Nine political lives and more!

Karambir Singh

It’s been phenomenal, but everybody keeps congratulating me on my resurgence and my big comeback. I haven’t been away, guys. I’ve been working steadily for the last 63 years.

Betty White, American actress and comedian

Born in 1925 in Alor Star, Kedah, graduated as a doctor at King Edward VIII College of Medicine, Singapore and entered politics via Umno in 1946.

He became our fourth prime minister in 1981 for a period of 22 years. This is, of course, our internationally known Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He stepped down from office in 2003, handing over the reins to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his deputy.

In 2018 after a highly charged 14th general election, he stormed back into power as the seventh prime minister.

So, what did he do between 2003 and 2018? Usually, the tradition is that a retiring prime minister keeps a low profile with the occasional comment or photo opportunity.

After all, who likes their previous boss looking over their shoulders all the time?

I am sure he tried to follow tradition and keep his opinions to himself. But it looks like he could not contain himself and soon started making barbed remarks about his handpicked successor.

After a sustained campaign with the support of a segment within Umno, it eventually led to the early retirement of the fifth prime minister in 2009. 

In came the sixth prime minister, Mohd Najib Abdul Razak with the implied endorsement of Dr M. However, Dr M soon showed his discontent with Najib as well.

He, as usual, started a sustained agitation campaign against Najib and established Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) in 2016 as his new political platform.

After assuming the post of Pakatan Harapan coalition chairman and capitalising on the 1MDB scandal, Najib too was removed when Barisan National lost their majority at the 14th general election.

It is interesting to note that none of his first three deputy prime ministers — Musa Hitam, Ghafar Baba, Anwar Ibrahim — were good enough and were sent packing.

Only Ahmad Badawi managed to succeed him and even he was subsequently hounded out of office.

Therefore, since Dr M stepped down as prime minister, it seems he spent most of his time and effort removing the two prime ministers who succeeded him. He also had several falling outs with the first three prime ministers.

In the mind of Dr M, it seems that no one is good enough to lead Malaysia except himself.  

Since his entry into politics, he has led an ‘on my terms only’ approach to politics. The only prime minister he has not fallen out with is himself. He has been in and out of Umno three times, either by being expelled or through resignation.

To his credit, Malaysia did experience a period of rapid development. He won five consecutive general elections and through deft political manoeuvrings, saw off challenges to his Umno leadership.

However, during his term, he is also ‘credited’ with destroying the independence of the judiciary and turning it into a subservient branch of his office.

He also had during his previous tenure in office used the notorious Internal Security Act to detain activists and political opponents without mercy. Sabah was basically brought under direct rule via the entry of Umno.

A more popular move by him was the curbing of abuse of the traditional powers and privileges of Malaysia’s royalty.

He oversaw the amendments to the constitution to make the royalty more accountable and answerable to the law.

He rode back into power on a wave of promised reforms and anti-Najib backlash. A saviour, many claimed. 

However, after a year and a half into his new tenure, now many see him as unreformed and a demagogue.

A saviour is generally defined as a person who helps people, or saves them from something, a protector, basically a knight in shining armour.

On the other hand, a demagogue is defined as a person who gains popularity in a democracy by exploiting emotions, prejudices, and ignorance to arouse an audience, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation.

There are some who even label him as a tyrant. Whatever one feels about him; love him or hate him, he has made an indelible and significant mark in Malaysian history and continues to do so.

In terms of his contribution to Sarawak, I am sure the majority here feel that he has not paid much attention to our development.

In fact, the only source of his interest has been the vast oil and gas resources with estimated revenues of RM250 million a day.

Despite many pleas, reasoned arguments and citing of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 as justification for the return of our rights and oil and gas resources, he has not seen the need to cater for the needs and desires of Sarawakians. So in this aspect, Sarawakians need not have any expectations or have hope in him.

So how long will he remain as prime minister? Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is again waiting in the wings to claim his ‘throne’ next year, come May 2020.

Some people believe a cat has nine lives. It is a myth related to cats’ ability to always land on their feet.

He has certainly used up more than his nine political lives in his more than 70 years in politics and so far landed on his feet.

It does look at the moment that he is more preoccupied with strengthening Bersatu via his now well known ‘divide and rule’ politics, rather than attend to affairs of the nation.

This is despite the many negative economic outlook reports and predictions for Malaysia and the region.

Malaysia is watching closely to see if there will be a smooth transition or if there will be an upcoming political bloodbath.

Game of Thrones, eat your heart out.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.

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