Pulau Batu Mahathir: Another Perspective

Posted by Din Merican (May 30, 2008 )

source: http://www.malaysiakini.com

Pulau Batu Mahathir
Neil Khor

May 29, 2008

There are three ways to maintain power, or rather three ways to convince others to submit to one’s will. The first strategy is to provide them with an alternative that motivates them to submit. The slave would rather toil under the hot sun than suffer the pain of the lash. Similarly, people prefer to be obedient to religious leaders rather than suffer in hell.

Second, provide them with compensation that will buy their submission. We get big bonuses for spending 12 hours a day in a ‘monkey suit’ and smiling at our bosses. Politicians may vote or even cross the floor for such compensatory benefits.

Third, and perhaps most effectively, power can be maintained by conditioning people to think in a particular way. Malays are ‘weak’ and if not adequately protected, they will ‘fall victim’ to their fellow Malaysians. Over time, Malays no longer differentiate between their own legs and the crutches that hold them up.

In my last letter, I mentioned that we are currently witnessing the ‘endgame of the Mahahtir myth’. The Mahathir myth is made up of a combination of threats, compensation as well as conditioning. It is all held together in the personality of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Let us take the Pulau Batu Puteh case as an example of how Mahathir maintains power. His first act upon returning to Malaysia from Japan on Tuesday was to create a smokescreen. Anyone who believes that 300 people turned up at Subang Airport spontaneously is very naive. Mahathir’s statement nails his successor as both weak and a sell-out. ‘Abdullah is more afraid of Singapore than of UMNO members,’ the former premier said.

This was followed-up the next day by his comments on his website. There he accuses Abdullah of being basically an ungrateful traitor tonthe Malay race. What Mahathir is doing is to transform Malaysian national sentiment over the Batu Puteh incident into a cogent example that Malays are losing their grip on power. But instead he reveals that Abdullah is ungrateful to him and that it is Mahathir who is fast losing power, not the Malays.

A simple recounting of facts soon dissipates this smokescreen. The Batu Puteh incident was sparked off in 1980. Coincidentally, marking Mahathir’s rise to the highest office in the land. In the succeeding
22 years, the public knew very little about the lighthouse or the island. Now we learn that in 1994 Dr Mahathir decided to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after bilateral talks ground to a halt.

From 1994 till 2002, Mahathir, Malaysia’s greatest prime minister ever and presumably the most powerful Malay leader the world has even seen, helmed the case. Old treaties were found in London’s Public Records Office to establish the ownership of the island.

But at the same time, Mahathir allowed Singapore to continue managing the lighthouse, stake its claim over shipping incidents and compile data showing proof if its de facto ‘ownership’.

What did the Mahathir administration do from 1980 till 2002 as evidence of Malaysia’s ownership of Pulau Batu Puteh? Did we ask Singapore for joint administration of the lighthouse? Plant a flag in Middle Rocks? Negotiate on behalf of our fisher folk? In 2002, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi inherited Batu Puteh, a legacy which came with the premiership.

We have lost Batu Puteh and most Malaysians have accepted the verdict rationally. But we all feel a sense of loss, the kind Indonesians felt over Sipadan and Ligitan. Abdullah must publish a chronology of what his predecessor did that would have made a difference in the ICJ. The public must be told that rhetoric and secret maps do not impress ICJ judges.

Here is a perfect example of how Mahathir maintains power by manipulating public sentiment. But if we have lost Pulau Batu Puteh, and if Mahathir use the incident to his advantage, we must remind him that he shares some of the responsibility. It was his belligerent style of diplomacy and refusal to listen to professionals which led the case to fall into the lap of the ICJ in the first place.

So behind the smokescreen, we see Mahathir’s tactics laid bare. He made a claim in Johor that the Malays were losing power. Then he resigned from Umno and left for Japan. There, he gave a speech warning of racial strife owing to the ‘weakness’ of Abdullah Badawi.

Knowing full well that Batu Puteh might fall to Singapore, he arrives back in Subang to cheering crowds presumably a hero, a Malay patriot indirectly blaming Abdullah for losing Batu Puteh.

Facts have a way of exposing synthetic personalities and their naked grip on power. It was Mahathir’s diplomacy that led us up the path to the ICJ and to the outcome we see before us. So, as an old song goes, the Malaysian public is ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered…no more!’

11 thoughts on “Pulau Batu Mahathir: Another Perspective

  1. TDM has a hand in everything bad that is happening to this country presently, Pulau Batu Puteh notwithstanding.

    His blog, incidentally, has breached the million-hit mark today. Is he that popular or are we being overwhelmed by his persona?

    Just read some of the comments given. Many seem to agree with whatever he says. He surely has a huge following.

  2. Below is an extract taken from TDM’s latest posting in his blog.

    Can you sense the irony?

    Imagine he saying “unless there is instruction to spin news from certain quarters…..” He did ever so often when he was PM.

    “I note that now the government has recognised the importance of the blogs. It is proposing to have its own blog. But more importantly the mainstream media are now quoting from the blog and even dare to write on formerly forbidden subjects.

    “This is to be expected as many people no longer read the mainstream papers or watch television. The NST circulation has been reduced to an average of 135,000 daily including free and discounted copies for hotels, schools and airlines.

    “Unless there is instruction to spin news from certain quarters, the mainstream media might become irrelevant.”

  3. Unfortunately, we are also following his postings and Din still has high regards for his sharpness and energy to write and blast:-) Zaib
    Zaib, there is no doubt Mahathir is a smart, articulate and combative individual. He is an intellectual, a fighter and keen debater. Even he was at the Sultan Abdul Hamid College which his late father started, he was highly regarded by his teachers and classmates. He was also a role model for Kedahans of my generation and I must admit, with no apologies, I admire and respect him. He was also my boss and had a huge impact on my life.

    But of late, I have become very adverse to his politics, especially his redux Ultra Malay nationalism, in the light of new revelations (Lingam video Commission findings) about his involvement in judicial appointments and even case fixing for the benefit of his cronies, and the destruction of independence of the judiciary and other institutions of governance. Mahathir is Mahathir and he will go on fighting for lost causes.There is no way anyone can put him down.—Din Merican

  4. Dear All:

    When will our pundits and commentators realize that Mahathir is no longer in power? Rest assured that history will adequately judge him. The time to be critical of him was when he was in power, not now.

    Malaysia is now under AAB. That is where we should focus. If we feel that he is doing a swell job, by all means praise him.. If he is dozing off, this is the time to criticize him, not when he is gone.

    AAB is now in charge for nearly five years; no point blaming the mess on Mahathir. Otherwise we would be heaping scorn on AAB when he is gone, and it would be just as useless as criticizing Mahathir now.

    When will we ever learn?

    M. Bakri Musa

  5. I happen to agree with M. Bakri Musa. Ever since he resigned, Dr M has never been short of things to say, and he has never been short of media space. I believe that I can say with little chance of contradiction that he is THE one ex-PM who has had the most press coverage.

    There is little doubt about the mistakes after mistakes that Dr M made during his 22 years as PM, the few years before that, and the few years after that.

    But backtracking is not going to get us anywhere. Learn from what mistakes he has made, and move on. Let us ensure that the future leaders don’t make the same mistakes.

  6. Agree. We have enough of this eccentric gutter politician! Wasting space and time talking about him. He’s cheap, does not deserve our attention!

  7. Dr.Bakri made an important point in that Mahathir is no longer in power and we must now focus on Badawi. That is what I have been trying to do since the Hadhari man came in as Prime Minister to succeed Mahathir. But Mahathir of late has become rather paranoid as he seeks to protect his personal interests which are considerable, not just his legacy. As a result, he is doing this in the way that demeans him. This is the tragedy of the octogenarian.

    What is he afraid of? All the dirt that can be unravelled if the investigations against him and 5 others were to proceed? He does not have to worry about it; if this matter is left to the Attorney-General Gan Patail, Gani will say that the Tun “has no case to answer”. Fail tutup dan habis cerita. Maybe the Tun is afraid that a Pakatan Rakyat national government led by Anwar Ibrahim will go on a witch hunt, then.

    Under Badawi who listens to “competent advisors and people on the 4th Floor, Office of the Prime Minister”, all will be covered up since revelations of corruption and abuse during the Mahathir era, committed in the name of UMNO are big news. It is a politically unwise, I should think, to reveal and re-confirm the general perception that UMNO is corrupt and rotten to the core.

    Yes, we can leave his legacy to the judgment of history.I would go the extent to agree with my friend, Dr. Bakri that “history will adequately judge him”. At the same time, no matter what I feel personally about the former Prime Minister (and I like and admire him), it pains me to say that I cannot absolve him from the rot that was created during his 22 year rule. You can only learn from the past if you know what actually happened in the past.

  8. Mahathir legacies reflect a mismatch of personal traits both good & bad but mostly of the latter. I would say he is a good manager in the sense that he gets things done with forthright determination. But the bads surely outweight his achievements mostly due to his “egomaniac”, self-right attitudes bordering the character of a dictator. The worst is his tendency to apply oppressive laws like ISA, OSA & Sedition Acts in order to get his ways. I’m glad Age has already caught up with this man.

  9. Bakri,
    Every one makes mistakes and we all must learn from it. Forget that selfish guy, he has no friends except his family and he only loves himself. You are not his friend anyway!

    Count your blessings, give yourself a pat for waking up in time to free yourself from that pain. Yes, history will adequately judge him. Let’s move on!

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