So now, Mahathir is riding high once again, a beneficiary of an adminstration under constant siege and hence, Najib can do with Mahathir on his side rather than needling him on the sides, a fate that befell a half-dazed Abdullah Badawi whom many dismissed as too weak a leader in the Internet age, and hence he rode into the sunset as a forgettable prime minister.
On the other hand, the Malaysian sun has never really set as far as Mahathir is concerned -- for the 84-year-old politician has as this main capital a "BIG mouth"-- in his own words spoken at the BUM2009 gathering in Subang Jaya on May 16, 2009. (LINK1: bum2009.wordpress.com). This maestro uses this capital to the hilt, and as an orator Mahathir, standing tall most times, can hold the audience spell bound for hours contrasted with Pak Lah who would put most people to sleep within minutes, standing up or sitting down. So fellow Malaysians must prepare themselves for more of Dr Mahathir on the PWTC Stage once again as long as the good doctor's actions and thinking aloud suit and feed the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional agenda, determined largely by UMNO President Najib of course.
The ex-PM's presence was only obscured for five years by Pak Lah in the national CEO's driver seat, and his famous son-in-law as co-driver manning the steering wheels, by more or less "blacking out" Mahathir from the mainstream media (MSM). But the new media offered Mahathir a new window of sunshine, and he found new friends in former foes in the Internet-based media (like malaysiakini.com who once flagged Mahathir as among the World's Top Enemies of the Press!). The new found allies have flourished from Dr Mahathir's entrenched Bill Of Guarantees embodied in the high-profile Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) which ensures "no censorship" of the Internet.
And playing a prominent role in putting Dr Mahathir again back under the spotlight is the media, both old and new, local and foreign. And in the past year, Mahathir has embraced the Fifth Estate like no other senior citizen -- he started a blog as a counter measure to the Fourth Estate "boycotting" him at the behest of Pak Lah's Fourth Floor boys at Putrajaya. The prolific writer in him achieved quite a feat unlikely to be repeatedin Malaysia -- in his first year of blogging from May 1 last year, at chedet.com, he registered 19million hits.
To me, Dr Mahatir is a natural newsmaker. With great intellect, he was among the few Malays who took up medical studies -- all his three predecessor-PMs were schooled in law, and if I am hinting that a doctor would indicate possession of higher IQ than arts-based minds, I do indeed plead guilty, but offer no apologies. Also, the man is witty -- some would say he's sarcastic most times, flashing his inimitable smirk! -- and provides many quotable quotes, which without fail would warm the cockles of any journalist's heart.
However, let me at this juncture summarise some points that I spotted from a letter to the Editor, NST from one P.C.A. LEE, Subang Jaya copied from the online edition dated 2008/06/18 which I mostly concur with:
The Mahathir record: Good, bad or plain ugly?
FROM 1981 to 2003, Malaysians in their assessment of Dr Mahathir's leadership and performance generally fell into two categories -- the Mahathir administration was either "God-sent" or "hell", with fence-sitters certainly in the minority. Admirers applaud Mahathir's "achievements like the national car project, highways, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Petronas Twin Towers, the KL Tower, the Formula 1 circuit in Sepang", and yes, many would add: "He put us on the world map".
The detractors, including me most times, was that Dr Mahathir did pronounce "a war against corruption", but there was not much to show. The cancer of corruption had gotten worse year by year under his watch, and the slide continued under his successor's guardianship too (much abetted by his son-in-law's adventurism in big business...?) and the "big C" is now diagnosed as "endemic". I would say another outstanding "failure" would surely be the erosion of the independence of the Judiciary, starting with the landmark 1988 sacking of the then Lord President, followed in quick succesion by the suspension of five senior judges, eventually resulting in the sacking of a few among them.
Other questins posed by the letter writer Lee showing the dark sides of Dr Mahathir's reign were:
*Money politics in Umno at its worst?
*Racial polarisation among students in schools and universities at its worst?
*The abuse of the Federal Constitution at its worst?
*The abuse of the law at its worst?
*The teaching of English as a second language in school and universities at its worst?
According to Lee's letter written a year ago, "Dr Mahathir is still in the news today; more often than not for the wrong reasons. There is also the added reason that until today, the alleged wrongdoings under the Mahathir administration have not been fully investigated, or are still being investigated by the enforcement agencies of the government."
I do not totally agree that Mahathir was/is/will be "in the news for the wrong reasons". Like it or not, his is a well-read and up-to-date voice, and as long as he utilises the channels available to him (cheered on by his legion of UMNO supporters and non-UMNO fans...), he will use his "big mouth" to the maximum. "Newsworthiness" depends very much on the subject and his/her "thinking aloud", i.e. the "contents" he/she dispenses or spews forth. And if Dr Mahathir makes himself "relevant and current", the news dogs will still hound him, something that "outsiders" beyond the media fraternity seldom grasp.
I remember Dr Mahathir had on occasions in his early minister's years shown disdain for members of the press by intimating that it didn't take much to be a journalist (I stand corrected on this recollection.) -- only the ability to write, and by virtue of the fact he himself had written a lot under the name of "chedet" even in his student days left an impression without doubt that he could have gone one to become a journalist if he had wanted to... It would have been "no big deal!" if I may take this liberty to postulate on his behalf. Of course, he wrote the famous "The Malay Dilemma" way back four decades -- or it should be described as "notorious" because it was banned by then Prime Minister Abdul Rahman? -- that later formed largely the blueprint for the New Economic Policy.
Fast forward to the present, Mahathir at BUM2009 stated that when he was Prime Minister, he never instructed the MSM Editors on what to write or what to omit by "censoring" negative reports of the Mahathir administration.
In a commentary on 20 May 2009 titled
"Editors should confirm or deny Dr M's allegation of self-censorship", LINK2: CPI director Dr. Lim Teck Ghee had asked pointedly
"Who Should the Finger of Blame Be Pointed Towards"? Quoting the first few paragraphs, viz:
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad claims that actually it is the Press who self-censor. This allegation – repeated several times – was perhaps the most startling revelation made by the ex-premier in his speech at the Bloggers Universe Malaysia (BUM) dialogue in Subang Jaya on May 16, 2009.
"In Malaysia, usually censorship is something that the media itself carries out. You don't have to tell them, 'Look, don't do this, don't do that'. They somehow or other have got this ability to gauge what is it that the leadership wants. So during my time, you may have noticed that there was a good lot of praise for me. It was almost as if nothing I did was wrong,” Dr Mahathir said. (Quote ends here)
As far as I know, none of the MSM Editors had reacted or responded to Dr Lim's challenge to rebut the former PM's allegations. I had earlier observed about the "disdain" Dr Mahathir holds for the members of the Fourth Estate, and the "deafening" silence of the Editors did not help in diminishing their image as painted by Mahathir's revelation. In fact, with the advance of news online-- witness the growing popularity of The Malaysian Insider and The Nut Graph -- and blogs and aggregator webportals like malaysia-today.net, some analysts are already predicting the death of mainstream media like the daily newspaper.
We have seen how ascerbic Dr Mahathir's comments could be for the targets not to his liking -- a case in point was likening Singapore Mentor Minister Lee Kuan Yew as "the little emperor from a small Middle Kingdom" after Lee's recent eight-day visit of Malaysian with no courtesy call on his former PM-counterpart, as reported by The Malaysian Insider.
But here in a bit of digression, I quote how an opposition leader, LimKit Siang (DAP MP- Ipoh Timur" had been quoted in a post by "beritasemasa" titled Lee Kuan Yew keeps corruption at bay that "I (Kit Siang) am glad that Lee gave Mahathir a wide berth. It would have left a bad taste in the mouth if he had asked to meet the bitter old man of Malaysian politics. Mahathir could have been relied upon to be obnoxious and boorish as only Mahathir knows how. His reference to Lee as the little emperor from a small Middle Kingdom is vintage Mahathir, dripping with venom and uncharitable innuendoes..."
The above is extracted just to demonstrate the "extremes" of emotion people can harbour of Mahathir. But I did gain another insight into Mahathir when Ahirudin Attan aka Rockybru as go-between in his capacity as Interim President of National Alliance of Bloggers (All-Blogs) managed to get Dr Mahathir as that "surprise speaker"at BUM2009. And at a tea-break later, I got the impression the ex-PM could be pretty "informal"; he sounded "truly sincere" when espousing Malaysian interests (in contending with other nations as rivals in the competitive world stage...). As a newsman and also as a diplomatic press liaison officer, I had interacted "officially" with Mahathir, but on those occasions, it was quite formal and observing from a distance.
Another reason for Mahathir's constancy as a media icon deserving coverage is the popular perception that Dr Mahathir indeed is and continues to be an UMNO power to contend with behind the scenes. This power was believed to have been brought to bear on the famous ex-PM's son-in-law Khairy Jamaludin, who won the UMNO Youth contest at the recent UMNO General Assembly but was bypassed for a Cabinet post by newly-minted UMNO President Najib. No eye-brows were raised when third-placed Mukhriz Mahathir instead got a deputy minister's portfolio -- of significance too! --the International Trade and Industry. I believe -- you can beg to differ, of course! -- that it was Dr Mahathir's not so subtle remarks about the Rembau MP's corrupt practices that "checkmated" the ambitious firebrand from being appointed a minister, which traditionally goes as a prize for winning the youth wing's number one post. Hence Khairy, who was touted as "the second-most important man in Malaysia" just five years ago by an international newspaper because of his relatinship with the then prime minister by marriage, is biding his time licking his wounds. The question bandied about much, and possibly fleeting sometimes through Mahathir's mind if I may conjecture, is this: would Khairy ally himself with former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in the future to prime himself as a possible "youngest" prime minister of Malaysia? This is in the spirit of the dictum that in politics, "There are no permanent enemies or friends. Only permanent interests."
Now, sometimes Mahathir can surprise his audience, as several recent statements he made might on the surface seem "unfavourable" to the Najib and his administration. First, like he did not agree with the way the Perak State government led by Nizar Jamaluddin as Menteri Besar was overthrown by BN headed by UMNO's replacement MB Zambry Kadir. This appears to be a "contradiction" in Mahathir's political stances which he could afford to take since he's merely an ordinary UMNO member -- sacked once by Tengku Abul Rahman, resigned not so long ago in protestation against Pak Lah as PM, then rejoined recently on Najib's ascension to the nation's political throne. Second, Mahathir also remarked that there were a few members allegedly tainted by corruption who made it into Najib's refurbished Cabinet.
As is of comon knowledge, Mahathir often has gone ballistic against Singapore's leaders, resulting in the "chilly" bilateral relations, manifested in his harping on Singapore getting water from Johore at ridiculously low rates, and that his "crooked" bridge proposal was not welcomed by Singapore nor his succesor Pak nethat the republic would be able to buy sand cheaply from Johore ... the litany of Singa "sins" could go on. Indeed, until the last five years or so, it was "taboo" for Malaysians in general to benchmark Malaysia's achievements or lack of in any field against the "little red dot" south of Johore. I guess the Internet's opening up of democratic space and a more liberal younger hgeneration of Malaysians have broken the barriers. Still, the "kiasu" republic is not to be openly lauded for any achievements, though the Opposition parties have continued to highlight the fact that Singapore' gross domestic product per capita is some four times Malaysia's when both countries were on par before their split in 1967.
But Mahathir would not hesitate to salute the other Asian countries, urging Malaysians to emulate them, starting with his early "Look East" (to Japan) policy and now speaking well of mainland China, which surely has had received a helping hand from Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his advisors.
In a recent MI-Bernama report, Mahathir was quoted as saying that "the decisions of political leaders also played an important role, especially in determining whether the country progressed or regressed. “A good example can be seen in the modern and very developed Japan after its political leaders decided to emulate the European countries. This also goes for China; how under Deng Xiao Ping the country had moved towards modernisation. “Now China is the world’s major manufacturing country and it can produce almost everything. Although some say the products are of low quality, I believe they can be improved eventually,” he said. This was stated in his keynote address titled “Asian Political Leadership: Disciplined Thinking For Change” at the 14th International Conference on Thinking (ICOT) 2009.
Another subject Mahathir touched on referred to a "drastic and innovative" measure he took in the 1997/98 financial crisis which many businessmen and corporations believed saved Malaysia from going "down under" financially. Mahathir claimed that "Malaysia’s ability in facing the economic crisis in 1997 was due to the disciplined thinking process conducted by the government then.
“It was able to produce a device to save the country from the economic crisis," he said. (The "devise" -- the emphasis is Desi's -- referred to consisted primarily of "capital controls" and pegging the ringgit at a fixed rate to the US dollar...and this devise has been adopted/adapted in some ways by the US and several European countries in the past year following the gigantic banking collapse in those countries consequent to the subprime property crisis in the US the year before.) Relevant here is to recall that Mahathir had accused George Soros as among the rogue currency traders who caused the Asian cfinancial cris starting with Thailand. The media had a field day when Mahathir called Soros a "moron" and the latter returned the compliment with "You are a 'menace' to your country." But just last year the two met up to make up, hugged but no, no kiss!
A current issue of national interest with a Cabinet review decision to be announced tomorrow (July 1) by the current deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin is on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, and Mahathir was that key decision maker of that policy. It must be remembered that Mahathir grew up in a generation that inherited the "English" language, acknowledged as one of the more positive of legacies from the colonial masters, and it was the switch in the language to Bahasa Malaysia used in teaching in schools policy that took place under Mahathir's premiership that saw the decline of the English language. The once Education Minister must have realised the setbacks in the education policies often used as "political football" and experimentation by each "new" Education Minister, and today, Malaysians lament that we cannot stand proudly at interntaional stage using the English language when we once stood tall alongside the Singaporean and the Indian nationals.
Today, Mahathir finally stressed that "Malaysians had to learn the language of knowledge in order to have access to the latest discoveries or theories in Science and Technology which used English as its main language."
So like him or hate him, Mahathir will continue to make himself "relevant and current" to the media with firm and well articulated, and mostly consistent, opinions on news and views that matter although one may not agree with him. The people know him as being decisive -- a trait shown to be so lacking in his immediate successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Will Najib prove himself a capable mentee who can make himself relevant to the current challenges and demands of Malaysia in a globalised setting?
Rest assured the media will continue to spotlight Dr Mahathir. On June 30, 2009 at 10.00AM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be bestowed the ttile of "The Father of VISION 2020" by The Asia Pacific Brands Foundation. Later at 3.00PM he is scheduled to launch a new kid on the news online block named "Malaysian Mirror".
Maybe Mentor Minister Lee can be encouraged to start a blog soon -- be a follower once in the sprightly-at-84 Malaysian leading blogger's footsteps. At least we can all learn to build cyber bridges in the spirit of ASEAN -- the question of water and sand does not arise. And I believe both Mr LKY and Dr M make good sparring partners --their intellectual capacities are well acknowledged internationally. Thinking aloud once more -- "Will Mr LKY do us an honour by coming over as a Keynote Speaker at BUM2010?" Of course, Dr M will also speak "afterword". And without fail, the organisers can assure grand mileage for all involved as the media -- local, regional and international -- will rush in. "Another tsunami, Rockybru?"