Mahathir and Ku Li–Failed Leaders in the same pea pod
By Koon Yew Yin
Over the past 10 years I have written a great deal about national politics and the country’s leadership. In particular I have focused on our Prime Ministers in response to the policies they initiated and the way they have managed the key issues and challenges of our multi-racial society and developing economy.
Besides writing about Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, I have also written extensively on two political figures who could have become Prime Ministers but never quite made it: Anwar Ibrahim and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, also known as Ku Li.
My view of Mahathir has not been charitable: in fact, it will be considered unkind. Most Malaysians, including a majority of Malays today, will agree with me that he is a failed leader who has let down the country badly.
Malaysians of my generation, with longer memories than the current generation, who know of the stability, harmony and prosperity that we enjoyed, as well as experienced the high standards of governance inherited from the British, see the son of Mohamad Iskander Kutty, Mahathir, as the principal cause of our badly dysfunctional economy and society.
The worst legacy of the man regarded as “Bapa Malaysia” by such groups as Perkasa lies not in the form of his cock-ups such as Proton, MAS, Perjawa Steel, and not even in the cronies he favoured, resulting in a disproportionate proportion of the country’s wealth being held by a few.
Perwaja Steel, MAS and even Proton can be erased from the books overnight. Cronies can be compelled to renegotiate their contracts so that national interests are protected.
His legacy is actually the dominant party, Umno, which runs the country and which Mahathir has shaped into a right-wing, Ketuanan Melayu party which has placed Malay special interests above all else.
UMNO is the nation’s bully having destroyed many of our important institutions such as the judiciary, while sponsiring cronyism, impoverishing our economy, and undermining many of our basic rights and freedoms.
Mahathir is the man who nurtured this bully to what it has become today: an oppressive and irresponsible grouping of UMNO-putras functioning like a baby’s alimentary canal with a healthy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
Imagine my surprise therefore to read of Mahathir’s resignation from the party he helped transform into a party of patronage and pirates.
When the news reached me, I had emailed friends the following note: I see Dr M has resigned from UMNO. I now have some respect for him and I lost my respect for Tengku Razaleigh.
Since then he has become the main figure in the unveiling of the Citizens’ Declaration which is aimed at getting rid of the current Prime Minister.
There is some talk of broad political reform in the document. But in his latest speeches, it looks like Mahathir does not think there is much wrong with UMNO and he is apparently waiting to return to UMNO the moment Najib leaves the scene.
If that happens, I will have to withdraw my initial reaction of having some respect for Mahathir. I hope that Mahathir gives up completely on UMNO and helps the opposition come to power. That way, he will atone for the mistakes he has made and leave a positive legacy.
Ku Li’s disappearing golden principles
As for Ku Li, I and many of my colleagues had high hopes for him, especially after he came out with his own declaration in the form of Ten Golden Political Principles delivered in an address to the Perak Academy in 2009.
His speech actually spells out the road map for reform in the country more clearly and comprehensively than what Mahathir and the other signatories have come out with recently.
I have spoken and written in support of Ku Li’s Golden Principles on many occasions. But Tengku Razaleigh himself appears to have given up on them. How else can we explain why he has failed to push them in the way that Mahathir has pushed his Citizens’ Declaration?
When we think hard about it, it is clear that whatever political rhetoric they are spouting or declarations or principles they come up with, Mahathir, the former Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, and Tengku Razaleigh are hard-core, die-hard UMNO leaders who will never give up on their party voluntarily.
This is why it is difficult to believe that UMNO is capable of reform unless and until it is finally removed from power and sits on the opposition benches.
Koon Yew Yin is a retired civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corp Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.