may be to the country, as long as he gets to fullfil his personal mission.
This brings me to remember the time when the Tunku launched attacks on Mahathir. Anwar Ibrahim was interviewed on the matter by foreign journalists. Anwar said the Tunku is a voice of the past, speaking for a style of politics that no longer exists. ”A grand old man who has done his bit,” he said to the journalists ”But I don’t know if he’s even conscious of what he is saying.”
We don’t know what Mahathir the Hyena is saying either.