06 April, 2009

The fear of the revival of Mahathirism

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad said he will not accept any senior minister post under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration.

He said he is willing to be the unofficial adviser to the government.

“Unofficially its okay because I am a retired person and I think I should remain retired, and just give them the benefit of my experience in running the government,”

Many Malaysians must have very mixed thoughts about Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s appearance at the Bukit Gantang by-election hustings this morning and in particular at the 90-minute live telecast by TV1 of the entire event.

The first thought is that the Najib premiership has made no real difference with the continued unchecked and blatant abuse of government power and resources for Umno and Barisan Nasional purposes, the shocking lack of integrity in the inability of those in power to make the important distinctions among government, party and self which is the root cause of rampant corruption and abuses of power in a government dominated by Umno hegemony.

How can a government channel, TV1, give a live telecast to what is clearly a by-election campaigning by Umno/Barisan Nasional?

Although he retired more than five years ago, Mahathir's shadow has never ceased to loom in Malaysia's political scene. After more than two decades in power he handpicked Abdullah, a soft-spoken gentleman, to succeed him in 2003. Many thought this was to continue to assert his influence in the country. However, to his predecessor's dismay, Abdullah instead promised a more liberal approach, setting up Malaysia's first parliamentary select committee, allowing greater freedom of expression and vowing to clamp down on corruption in the early days of his premiership. His acts, though, brought disgruntled noises from within his own party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno).

Accusations of incompetence and corruption against him and his family members added to the discontent. Pressure for him to step down escalated after the loss of four additional states to the Anwar Ibrahim-led People's Coalition in the 12th general election in March 2008, which eventually led to his departure.

Najib, who once vowed to "bathe the keris in Chinese blood" is believed by many to be planning tough measures to consolidate his position, defend the supremacy of the Malays and silence minority and dissident voices.

His announcement in his first speech as prime minister of the lifting of suspensions on two newspapers, the release of 13 detainees under the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) and a review of the act should be viewed cautiously.

Can the people trust someone who has lost his credibility to have changed overnight? Any Malaysian will easily relate the above announcement to the three by elections next week. Winning them is important for the new prime minister to mark the end of the turbulent Abdullah era and signal the revival of Umno and the coalition government. Already his slogan of "One Malaysia" seems an irony when racial issues have been constantly raised by his party campaigners.

Abdullah's unusually stern warning, given days before leaving office, that Umno would perish if it continued to silence critics, jail opponents and discriminate against ethnic minorities, seemed to have been targeted directly to his successor.

Whether his words will be taken seriously is another thing – the new premier should come to the realisation that in this cyber age the majority of Malaysians are no longer inclined to be blinded as they were 20 years before.

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