Sunday, September 11, 2005

Mahathir: Unforgetable & Unforgiveable

Was it wise of Malaysia's Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to invite its former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir to give the opening speech in its annual conference this year?

Undoubtedly the answers to this question will be fast and furious, but without consensus. It's just amazing how much emotion Dr Mahathir still evoked in his countrymen. The revulsion for him is certainly noticeable by the boycott of several non-government organisations (NGOs) who objected to the inappropriateness of a man they believe to have violated human rights to open the annual conference of Suhakam.

So engrossed in their revulsion of Mahathir and their frustration that he continues to command respect in some quarters, they forgot to question the presence of the representative of the USA, whose administration has been one of the worst abusers, if not the worst abuser, of human rights in recent times - oppressing, killing and dictating its will upon the people of foreign sovereign nations. The US continues to arrogantly violate human rights under the cloak of spurious respectability, extracted only by virtue of its super military and economic powers.

But such is the personality of Dr Mahathir that to some Malaysians, the USA is but a mere 'lesser' evil. Surf around Malaysian blogsites and read Malaysiakini and one would find there, his personality being tossed around and turn over in numerous ways, with the focussed intent to abuse and crucify him and his indomitable self confidence.

Mahathir has been a ruthless one-man juggernaut as he dragged a reluctant Malaysia screaming into the 21st Century. Anyone who stood in his way was 'chopped' down. He had no bloody patience for namby pamby stuff like, for example, 'environmental impact study' (EIS) or 'public consultation' or any other form of governance processes that he perceived as heel-dragging.

He was determined to propel Malaysia into the rankings of 1st World nations, as an admired, respected, competitive, wealthy and proud member, and by a deadline too. The last word in his vocabulary is procastination. Undoubtedly he saw Singapore's progression into being a 1st World nation with much chagrin as Malaysia is in reality resource-richer with more potential than the little island nation. Yet ....., and that probably might have been what had frenetically driven Mahathir when he was PM.

But Mahathir has to cope with a political system that demands ethnic supremacy and ethnic dominance in virtually every field, instead of reliance on meritocracy and the free market. Even when his relationship with his one-time heir apparent and charismatic deputy turned sour, with a threat of being politically toppled, Mahathir pulled a few rabbits out of his prime minister's hat to remain in power - eg. he turned the table against, and dumbed into embarrassment, a party accuser who had hope to expedite Mahathir's retirement by insinuating the Old Man was corrupt and practising cronyism. Mahathir's unrelenting energy, confidence, vision and loyalty have all been both his strengths and weaknesses.

His energy and confidence gave him the drive to do what he did, but those very virtues couldn't tolerate different viewpoints.

His vision was amazingly acute but unfortunately too advanced for his chosen few to understand, keep up to or implement. “Yes sir, yes sir, all done”, but in truth they couldn’t cope with his vision and drive. They dared not tell him of their f**kups. They fell very much behind, and in the process unwittingly sabotaged his programme of development and improvement.

Mahathir was thus let down by his generals. But as a Field Marshal he should have selected the best officers to put flesh to his vision and policies. But his loyalty to them proved to be a liability as he sheltered them from falling off the face of the earth. He chose the lame and therefore he must accept responsibility for their inability to perform.

He saw Malaysia through a very difficult period during the Asian economic 'meltdown' with his brand of economic package, which subsequently even drew grudging respect from officials of the World Bank.

Despite his staffing handicap (relative to Singapore) he has achieved much. But the 'collateral' damage along the way has been considerable. Though he inherited the draconian ISA or Internal Security Act from his predecessors, (the ISA being a British invention, and later copied in some form by the USA in its post 9/11 Patriot Act, and soon by Australia) he is now associated as the very person behind the repressive Act.

But no worries, we’ll continue to hear from and about him.

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