Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (Tun M), the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia, held the highest executive office in Malaysia from 1981 til 2003.
Born in Alor Star, the capital of the northern Malaysian state of Kedah, to Mohamad bin Iskandar (the first Malay headmaster of an English school now known as Maktab Sultan Abdul Samad) and Wan Tempawan binti Wan Hanafi (who comes from a long line of Kedah royal household courtiers and is herself a distant relative of the Kedah royal family), his official date of birth is recorded as 20 December 1925, although it has been stated oft-times that his actual birth of date falls on the 10th of July 1925.
He is a medical graduate from King Edward VII College (now part of the National University of Singapore (NUS)) and it was during his time at King Edward VII College was when he met (Tun) Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, whom he later married in 1956.
Tun M was then in service of the government, and in 1958 he left the service to return to Alor Star to start his own practice.
Upon his return to Alor Star, he was elected to the Kedah UMNO Committee where he headed the political sub-committee.
It is said that he would have stood for the General Elections in 1959 had he not been in disagreement with Tunku Abdul Rahman, the then president of UMNO as well as the then Prime Minister of Malaya (Malaysia was only formed in 1963).
It is believed that due to the disagreement with the Tunku, Tun M had declined the offer to stand for election for a parliamentary seat.
Fast forward to 2003, Tun has contested 9 elections, winning eight and losing once, with the last five seeing him victorious as President of UMNO as well as Chairman of the ruling Barisan Nasional.
In football parlance, the scorecard would have read P9 W8 L1 D0.
His love affair with UMNO had seen him sacked from the party in 1969, brought back to the party by Tun Abdul Razak (the father of the current Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Najib) in 1974, appointed to the Dewan Negara before later getting elected as a member of the Dewan Rakyat.
Tun M was then appointed by Tun Hussein Onn (the father to Dato’ Sri Hishamuddin, the current Defence Minister) as Deputy Prime Minister, before ascending the heights of Malaysian politics as Prime Minister in 1981, to finally retire from active politics in 2003.
His retirement had the blessings and heartfelt gratitude of all, especially for the way he and his team handled the Malaysian theater of the Asian Financial Crisis (1997-1998), regardless of the political divide and reasons thereto.
His twenty-year plus tenure as Prime Minister coincided with the country’s rise to heights never thought possible, complemented with a renewed self-confidence.
It was never in doubt that this can be attributed to Tun M’s stewardship of the government, as it can also be attributed to the many who had also contributed, from the private sector as well as the government sector.
His long tenure as Prime Minister was the longest in Malaysian history that a generation of Malaysians never knew of any other Prime Minister but Tun M.
Due to the length of his stewardship, it is a given that Tun M had his fair shares of controversies. Some political, some economic, and some international.
Afterall, that comes with the territory, one would say.
One of the controversies, though it was long in the making, was the issue of his successor. From 1981 (when he ascended Mount Malaysian Politics) til 2003 (when Tun M finally retired), he had four (4) Deputies namely Tun Musa Hitam, Tun Ghaffar Baba, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim and finally Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as his Deputy.
Of the four, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the one who finally succeeded Tun M and took over the hot seat of the Prime Minister whilst the rest of the cast either resigned, got deposed as No 2 in UMNO and therefore by extension, in Government as well, or was summarily fired.
With Tun M having passed the baton to the then Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (now Tun), one would have thought, that’s one chapter closed with a new chapter, with Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Prime Minister, ready to be written.
But for whatever reason beknown only to Tun M himself, he returned to the fray and, for all sense and purpose, became the main driving force in ‘forcing’ Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to resign from the office of Prime Minister and replaced by Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the then Deputy Prime Minister.
Why Tun Abdullah resigned when he could have stayed on and fight for his right to stay, remains a mystery.
Maybe the thought of a fight that would split the party, again, did not appeal to Tun Abdullah.
Afterall, Tun Abdullah had always been known to be soft-spoken, well liked by all, and, above all, a gentleman.
For those who remembered it still, 1987 and the lessons that it brings, was never that long ago, especially in politics. Hard lessons were learnt from that episode, and should have remained learnt.
Again, one would expect that would be that. But it was not long before Tun M came to the fore, again, this time to put pressure on the sitting Prime Minister ie Dato’ Sri Najib, to resign.
Again, the exact reasons are beknown only to him although the most common of public statements made have been mostly laid at 1MDB’s doorstep.
There have been widespread speculations to the actual reasons, other than 1MDB, with some voiced in the public domain and some not.
However, this time round, the sitting Prime Minister did not succumb to pressure and resign.
Instead, the reverse happened and it should not have been a surprise.
Afterall, no incumbent Prime Minister would submit, could submit and should submit to outside pressure to withdraw, even from one so experienced and who has publicly and officially declared his retirement from active politics.
For all intents and purposes, there can only be one Prime Minister at any one particular time. Like a 4×100 or 4×400 relay run, you run, you pass the baton and then you step aside and let the new guy run.
Likewise, leadership is a relay, and not a one-man race. New ideas and new energy are required to address new challenges. Nothing stays the same for long, as all are in a state of flux.
In addition, it should not be made into a political habit, that one resigns because an ex-premier demands for it. Directly or indirectly, via proxy or otherwise, openly or in private. It’s just not on.
By then, Tun M had already publicly resigned from UMNO (during the tenure of Tun Abdullah as party president), and re-joined the party after Tun Abdullah had passed the baton as party president to Dato’ Sri Najib.
When Dato’ Sri Najib did not resign despite the intense pressure applied on him to step down, Tun M finally quit UMNO, the party that had placed him at the apex of Malaysian politics from 1981 to 2003.
Not long therafter, Tun M formed his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PRIBUMI) in 2016, with himself as chairman.
As chairman of PRIBUMI, he reserved the power to nullify any decision made the president of PRIBUMI, if it did not meet his agreement.
PRIBUMI, with Tun M as its chairman, is now part of the opposition pact called the “Pakatan Harapan” (loosely translated as Coalition for Hope whilst some have naughtily translated it as a Hopeful Coalition or a Coalition of Hopefuls), a grouping consisting of PKR, DAP, AMANAH (a PAS offshoot) and PRIBUMI, formed to replace the earlier pact of “Pakatan Rakyat” (loosely translated as The People’s Coalition).
True to form, Tun M managed to be appointed chairman of the coalition, although whether that means Tun M calls the shots is another thing altogether.
Afterall, with a coalition that has Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dato’ Sri Azmin Ali of PKR, the father-son Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng of DAP, as members of the Presidential Council in addition to Tun M, requires skilful handling of a minefield of egos to contend with, no matter how you phrase it.
It must be said that Tun M has always been known to speak his mind, regardless. So it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall of a Pakatan Harapan presidential council meeting, grant you that.
With all that has happened since and with all that has been said since, there is a clear and grave danger that Tun M’s legacy, a legacy that has been honoured and accorded with the utmost of respect by Malaysians, especially by the Malays and members of UMNO, the party that had played a major role in getting him to the pinnacle of Malaysian politics, is unravelling.
The irony is that most of the unravelling can be placed directly at Tun M’s doorstep, so to speak.
Issues related to Memali, the forex debacle by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the national car company PROTON, the national steelmaker PERWAJA, and other issues has been brought to the fore these last few years, never mind statements relating to UMNO when Tun M was president.
Statements made when reminding UMNO members of their duties to UMNO and to hold steadfast to the continuing struggles of the party, are now coming back to haunt him. ‘Melayu mudah lupa’ (the Malays forget easily), ‘grouses to be channelled within party channels’, ‘loyalty to the party’, ‘party first, never the individual’ are but a few of them.
In many ways, it is a sad state of affairs as Tun M, in his advanced years (he is 92 now), should be enjoying the loving company of his family instead of having to go through the rough and tumble of politics, again, basked in the respect and love of Malaysians especially the Malays and UMNO.
A STATESMAN. Above it all.
An apt way to be remembered for all that he has done and contributed to the country.
Instead, we are at a juncture where all that Tun M has done for Malaysia, for UMNO and for Barisan Nasional risk lying in ruins.
When that happens, it will be a sad and sorry state of affairs for one of Malaysia’s and Kedah’s most distinguished sons.
Tun M has never been one to be taken advantage of. That said, surely the chauvinistic statement from the no-less chauvinistic Superman Hew, ‘Use Melayu to screw Melayu’, rankles Tun M as much as it rankles Malays and UMNO themselves. Surely. But based on the happenings of the last few years, one can only hope that that is the case.
Hopefully, it will not be too presumptious to suggest that maybe, it’s time for Tun M to step back from the precipice and away from the people who welcome him because of what they think he could bring, only to discard him unceremoniously when it does not go according to script.
Before his legacy unravels even further.
For all intents and purposes, that would be a very, very sad day. It has happened before and there is no guarantee that it will not happen again. Remember 1993?
It will be a very sad day when it happens. For all of us. Regardless.
Date : 31 December 2017
Footnote : This article was first posted on ‘Politics As I See It‘ on 20 October 2017. It is still relevant today as when it was first posted back then.