Mahathir’s Memoirs isn’t the last word on His Era

March 11, 2011

Mahathir’s Memoirs isn’t the Last Word on His Era(1981-2003)

by Terence Netto

The self-description of a life in an autobiography or its stepchild, memoirs, is an uneasy task to anyone who has lived in the maw of febrile political events.

Practitioners find it difficult to tread the line between their involvement and the detachment that is necessary if their narratives are to be considered as contributions to the historical record.

Inability to steer by that fine thread usually results in the genre falling between two stools: the self-serving tract or the evasive testimonial.

But what about the mendacious account, the one that’s deceitful about the facts and gives such a patently one-sided version that the stones cry out for reproof?

Those versions can only be gainsaid by the accounts of other participants in the same dramas, personae not necessarily more capable of the detachment that helps build up the historical record, but whose accounts could serve the purpose of dispatching drivel to where it ought: the trash bin.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad‘s much-awaited memoirs, ‘A Doctor in the House’, reportedly went through 17 drafts before it was launched earlier this week, something like seven years and four months after his retirement.

The wait appeared to take as long as his premiership, which was 22 years and three-and-a-half months – too long a span, as even Mahathir admits, but the fault for that, typically, was not his.

The blame lay in Anwar Ibrahim‘s alleged sexual misdeeds which caused a storm whose swells Mahathir had to navigate safely before actually handing over to another successor. As ever, with Mahathir, the fault is with the others.

A season of memoir-publication

Whether that was always true can somewhat be deduced from the accounts of Mahathir’s sometime coadjutors, former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam and former finance minister Daim Zainuddin.

Both were about to come out with their memoirs but held back to allow their former boss to bat first in Malaysia’s hitherto unprecedented season of memoir-publication.  Musa and Daim are expected to rewrite parts of their books in response to Mahathir’s patently self-serving account of affrays in which Musa and Daim were part.

Daim’s account would be the more eagerly awaited as Mahathir has implied he had to be jettisoned because of the miasma of corruption that clung to the former economic czar. Mahathir also says in his memoirs that Daim was covertly against the capital controls he introduced in 1998 in the face of the currency and stock market crisis that laid siege to East Asian economies.

Certainly, Daim would have something to say about all this. It has been bruited about on the grapevine that he felt he did a lot for Mahathir and that the latter was ungrateful for what Daim did to rescue the economy twice, in the recession of 1985-87 and the crisis of 1997-98.

In retrospect, a career such as Daim’s – covertly powerful, beneficent and sinister in equal parts – could only have been possible under an authoritarian leader like Mahathir. Their alliance was a potent one of convenience. Both were men of high and scheming intelligence. Both had their share of arrogance, greed and ambition; both wore it with one another the way two temporarily allied conspirators could, probably sublimating the inherent tensions in a stream of acerbic commentary on the menagerie of knaves and inferiors around them.

Musa to return salvo?

With Musa, Mahathir’s relation would have been different. He was a genuine democrat where Mahathir was an authoritarian to the manner born.

Mahathir claims he told home minister Musa that he did not want the ISA to be used during his term of office.Well, Mahathir has been on record as saying many things, such as that Musa, Ghafar Baba and Anwar would succeed him when he left the office of PM.

In the event, only his fourth deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, succeeded to the office – and Mahathir promptly helped yank him off the stage; so much for the assurances of Mahathir.

Musa used to say that after his exit from active politics, whenever he met Mahathir on a social basis, his former boss would banter with him, reminding him, only half in jest, of how Musa had stabbed him in the back.

From Musa’s forthcoming memoirs, presumably, we can get to know what he felt about Mahathir’s barb and its justification or lack thereof. His account, like Daim’s, is bound to be grist for the chattering classes.

‘May you live in interesting times’ goes the Chinese saying that has particular resonance for Malaysian politics.

In fact, there’s doubt about its Chinese provenance, like the doubt Mahathir conjures about his ancestry, because the saying appears naturally crafted for the byzantine ways of Malaysian politics.

The upcoming memoirs of Daim and Musa should help us around the twists and turns. But there’s no certainty that Mahathir would not, subsequently, add another round of convolution to the whole morass.

11 thoughts on “Mahathir’s Memoirs isn’t the last word on His Era

  1. Mamak, Musa and, Daim are all a bunch of crooks, who enriched themselves and family either directly or through the proxy game. Would not expect much in their respective memoirs as to spill out the whole truth would be like hanging themselves with their own noose. They collectively weilded power during ” the dirty years of abuse and plunder” when the national coffers were still full and public awareness was practically non existant .( No internet lah!!) The public will be fed with half truths in an effort to exonarate themselves. Just like Anwar hamstrung by his shady UMNO past, the he is unable to go for the jugular at Najib and Muhyidin and being continually embarassed by the ongoing SOD 2 !

  2. While these guys sling mud on one another, expect them to be making fast bucks while the rest of us are suckers for spending our hard earned tax dollars on materials fit for the consumption of the feeble minded, the garrulous and the gullible.

  3. That having been said, the old advice still stands. If you want to hear good things about a person, ask his friends; and if you want to hear the rest ask his enemies.

  4. ” … dr mahathirs much awaited memoirs ….. went through 17 drafts ….. “. – t. netto

    Wonder if Netto knows how many drafts it took before kutty looted the nations coffers !

  5. Leslie Lau of the Malaysian Insider:

    KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said tonight that as Allah was his witness, he had never engaged in vote buying as alleged by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the latter’s autobiography out earlier this week.

    The veteran UMNO leader also accused his old foe Dr Mahathir of engaging in “political lying” in his recollection of what transpired during the contentious 1987 party polls.

    “I never steal. I never cheat,” he said in Ipoh tonight when launching an unrelated book.

    “Again, I am accused of bringing the party to court. I am also alleged to be involved in money politics during the 1987 party contest. I do not have that sort of money. I have no cronies. In fact, I am against money politics. As Allah is my witness, I have not done all those things. Yet I have always been returned every time I stood in Gua Musang.”

    Dr Mahathir had written in his book that Tengku Razaleigh would have become prime minister if he was more patient.

    The former prime minister also accused the Team B faction led by the Kelantan prince of a dirty campaign to unseat him as president in the fractious UMNO elections of 1987, resulting in the High Court declaring UMNO illegal.

    “Had Tengku Razaleigh been more patient, he would probably have taken Tun Musa (Hitam)’s place as deputy prime minister and eventually become prime minister,” Dr Mahathir wrote in his book titled “A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad”.

    Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister claimed in the book that Tengku Razaleigh’s Team B had resorted to money politics in the campaign. “We also heard that Team B spent about RM20 million on their campaign, with most of the money provided by Tengku Razaleigh himself,” he wrote.

    “Voting had to be halted halfway for members to attend Friday congregational prayers, but Team B supporters used the interval to campaign. They were seen following targeted delegates to their hotels, even into the toilet, and I was told that a lot of money changed hands,” he said of the party polls that took place on April 24, 1987.

    “They also circulated a photograph of me with a Chinese lady who they alleged was my Singaporean wife. In fact, she was the wife of an old university classmate, and the picture had been taken at their daughter’s wedding,” he added.

    Responding tonight, Tengku Razaleigh also mocked Dr Mahathir’s book, calling it comedic.

    “Political lying comes through the media and sometimes by writing so-called books of memoirs. One book was recently launched under a pseudo title called ‘Doctor in The House’.

    “I say ‘pseudo’ because it is a copycat title of a famous British comedy film of the 1950s based on a novel by Richard Gordon. Perhaps it was deliberate, as it does reflect some comedianship, apart from political lying. The ‘Doctor in The House’ makes allegations against me which are not new,” said Tengku Razaleigh.

    In the aftermath of the 1987 UMNO elections, Tengku Razaleigh was not willing to accept defeat and challenged the results in court on the grounds that 53 UMNO branches were not properly registered.

    High Court judge Tan Sri Harun Hashim eventually dismissed the suit but ruled that the existence of unregistered branches meant that UMNO itself was an illegal party.

    In 1988, Dr Mahathir registered a new party, UMNO Baru, that exists up to now, although it is now simply known as UMNO.

  6. There’s an interesting book on George W. Bush
    by a psychiatrist called “Bush on the Couch”.
    Discusses the links between Bush’s psychopathology/sociopathology and his extreme right-wing politics.

    We need a similar book on Dr Machiavelli!

  7. hello mr netto, “…much-awaited memoirs,…”
    I asketh ‘much-awaited’ by who? The political critics out to make a 60sec comment? The kaki bodeks of apanama? The continued-to-be-suckled/cheated/conned-outta-their-hard-earned-money-blur-sotong-rakyak?

    Are we still not satisfied of being had/shafted/lied/intimidated/ISA’d by apanama for 20+years?

    And we ‘much-awaitedly’ wanting to pay our hard earned RM100, to read and waste energy on more apanama lies? Yes, we are mudah lupa indeed.

  8. ..the indians wash their dead and dress him up so that he can appear before the Almighty cleaned and properly dressed. to clean the voodoo doktor you have to put him through a 90 degrees washcycle or better through a car wash. we await the day he kicks the bucket.
    as they say in tamil if you dig in a rubbish heap you’ll get only TRASH!

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