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Friday, February 15, 2008

At Face Value

I was in Perth recently and someone I met asked what I thought Tun Mahathir was up to.

This was shortly after Tun gave testimony at the Royal Commission hearing on the Lingam Video scandal. Tun had, in effect, stated that he had chosen the judges as he, and not necessarily the Chief Justice, thought fit. In doing so, he admitted that he had taken into consideration suggestions made by persons other than the Chief Justice and such suggestions could have come from persons like Tan Sri Vincent Tan. This was quite a staggering admission. It meant that everything the Bar had ever said about the appointment of judges on subjective considerations was true. It meant that the judges who were appointed or promoted were not necessarily the best persons for either.

But then, virtually in the same breath, as part of a continuing campaign against the Abdullah Badawi Administration, Tun Mahathir has leveled charges of diverse nature, from money politics to election rigging to intolerance and an undermining of Malaysia.

I am not surprised that the person I was speaking to was wondering what was prompting all of this. Being an observer from afar, he had the benefit of an objective perspective that those of us who are in the thick of things tend to lose. And after all, looking at the bigger picture, Tun Mahathir appears to have forgotten that he had put in place the foundations for many of the things that are wrong with our country at the moment.

Think about it. Tun Mahathir apparently recently suggested that the government speak to the HINDRAF leaders rather than detain them under the Internal Security Act. I find this incredible considering the way in which Tun Mahathir used the ISA for his own political ends. Those of us who remember still shudder at the mention of Operasi Lalang. And how do we ignore the initial detention of Anwar Ibrahim under the ISA? In using the ISA in this way, Tun Mahathir set a precedent for those of like mind to follow. And it appears that there are those who are of like mind.

Tun Mahathir also, in effect, dismantled the systems of checks and balances that the founders of the Constitution felt essential for democracy. He notoriously had Tun Salleh Abas and two other supreme court justices removed from office in what to date remain controversial proceedings. In doing so, he began the process of suborning the Judiciary, a process that he completed by having the constitution amended to give Parliament the power to vest, and as such remove, the jurisdiction of the Courts. That paved the way for Executive immunity and arbitrariness beyond review. More significantly, it set the foundation for a system of patronage that the Judiciary apparently still subscribes to. I know of no other way to explain the recent declaration by the Federal Court that the separation of powers has no place in the Malaysian legal system.

Tun Mahathir rendered the Judiciary virtually ineffective against Executive arbitrariness, a legacy that many a Malaysian still suffers under. This is borne out by the fact that despite having the necessary expertise, manpower and equipment to deal with the key problems this country faces, these problems have not only persisted but have become more endemic. Take corruption for example. Surely, the ACA could do more. The revelation during the ongoing Royal Commission hearings that the ACA did nothing despite having proof of judicial impropriety because there were too many persons of influence involved is shocking, not only for the fact of the ACA having done so but for the apparent complicity of the Mahathir government. These are matters that Tun Mahathir cannot deny knowledge off, all things considered.

And could civil society complain? Leave aside the chilling effect of the ISA and consider instead the more fundamental question of how it is civil society was to get access to information on crucial matters. The systems that Tun Mahathir employed did not lend themselves to transparency nor accountability. What little information that could leak out was classified as Official Secrets under a law that Tun Mahathir had caused to be amended to ensure that the loop-holes were plugged. Media was put under the thumb of Government through tightened up media laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act. Those few who were brave enough to try and defy media bans were prosecuted with gusto. Lim Guan Eng, Irene Fernandez are Malaysian heroes for the fact of their convictions for nothing more than attempting to bring to light issues that were crucial to the workings of democracy in this country. These laws, and the willingness to use them, still plague us.

Tun Mahathir also ramped up the Islamization process, and in doing so, put in place the kind of insensitivity that has led to the heightened ethnic tensions we are facing at the moment. This has further been driven by a supremacist mindset put in place through a mismanagement of affirmative action policies that have, instead of shaping a world class Malaysian society, led to the entrenching of a third world classist and racialist mentality that the Government continues to hide behind its boasts of a first world infrastructure. This mismanagement continues to plague Malays as much as Malaysians of other ethnic communities, in many ways allowing for the perpetuation of the problems the policies were intended to address in the first place. The exclusive club of elites that Tun Mahathir’s brand of economics created continues to be as exclusive as ever, contacts and riches being the only qualifications for admission. The widening poverty gap has left more and more on the outside, even as they are told that the policies are in actual fact aimed at helping them.

And of course we should not overlook Tun Mahathir’s reworking of the UMNO constitution to allow for non reviewable entrenching of leadership not only of the party but also, in effect, by reason of the nature of the power sharing arrangement within the Barisan Nasional, of the nation. What UMNO wants becomes a reality. And whoever is at the top of UMNO decides what UMNO wants. Tun Mahathir allowed reform and progress to be held to ransom by politics.

They still are, the politicized system a juggernaut that Malaysians desperate to institute reform measures in the face of mounting global competition and a wanton, uncaring depletion of national resources, from oil to state funds, are confronted by. This system, having allowed politics to be prioritized above all other considerations, has seriously undermined any genuine and comprehensive efforts to address wrongs effectively and efficiently. It has further allowed for a demonizing of those who have had to pit themselves against the system in their wish for a better Malaysia. It has also engendered a recklessness on the part of the Executive that is deeply worrying, not least for the emphasis it has placed on individuals and their vested interests.

I could go on but I think we all know the story. So, as much as there may be substance to some of the criticism of the current administration, the truth is that the current administration inherited the structure, the apparatus and the problems they created from Tun Mahathir. I cannot help but wonder whether it is timely for Tun Mahathir to admit the mistakes he made and point the way, objectively and constructively, the way forward for the nation.

If there is any blame on the part of the Adbullah Badawi Administration, it is its apparent willingness to take on, even embrace enthusiastically, the legacy that was left to it by the Mahathir Administration. The question that should be posed to the Abdullah Administration, and must be answered, is what has it done to address the very serious problems it inherited. Looking at the landscape, this is the question that will be at the core of the next General Elections and rightly so, in my view.

It sometimes seem that such steps as have been taken by the current administration are negligible in the face of the pressing need for major institutional reform. The nation needs a decisiveness and a firmness of vision that we are regrettably not seeing enough of. And for all of this and more, one cannot be faulted for concluding that the current administration is content with leaving things as they are.

And as for Tun Mahathir, as my Australian friend put it, what exactly is he up to.

Respectfully, the positions he has taken recently smacks of a political positioning. The criticisms leveled only rarely come across as the constructive and objective views of an elder statesman. The political nature of his criticism is curious for, at face value, one would have expected Tun Mahathir Mohamad to withdraw from politics when he stepped down as Prime Minister.

The decision to step down appears to have been a considered one. At the time, he was in relatively good health, was under no apparent pressure from UMNO to retire nor was the state of play in the wider context such that his resignation was required. It appears that Tun Mahathir had come to a view that the decision to hand over the reigns could not be deferred anymore. I would like to think that he believed that taking the decision then, rather than later, would allow him to assist in the transition process so that the hand over was smooth and did not impact on the nation’s interests.

As things eventuated, the transition did proceed smoothly and Tun Mahathir gracefully withdrew to the role of elder statesman. This was a role he was, and is, eminently suited for, the breadth of his experience being an invaluable resource on how to govern the nation and, perhaps more significantly, how not to.

His having retired left no reason for Tun Mahathir to involve himself in party politics. Such continued involvement would only be necessary if Tun Mahathir found it necessary to rely on the politics of his party as a means to a political end. His decision to retire as Prime Minister would seemingly have rendered the question of a political end wholly irrelevant. Moreover, the role of elder statesman would demand of him a detachment from political interests, not least for the fact that the most effective elder statesmen are those that are perceived as being objective, non-partisan and having no vested interest.

Seen from this perspective, the expectation that Tun Mahathir would withdraw from politics was the only reasonable one to have in the circumstances.

So, why the political positioning then? The situation is such that one possible inference is that he may be fronting for those who do not wish to fight their own political fights directly, preferring instead to stay in the shadows. If this is the case, and I am hoping it is not, it does not bode well. It marks a perpetuation of the systems of patronage that Mahathir allowed for, systems that have self-evidently led to the erosion of all the things that we value as Malaysians. If in fact there are those who wish to challenge Abdullah Badawi, then let them do so openly. I for one believe that challenges are good as it is only in the clash of ideas and opinions that we see the synthesis of true democratic value.

There may be other inferences that can be drawn. Mahathir is after all a true and true politician and that is something that does not fade away. However, even if untrue, Tun Mahathir should be concerned at possibility of his being seen as political. This is an impression that undermines Tun Mahathir’s stature and his value as an elder statesman. A perception of his being partisan would result in his opinions being seen as subjective, to be viewed with caution and perhaps even ignored. This would be a real loss for Malaysia.



Pratamad said...

My take on what Tun Mahathir is up to is 70% "fronting" of those powers opposing the Abdullah camp and 30% behavior of a stubborn retired politician. You have elaborated well on the fronting part. And we all know the stubborn nature of Tun Mahathir. Combining a character of stubbornness with old age of 82, you have the answer.

To those who still have admiration for Tun Mahathir for what he has achieved in Malaysia, I say "wake up". True, 22 years after his rein, Malaysia seems to have progressed far economically and financially. But if you strip away those iconic symbols like Petronas Twin Towers and KLIA, which are hardware that can be constructed in any country given the financial resources, there is little software that you can count as his contribution. Worse, when you start to look at the other side of the equation, he has done much more in reversing the progress of Malaysia. What it took our forefathers many years to build in constitutional foundation and democratic institution, Tun Mahathir has demolished it all in his 22 years. In the absence of such system, national crises will come as a matter of time. The costs from such crises and the effort required to rebuild the system will be much more than the apparent economic progress we have today. God bless Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

Off the Mask,
A can of Worm!
A can of legislative, Administrative Worms!
Thanks for a honest saying from your professional points of view!

Constitution, Legislation broke for the Convenience of Political Crooks!

Amazing for a Medical Doctor (if I am not mistaken) to be able to manipulate so much when Legislation was the technique rather than medical and surgical!
Who had transfused those wicked "legal" or "administrative" blood to this DR?
Or his is a "Genius" to be so!

Should we conclude the only possible change and steps are
1) when a hearty Opposition exist and win at least half the Parliament seats
2) to have basis structural reform to bring in three independent Legislative, Executive and Monitoring bodies instead of one Parliament
3) a legislative reform on those ISA, OSA, Authority Acts, etc..
4) Judiciary Reform,

MHT is not a Genuine Politician
to really think of the future of People and the Country
but an Addicts of Power and Faces!!
He is not even an Engineer, as mentioned by pratamad,
when he has mountains of resources
but putting to mess
crippling the healthy, harmony growth of many simple-minded fair expecting Malaysians
with greedy worms that he had raised!!

Even any Judge, any Minister, MP or Councilor, any officer can change the normal Rhythms of any daily Malaysian!
Even one single EC Chief can manipulate the whole GE for 10 million Voters!

MTH, a DR, a Politician, a Magician, a Joker, or, the inkpot of Malaysia?

The Upfront of the coming GE is putting everyone to test!!

1) Should GE be pending until EC matter be fixed in court or via respective Channel in the Common Wealth?, or,
2) Boycott the GE, the last resort to "maintain" the last Dignity of every hearty Malaysian, or,
3) MM2H as much as possible and the rest to stay with the "Cancer"??

Blood flushed with coming GE anther Big Joke!
Mind chilled to see the dim of hope!
Body shivering to experience and see so many crooks!!

Our Apples in the Can of Worms!!

sp lim said...

No one has done as much damage to our country politically, socially and economically as our 4th PM. The sin of the Badawi administration is to perpetuate the 4th PM disastrous policies.

What has happened so far in the Royal Commission of Inquiry over the Lingam’s tape confirmed our worst fear that we no longer has a Judiciary that administers and dispenses justice but one that can be bought by the highest bidder. The Judiciary is one institution that our 4th PM has destroyed and may never be rebuilt. Can we still be considered a functional state with a dysfunctional Judiciary?

Recently I read the account of the last days of Tun Suffian written by Tunku Sofiah Jewa. It seems that in his dying days Tun Suffian has forgiven our 4th PM and put the blame for the 1988 Judicial Crisis squarely on the then Attorney General. The reason was the AG being the Legal Advisor of the Govt did not discharge his duty in advising our 4th PM on the matter. Much as I respect Tun Suffian as a person and judge with integrity, I find it naïve of him to so reason. Would our 4th PM really prepare to listen to advice of anybody that is contrary to his wishes?

Although pre 1988, we have a Judiciary that is generally clean and independent, it has never been one that is a bulwark against the encroachment of the Executive on the fundamental liberties of the people. ( See Karam Singh). It has also been slow in protecting the Constitution against an Executive controlled Legislature from destroying or changing the basic structure of the Constitution. ( See Phang Chin Hock). Tun Suffian was involved in both the cases.
Perhaps in their article, ‘The Doctrine of Separation of Powers and the Ghost of Karam Singh’, Abdul Aziz Bari & RH Hickling may have minimized a bit the culpability of our 4th PM by concluding ‘…..perhaps one should admit that what appears to be a trespass of judicial power has been done with the consent of the judiciary itself. Indeed the trend began to take place in the 1960s, when the judiciary was regarded as its best as far as independence was concerned’. Nevertheless, in my opinion it was left to our 4th PM to hammer the final nail into the coffin of Justice.

Anonymous said...

Sure, there are advantages of being outside looking in... whether one is in Perth, Dhahran, Timbaktu, etc... and interesting thoughts indeed, nicely wrapped in legal gobbledygook! However, I beg to differ: I believe TDM is trying desperately to ammend his 'mistake' in appointing AAB, whose true colors came to light only after a year in "Mr. Clean" cocoon. The infamous "elegant silence" to TDM's criticism can be interpreted in whichever way, but to me it smacks of embarassing humbling of AAB&Co. to LKY&Co. across the causeway - whatever happened to the "Malaysian gut", if we still have it, that is?

Anonymous said...

Pratamad, I'm sure we could agree that many things in this world are relative - it depends on which benchmark that we chose to use. No doubt if we benchmarked Malaysia (in terms of say, economic development, human rights, etc.) against the G7 (or 8 or whatever now), then we are definitely a couple of generations behind (but then again, they have the 2 or 3 steps advantage?). But if we were to do it against, say other emerging economies (i.e. same handicaps, as in golf? With exceptions of odd-balls such as HK & S'pore for obvious/debatable reasons), the like of the Gulf States, that get US$-hundreds of millions/day from their crude oil for the past decade or so, we are not that far behind. I've been here in Dhahran, KSA for almost a year now, and so far when I met the people here (the Gulf Arabs) and when they know I'm a Malaysian, they asked about TDM (and I have to tell them that TDM retired 4 years ago and that we have a new PM by the name of AAB! Of course, you can interprete that in whichever way you like?). And they wonder how we could have a "nice" KLIA compared to the ones that they currently have in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait or Riyadh - yes of course they are building world-class airports now, but they are just starting.

The point is, sure you could strip away the "iconic symbols" like Petronas Twin Towers & KLIA, etc. which are "hardwares", but be aware that EVEN if you have the resources, you (or the leadership) may not have the "will" or the "vision" to do it (and of course they are hiring the best brains now to jumpstart everything in the gulf with their oil war chests). As for the "software", it takes time to develop and nurture - do you think the "civil mind-set" of the Westerners happened overnight? And by the way, the "software" resides in the minds of the people of the country in the forms of attitudes, world views, education, skills, etc. (One can argue that LKY could "clone" his thinking & world-views to the masses in a relatively closed system such as Singapore). It is NOT a one man's job to develop the "software"; it is everybody's job. It sure is the easiest thing to do to blame TDM for the problems that we are now facing - that's a really cheap shot. But, come on after four years at the helm, who is AAB's trying to fool? A bunch of camels? I say wake up AAB&Co. and others who are still sleep-walking in the twilight zone of TDM's era... the power to change is in our hands now... just move on, will you?

Anonymous said...

Tun did more damage to the country, piolitically, judicially, constitutionally and socially compared to the benefit he brought physically and financially.
The rot did nto start during his time, on the contrary, HE STARTED THE ROT. Money politics, rampant corruption, breakdown of law and order (when he changes the constitution to suit his whim) all began under his rot at his behest.
Whatever the problem we have now have roots in his time and his administration.
Thank you for those 22 years now can you please shut up Tun.

What more do you want, we have bailed out all your children who are in trouble, gave one a racetrack he can play with his rich friends and fast cars (I have to give credit for this to a commenter on Rocky's I think) and you have a pension for life and bodyguards from the Government.

Don't do us any more favours without asking first. you have had your chance.

If you want to say that there is a problem with leadership and such may i suggest this phrase to kick off any and all of your speeches;

"First of all I would like to admit to the mistakes that I have made during my time in office, for example....(please continue with the list)"

Anonymous said...

Sdr Malik patut melawat laman blog rockybru sebab perayap disana rata rata lebih cenderung kearah sayangkan Mahathir

Anonymous said...

It is not easy just to move on and vote for change as the institutions for the proper functioning of the country have been altered, retarded and some replaced.

Take for instance the Election Commission. The way constituencies are redrawn every 10 years or so makes voting out the incumbent almost impossible. A vote count of less than 50% in their favour will comfortably bring them back into power.

Race and religion is another factor. With 60% of the population bumis and muslims, this is one bedrock of support that the opposition will have a very difficult time to dislodge. Couple with the fact that bumis and muslims are given so may incentives, perks, scholarships, loans, religious dominance etc why should this group of voters sway the other way?. It's like drug abuse. Those who want to control just have to keep on feeding and they will be return to power. The other component parties are just balls carriers and to put it crudely, are there to take up whatever crumbs that have fallen on the floor. Their presence may not even be needed come the time when 60% becomes 80%. On top of that with a huge war chest of ill gotten money, it will be a long long wait for the opposition.

The old man is history. He may be trying to mend his ways which is good for his soul or may be fronting for someone but the real issue is how to dismantle the system created by him. The ballot box? I am afraid it's taken care of. Judiciary? Also covered. Even if the RC finds Mr Lingam & co. guilty, what can the RC recommends? That the government takes steps to correct it? I don't think the executive is in any hurry to make changes to what it is enjoying at the moment. Look no further than the recommendation of the RC on the police.
But let's say the old man is going all out to redeem himself and become opposition, will it make a difference? No. Why? because the system does not allow him to reverse what he has started. Remember Tunku Abdul Rahman and Semangat 46. To be fair however, whatever utterances by the old man are most welcome as it gives an insight into the workings of the regime.

The scenario is therefore frightening, like a super computer in a fantasy show that now has acquired intelligence of its own. That instead of it being the servant, it has become the master and have set into motion, changes that will perpetuate itself. Scary? Look at the draconian laws ISA, OSA, Printing & Publication Act, Univeristy and Colleges Act and laws and laws and laws put into place to so called protect but in actual fact, to curtail freedom and control thoughts. Scandals, bad management, racialism, religious bigotry, corruptions and all the vices that power brings have yet to have any impact on them.

Anonymous said...

To sum it up nicely, Mahathir mudah lupa.

DIASPORA said...

Malaysia is a 'Paradise that is Lost'.

What harm did we, Malaysians, do to have the 4th Pm as our Pm for 22 years. There is no way that one can redeem what has been lost already. The mind set of a generation has been changed. Most have become fanatics with no right thinking in their heads. Children's books in schools have been altered. False or twisted versions have been given to the students. Those NOT of a certain faith are marginalised even in the schools at primary levels. what evil or harm did these children do to be subjected to such mean level marginalisation?

Even if the BN is neutralised, the Napoleons and Little Napoleons and their counterpart fanatic Jospehines are not going to change because their minds have already been set on a course for which there is no reversal. Only a new generation can do that. But how can we get a new generation that will not be further poisoned by the Napoleons and Josephines who already hold entrenched powers.

Whoever takes over the Government is doomed to misery. Following upon that - WE the PEOPLE are also doomed to misery and a lacklustre Judiciary.

Let us PRAY.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Sarwar,
I too have always wondered what is Tun Mahathir's motivation. I believe that he did more harm than good to Malaysia; he brought economic prosperity but intellectual and cultural poverty. Your thoughts that he is acting for people who are unwilling to oppose Badawi makes sense. The conclusion that I came up with is that he is at heart the champion of the Malays, and he sees that with the way Badawi is ruling, the Malay special rights cannot be maintained much longer, and is therefore angry at him. I don't think he will find someone who can do the job (of safeguarding Malay special rights) as well as he did, partly because he is exceptionally able, and partly because of increasing globalisation and the Internet. All in all, Malaysia is truly the poorer for having had a prime minister who was so capable yet had priorities which would not serve the country well in the long run.

Anonymous said...

It is not worth trying to analyse Mahathir's thoughts or action.

We all agree that he did disgusting things to the country. So whats worth doing is to spit on him if he ever crosses your path.

Thats my recommendation.

Anonymous said...


What amazes me is that, while Mahatir was on a cruise, taking shots on everyone and everything that stood in his way, none around or close to him dared to question him. Okay, Anwar did and paid the price but what about the rest who just kept mum.

Well, as I see it, by the time Mahatir had ascended the "throne" the political system as envisaged by UMNO had already entrenched the culture of fear to an extent that even component parties lazily nodded like dumbos.

The rot actually started with Tun Razak who had unceremoniously plotted against Tunku (Abdul Rahman) with the help of Haji Harun Idris. The Tunku realised belatedly that Tun Razak was the architect in creating chaos among the races just because he wanted Tunku's seat. From then on, as they say, the rest is history.

Anonymous said...

Rant and rave against AAB as you may but who is he proposing as a successor? There are no real leaders left except kris waving corrupt politicians!