Mahathir’s return to politics in 1973 was watched closely by other races, in particular the Chinese and Indians. His meteoric rise to the Deputy Prime Minister’s post in 1976 was of grave concern by many. His imminent Premiership caused a large number of migration by Malaysian Chinese. Despite the economic growth in the late 1980s through 1997, some 42,000 Malaysian Chinese opted to work elsewhere. This number includes some 14,000 Malaysian Chinese who were working illegally in Japan in 1993 (Shimada, 1994).
”If citizenship is conferred on races other than the Malays, it is because the Malays consent to this,” wrote Mahathir in his book ‘The Malay Dilemma‘.
“The Chinese and Indians coming from countries with vast populations are less concerned about good behavior and manners. In their lives, nobility, which is always associated with breeding, was totally absent. Age and riches are the only things they defer to,” he added.
Calling for reforms such as the mandatory use of tamper-proof scales, Mahathir wrote of scales that can be used to shortchange customers and said, ”The small-time Chinese retailer is adept at this practice and unscrupulous enough to use it as a weapon in competition.”
Mahathir was the ultra-Malay to many including the Malays themselves. Fears of race clashes haunted the voters during the run-up to the 1982 General Elections. I remember being sent to Mimaland in Gombak with Datuk Latt Shariman (President, E-Sports Malaysia) on polling day in case something bad happens. It was the first General Elections under Mahathir and it was called more than a year before the then-mandate ended. Public rallies were banned citing ‘security’ reasons and only indoor gatherings and house-to-house canvassing were allowed (Lim Kit Siang, 22 March 1982).
Even though Malaysia’s economic growth peaked at 8 percent in the mid 1990s, it was mired in scandals involving the practice of cronyism and nepotism. Lim Kit Siang wrote that Mirzan, Mokhzani and Mukhriz Mahathir – acted as companies’ directors, and that according to searches the DAP had made at the Registry of Companies at the end of 1994, Mirzan had interests in 98 companies, Mokhzani in 48 companies and Mukhriz in 67 companies (Lim Kit Siang, 16 June 1998). Compared to the 213 companies his sons were directors in back in 1994, 488 is the number of companies Mahathir, daughter and sons are directors in as at end of 2016 (Wakeup Malaya, 6 January 2017).
The calls for Mahathir to resign in 1998 for practising nepotism and cronyism culminated in the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as his deputy in September of the same year, accusing the latter not only of being a tool for George Soros’s attacks on the country’s financial system but also for leading a morally-corrupted life. Lim Kit Siang and other Opposition leaders were quick to embrace Anwar, acccepting him into their fold when it was just a year earlier that the late Karpal Singh had made mention of allegations of sexual misconducts against Anwar in a Parliamentary sitting – a scene not much different to Lim Kit Siang’s immediate acceptance of Mahathir after decades of mudslinging the latter.
Anti-Mahathir demonstrations were held almost daily and then held every Friday afternoon at the National Mosque. These demonstrations were quelled using brute force. The ‘Reformasi’ movement was born, and the likes of theatre-practitioners such as Jo Kukathas were seen on the streets and interviewed by Maria Ressa saying “Enough is Enough” to Mahathir. Anwar and several other pro-Reformasi and UMNO leaders critical of Mahathir were arrested without trial under the ISA including current DPM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat, then known by its acronym ADIL, was born out of hatred towards Mahathir, with the aim of toppling him and installing Anwar Ibrahim. The 1999 General Elections saw how Mahathir suffered a pyrrhic victory, losing grounds in Kelantan and his homestate of Kedah, while losing Terengganu to PAS. Mahathir-loyalists such as Ramli Ngah Talib, Megat Junid Megat Ayub and Sanusi Junid lost their seats. That was the beginning of the sounding of the death knell for Mahathir’s virtually unchallenged reign. During the UMNO General Assembly of 2002, he announced his resignation from party posts as well as Malaysia’s Prime Minister.
Ever since then, with the more open administrations of Pak Lah and Najib Razak, Mahathir became one of the targets of the Opposition in their blog posts, press statements as well as ceramahs.
In June 2012, Mahathir’s newly-made best friend even suggested that Mahathir is tried for his part in the BNM Forex scandal, hinting Egyptian Hosni Mubarak’s imprisonment as a comparison (Lim Kit Siang, 3 June 2012).
But all is forgotten and forgiven now, even when Mahathir admitted that his apology was only customary and not sincere. Despite veiled objections from Anwar and Azmin Ali’s camp, Mahathir was named at a Pakatan convention as their Prime Minister of choice albeit interim. This underscores the fact that the leadership of Pakatans parties do not trust the younger generation to lead the coalition as the position of the elders and powers that come with the position, may be undermined by the younger ones.
The signal of dissent is clear. Azmin only attended the convention for a while, not waiting for the announcement to be made while Karpal Singh’s daughter, Sangeet Kaur Deo, has hit out at Pakatan which probably is suffering from a dearth of capable young leaders. Even Mahathir once quipped that Anwar, who is 22 years his junior, may be too old to become a Prime Minister.
On Facebook, we are seeing people in their 40s and 50s voicing out their concern over Pakatan’s choice of Prime Minister, alarmed that the monster they have put behind them, could very well jump out from underneath the bed and into their lives again.
But it does not stop Mahathir from wanting to become the Prime Minister. He once hinted that he may have to consider becoming the PM again, underscoring the fact that he does not trust anyone else.
Wan Azizah may be blind to the fact that Mahathir had once denied the Premiership to her husband and went as far as making sure Anwar went to jail to keep him out of the way, while Lim Kit Siang is only friends with Mahathir because he needs the Malay votes to ensure Pakatan’s seats are sustained after the departure of PAS from the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat.
Will Mahathir be willing to step aside for Anwar Ibrahim or whoever else younger who would be more acceptable to the younger and middle-aged generation aware of his antics? I doubt. But as Sangeet mentioned above, it will be a return to Mahathirism, an era of abuse of power, cronyism and nepotism that the Reformasi movement was totally against.
Somehow, it seems that the Reformasi movement has become a tool for what it was totally against – ushering Mahathir into the premiership and welcoming again abuse of pwer, nepotism and cronyism.