Former premier Mahathir Mohamad has criticized every prime minister of Malaysia from the late Tunku Abdul Rahman to the current leader Najib Razak, sparing no one except of course, himself. Mahathir has also criticized other world leaders including UK’s Tony Blair and of course George W Bush, the 43rd president of the United States.
So far none of his local peers have swung back at him, which is not surprising considering that several are already dead and only Najib and 5th prime minister Abdullah Badawi are alive. As for the international leaders, they have largely ignored Mahathir’s existence, which only adds to his frustration, but there is nothing he can do to them. However, he can make life miserable for his successors here, and this he is already doing.
When Mahathir retired in 2003, after 22 years as PM, there was talk about his ‘great’ legacy and he was even called Bapa Pemodenan or Father of Modernization. Some 9 years after his retirement, the excesses and sheer ill-judgement of his economic, social and political decisions have come back to wallop the nation with a backlash stronger than the ferocious tsunami of 2006 that devastated much of South Asia.
At 86, Mahathir is now reviled by most Malaysians, blamed for the massive corruption that may soon bankrupt the country if no remedial economic action is taken, and for the apartheid-scale racial fissures amongst the various ethnic groups in the country.
Just pick the New Economic Policy, which was the brainchild of the policymakers of the 1960s but which he abused to the maximum. This abuse alone is enough to ensure that he will stay in the Malaysian Hall of Villains rather than in the Hall of Fame which he still thinks he belongs in.
His peers with better memories including former Finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said last week that the NEP was never meant to create or to be used to incubate a class of Malay capitalists, but to address poverty and to raise the level of Malay participation in the economy. It was never meant to be abused by the government of the day to handpick a select group of Malay entrepreneurs, load them with sharply-discounted government deals and then expect them to prosper and create enough economic ripples to help lift the rest of the community.
This was Mahathir’s first and major mistake. But was it really a mistake? Doubters and critics point to the enormous wealth he accumulated for his cronies and proxies through the money-making schemes hatched under the guise of the NEP, and by privatizing government assets to favored Malay entrepreneurs, one of whom is the disgraced former MAS chairman Tajudin Ramli. Not able to deal with the ‘instant success’ or the stress of big time business, many succumbed to debt during the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Tajudin and friends like Halim Saad fell from hero to zero, losing enormous amounts of money and requiring massive government bailouts.
Cronies but the masses get nothing
The second mistake Mahathir, in his foolishness, made was to pool the major part of the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few. This time he included non-Malays millionaires such as Vincent Tan, Robert Kuok and Ananda Krishnan. Tan has just announced his retirement, Kuok unhappy with the worsening racial system in the country has chosen to stay Hong Kong, while Ananda is wanted by the Indian authorities for allegedly having corruptly wangled a telecoms licence to buy into Aircel.
This pooling of wealth in the hands of a few inevitably left the ordinary Malays and Malaysians with just a few crumbs to share amongst themselves, a slow-boil situation that has blown up to today’s red-hot disputes about social and economic fairness. Not only is there not enough money for scholarships, education, healthcare, employment and welfare for everyone, even the Malays who have been repeatedly told by Mahathir’s Umno party that they will get priority, have left in the lurch.
Malays now form 96% of the poorest 40% lowest income earners in the country. As for the non-Malays, of course, they have felt the pinch more. Many have been forced to go overseas to work and to study. That’s right, educational and employment opportunities are scarce for the non-Malays in the country. Again, the only group that benefited were the elite in the Umno party, their families and cronies. So Mahathir – despite his self-praise – was in fact rather shortsighted. Money was far more important to him than he cared to admit.
Trusting the wrong people
The third mistake that Mahathir made was choosing the wrong people for the wrong jobs. He also trusted the wrong people. All of the Malays tycoons that he picked had no real business savvy but were merely the trusted aides of former Finance minister Daim Zainuddin. That is why guys like Tajuddin, Halim, Rashid Husein of RHB Bank, Mohd Noor Mutalib and Abdul Rahman Maidin of MRCB fared poorly in the end. Some have even been hauled to court to settle debts.
Only Daim Zainudin remains ‘filthy’ rich. His nominees ended up owning all the various banks and business enterprises meant to be transferred into Umno Baru. Somehow, as the Umno legend goes, Daim managed to secure these for himself. This was obviously a huge letdown for Mahathir. Instead of ‘tricking’ people over to his point of view, for once, he had been had!
Set Malaysia off on the borrowing habit
Mahathir did not foresee that the National Debt could be as high as it is today, having ballooned to over RM450 billion. Despite several ‘begging’ trips to Singapore and Brunei, he was politely rebuffed. In the end, he borrowed from overseas by issuing bonds and ‘stealing’ every spare sen from Petronas and the other Government-Linked-Companies to fund his mega projects. Throughout his 22-year rule, Mahathir never saved a sen for Malaysia for a rainy day. And this was his fourth mistake.
Weak grasp of economic principles
Mahathir is just an ordinary doctor; a general practitioner and not a specialist. His understanding of economics is as rudimentary as the average Malaysian. His idea of increasing the equity of the Malays is so simplistic – use the GLCs. Mahathir’s vision of doing business is by profiteering through controlling shares in as many companies as possible without considering the possibility of losing money. Sad to say, real life businesses involves losses, not just profits.
Mahathir’s economic policy was not based on any solid foundation and had never been tested in any country before. It was based on his opinions and viewpoints. If these had been any good or worked, many countries would have already implemented similar ideas centuries ago. Even established capitalist and communist economic systems have come under fire and economic collapse is a norm these days, part of a man-made boom and bust cycle. Several economists have even urged nations to revert back to gold-based currencies, an ancient and established type of monetary system, so what are Mahathir’s child-like economic concepts by comparison? His fifth mistake is therefore his skewed understanding of the economy. It led to the controversial de-pegging of the ringgit from the US dollar and the overnight closure of the CLOB share market trading in 1998 – two events that investors have still not forgiven Malaysia and Mahathir for.
Mahathir’s ego and unconscious desire to be a dictator is his sixth mistake. He amended the constitution to weaken the Agong and the Sultans and then made sure that the law and enforcement bodies obeyed him. He sacked the Chief Justice Tun Salleh Abbas and closed both eyes when judges were openly bought by those who had money. It would be tough for Malaysians and their investors to fully trust the judiciary system again. This is why the Umno-BN has lost its integrity and the people their faith in the coalition. Malaysians will always distrust whatever Umno-BN does even if it may be well-intentioned.
To prevent the disintegration of his policies and his misdeeds from being exposed, Mahathir had to resort to his favorite racial politics. He had to convince the Malays that what he had done was necessary and in their interests. He kept for himself the great jewels and gave out the small chips so as to convince the Malays that the war against the other races was real. The non-Malays had to be kept back. Thus the budget allocations for places like BTN or the National Civics Bureau where Malay graduates and civil servants were openly taught to be suspicious of the other races.
But not all the Malays bought it. Such teachings were against Islam and also against universal values. The Malays were left confused, while the non-Malays totally sidelined. So being racist is Mahathir’s seventh mistake.
If Mahathir and Umno have been successful in making sure Malaysia achieves developed nation status by 2020, why does the record show so many serious faults to date. There are only eight years to go but the economy is still in a shambles with the national debt soaring, racial and religious harmony in disarray, and the political situation worsening with Umno-BN now openly resorting to physical violence to stop the opposition from holding their rallies.
The education system is also leading nowhere, healthcare is getting worse and more expensive, the much-touted and corrupt 1Care already rejected before it can even come on-stream, law and order is still questionable, mismanagement and graft more entrenched than before in the Umno-BN government. Instant of all cylinders kicking in, and culminating into the realization of Vision 2020, Malaysia may go bankrupt instead. Not fighting corruption, but perpetuating it is Mahathir’s eighth mistake.
Meddling with the running of the country
The majority of the Malays are poor and still need government help despite 55 years of Umno “successes“ (read failures). The non-Malays have been patient enough and have given Umno enough chances. They have waited until the third generation after the nation’s independence in 1957 and they are now fed-up with Umno-BN. The same too is happening with the Malays. Those not in the direct line of the Umno gravy train, and this would be the great majority, are getting fed-up too. More have voted for the opposition and will continue to do so.
When Mahathir realized that things were turning sour, he handed over the baton to Abdullah Badawi, thinking that he could still control the running of the government by ‘remote control’. But when things were not carried out as he had wished, Mahathir forced an ouster and replaced Badawi with Najib. Granted, the disorganized Badawi was in no capacity to lead Malaysia but Najib is just as incapable too. All through, instead of giving a helping hand, Mahathir continued to meddle with the running of the country. Interfering with the running of the country and disallowing the current leaders to put in solutions that suit the era is Mahathir’s ninth mistake.
Causing trouble in Umno and pushing Mukhriz up the ladder
Yet Mahathir stubbornly refuses to accept or to admit to his mistakes. This is one man who refuses to face up to reality. He is not really interested in the welfare of Malaysians at all, not even the Malays or Umno. He only wants to save his face and to make sure that his son Mukhriz will become prime minister no matter what deals he has to execute with the current batch of Umno warlords to effect this.
Ruthless and completely selfish, Mahathir would think nothing of creating chaos just to fulfill that ambition. After all, he could de-register Umno just to stay in power. Imagine what he won’t dare to do to get Mukhriz in as Umno president. But it is this incessant interfering and trouble-making in Umno that will be his tenth and last mistake.
Mahathir will doom Umno, and in imploding, Umno will very likely take Mahathir down for the count.