Give Mahathir a chance to give to “Save Malaysia”

July 25, 2016

Give Mahathir a chance to give to “Save Malaysia”, says Ambassador Dato’ Dennis Ignatius

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat.” ~ William Shakespeare

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir is reportedly in the midst of forming a new political party to take on UMNO and challenge Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. It comes after months of frustrating failure to cajole and shame the party he once led into changing its ways. And it follows on the heels of his “Save Malaysia” campaign that, thus far, has failed to catch fire.

Having effectively taken control of all the levers of state power, Najib remains as entrenched as ever. And, notwithstanding the long list of scandals, he still commands sufficient support within his party as well as amongst key segments of the population to stay afloat.

There is now speculation that Najib might call early elections to consolidate his hold on power following UMNO-BN’s recent by-election victories in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar. If Najib gains another five years, and there’s a good chance he will given the gross distortions in the voting system, there will be no end in sight for Malaysia’s long nightmare.

Mahathir’s strategy may simply be to divide the Malay-Muslim vote with a new party in order to give a reconstituted opposition coalition under his general stewardship a chance to wrest power away from UMNO-BN or force it to compromise.

The whole country will, no doubt, be watching keenly to see how all this plays out and whether Mahathir will even be able to accomplish the formidable feat of cobbling together an opposition coalition against UMNO-BN.

Is Dr Mahathir the man?

For many, the real issue, however, is not whether UMNO-BN needs to go; that’s already axiomatic. The gnawing question is whether Mahathir is the right person to lead the charge for change.

Many rightly argue that much of the country’s present predicament is due to policies he initiated during his long tenure in office, the crony-capitalist culture he nourished, the people he appointed to high office, the manipulation of race and religion for political purposes.

His disrespect for democratic and other national institutions, particularly when they got in his way, also undermined the nation to such an extent that one man can now defy all the mores of democracy with absolute impunity. In a perfect world, Mahathir’s past record would, of course, disqualify him as a potential saviour.

Time is not on our side

Unfortunately, we don’t inhabit a perfect world. Our nation is deteriorating rapidly. Our democracy is dying. A slew of oppressive laws has effectively curtailed many fundamental rights and freedoms. More are being planned as part of a determined effort to quash all dissent, all criticism, all opposition.

As well, the continuing manipulation of race and religion is slowly but surely edging us towards the abyss. People are jittery. Rumours spread quickly. At this rate, it won’t take much to reach breaking point.

At the same time, our once stable, secular and moderate nation is gradually morphing into a hotbed for extremism and intolerance. Who would have thought that a senior mufti would declare his fellow citizens “kafir harbi” and be defended by senior establishment figures? Who would have thought that dozens of young Malaysians would be sucked into radical jihadi movements?

We have also experienced the first ISIS attack on our homeland and, as the Inspector-General of Police has warned, more attacks are now a possibility. In short, time is not on our side. How long can we continue to spiral downwards and not reach the point of no return?

Mahathir or Najib?

The urgency of the moment compels us all to now consider what was perhaps unthinkable before – looking to Mahathir, as bitter a pill to swallow as that may be for some.

Mahathir may not be the ideal candidate to lead the charge for change but, like it or not, he is now the only one with the experience, the standing and the gravitas to seriously challenge UMNO-BN.

Of course, it’s a sad commentary of where we are as a nation but the stark choice before us is Mahathir, warts and all, or the prospect of sliding further into a failed state overwhelmed by corruption, racial division and religious extremism. These are desperate times; we simply do not have the luxury of better options, more democratic leaders or more perfect men. It’s Mahathir or Najib; take your pick.

Even Anwar Ibrahim, who has arguably suffered more at the hands of Mahathir than anyone else, considers Mahathir’s latest move a “positive step.” If Anwar is willing to put aside his own grievances against Mahathir for the sake of the greater national interest, can we do any less?

Furthermore, the fact that the UMNO-BN propaganda machine is now working overtime to discredit Mahathir’s new party, even before it is launched, is a sure sign that they are worried and afraid, and that says something about its potential.

After all, UMNO’s nightmare has always been a strong Malay-Muslim leader at the head of a united multiracial opposition; that’s why Anwar was seen as such a threat and that’s why Mahathir might be able to do what others can’t.

And finally, although he is loathe to admit it, one wonders if now, in the winter of his life, Mahathir finally sees the folly of his policies, and wants to make it right. At 91, this may well be his last chance to redeem himself, his legacy and the country along with it. As he has made clear, he is not seeking to regain power for himself but to ensure that our system of governance is brought back on track.

He should given that chance.We don’t need to overlook the past but we do need to empower him with our qualified support so that he can hopefully change the future.

Getting it right this time

If there’s anything that can be learned from the now stalled “Save Malaysia” campaign, it is that simply focusing on ousting Najib from office – which has been Mahathir’s main goal – is insufficient in itself to generate the kind of mass support that is needed to decisively win an election.

The very process of negotiating a coalition with PKR, DAP and Amanah to face the next elections will in itself force Mahathir to compromise in order to reach agreement on a broader and more acceptable agenda for national renewal.

A clear and unequivocal commitment to our democratic and secular constitution, to institutional reform, to justice and equality, and to fighting the cancer of corruption that is destroying our nation will undoubtedly be part of the mix.

And what better opportunity to revive Mahathir’s own, now forgotten, vision of “Bangsa Malaysia” where all of Malaysia’s diverse peoples, cultures and faiths are treated with respect and dignity.

Whatever it is, unless Mahathir lays before the people a clear alternative to the tired and discredited policies of UMNO-BN, overcoming the traditional caution and inertia of the electorate might prove difficult. An honest and realistic vision, something to hope for, something to rally around, on the other hand, might just unleash the kind of groundswell that will propel the opposition to power.

Last chance for change

All those who want to see change must now consider putting aside whatever reservations they might have about Mahathir and support him at this critical hour in our nation’s history. There are, of course, no guarantees that everything will work out the way we want but under the present circumstances, he represents the only hope there is for change.

Sometimes, a glimmer of hope, a sliver of a chance, is all one gets.

Dennis Ignatius is a veteran of the Malaysian Foreign Service and has served in London, Beijing and Washington besides serving as High Commissioner for Malaysia to Canada from 2001 to June 2008.


14 thoughts on “Give Mahathir a chance to give to “Save Malaysia”

  1. Thank you, Dennis, for this.

    Bottom line — I am willing to give Mahathir a chance, but ….

    Mahathir spent his political life bashing America, and there was no love lost between us when he decided after July 1997 — the Asian Financial Crisis — to blame America day after day for everything that had happened.

    That was then followed by his arrest of Anwar. That led to even more tension between our two countries.

    As Ambassador, and for years after, I defended my country against Mahathir’s accusations. That was my job, because I was the US Ambassador.

    I was there, and I knew the truth about what happened. That is why, after I left the US State Department, I was so vocal in speaking out about the injustice that was committed against Anwar.

    Even though I hated what Mahathir had to say about my country, I still had respect then (and now) for everything that he did to promote Malaysia’s economic development and raise its stature in the world.

    Now Najib has destroyed all that….Today Malaysia has become, as I said, Mugabe-Land.

    I recognize how Mahathir subverted Malaysia’s political institutions to achieve his goals for the nation. But in his mind, he did it for Malaysia, not to enrich himself.

    Agree or disagree, that clearly is very different from the incredible kleptocracy that we see today under Najib — where people are out to make as much money for themselves as they can, regardless of what happens to the country.

    So yes — I am willing to give Mahathir a chance — a BIG chance. I hope that he can “Save Malaysia,” which Najib is now destroying.

    But there have to be conditions. (1) Mahathir — and the movement or political party he leads — must call for Anwar’s release from prison. (2) He must call for dropping all sedition and other political charges that Najib has filed against all other opposition political figures. (3) He must say that those who have stolen money from the Malaysian people must be brought to justice.

    Maria Chun Abdullah now says that she will lead Bersih 5.0. It probably will be held, as always, in KL, so it will be a waste of time. In KL, she will be “preaching to the choir” — as the saying goes.

    I am sorry to say this, but Maria lacks imagination. I miss Ambiga.

    To get rid of Najib, you have to get out of KL and go into the Malay heartland — and make sure they know the truth.

    And who better to do that than Mahathir. In the Malay heartland, Mahathir is still famous, loved, and respected.

    Question — is Mahathir willing to go into that heartland — and meet the people — and tell them in Malay that Najib is a crook who has stolen their money?

    Is Mahathir willing to tell the people that Anwar — whom so many of the Malays in the countryside also still love — was unjustly imprisoned by Najib?

    Is Bersih willing to organize that? Is Mahathir willing to do that?

    If so, then for the sake of Malaysia’s future, I will stand with Mahathir.

  2. The question has always been the same. Who can we trust to put back the check and balance so that it does not cost so much to change a leader. Is there going to be transparent elections within party, opposition or not?

    Is there going to be term limit within party?

    I am not being crude here to suggest that Tun is very close to his next phase. We need to think beyond Tun or his children. This nation is about Malaysia, not just about Mahathir, Razak, or Anwar dynasty.

  3. First step — get rid of MO1 and the inner (shrinking) clique which is running
    Malaysia into the ground. This requires a broad coalition of
    all concerned Malaysians, including political conservatives and
    moderate Malay nationalists.
    (MO1, our “world class” kleptocrat and bringer of great shame to the

  4. Even LKS and Anwar will admit, push comes to shove, Mahathir is a patriot. He created UMNO Baru and the disaster that is Najib and Co. But he seeks to topple it, to destroy even. All men who seek redemption deserve to try. But, it can never be that he decide the future. The future must be decided by those that represent the broad middle majority.

    But now both UMNO and PAS are CULTS, a very big group just mindless. Do they get included in decision of the future. I say, we go back to the rank and file of UMNO and PAS, confront them on their responsibilities as citizens then decide the future. After they accept neither Malay Hegemony NOR rejection of pluralism is acceptable as citizens of this nation, then the future can be decided.

  5. Even as we talk,. Najib has sent his hounds to the US DOJ to disclose details of Mahathir’s own theft. This is why real revolution is needed, out with the old and in with the new. The old is too tainted – all of them – both UMNO AND PAS..

  6. It’s worth a try though not guaranteed of a positive outcome. But what we have is a Hobson’s choice. Take it or the game’s over.

  7. The battle must be fought at several levels, Its like Mahabharata, the opposition has many arms , legs , resources ability to ignore, defend and move on, infact elections are rigged and gerry mendered so even a united front would still stand defeat even though as last two election demonstrates maybe you could win some state. Mahathir can lead a political front and try and negotiate a united front for elections in a QUALIFIED support by People. There has to be another front uniting the various NGO like suaram , bersih and others, theme corruption and method public intrest litigation against 1MBD , Finance Ministry ING, ask for support from foreign entities and even ag office. There are somethings they will need to do as per the law. Yes the battle needs many fronts to bring down the beast. I suspect with these and maybe more things that you keep throwing into the mix the BN-UMNO machinenary has to surrender to the will of the people. Yes it is the people will. we have to be carefull with street rallies and its use, May or may not work . Likely with Najib new laws it might be playing into his hands. So what bersih wants to do and red shirt people response is making Dato Harun-may 13 playbook into a new strategy for government favor – useless.

    there are even simple coordinated 2 million or more individually penned letter directly to Najib seeking his resignation and light of DOJ action, That is a vote and referendum onto itself, Imagine mountain of such mail in PMO department, yes create a cc copy area, take photo of this and keep showing how it piles up.

    There are many big and small things that can be done, Dr M and his new party of x UMNO folks have their agendas, But a concernted action is a “ground swell” smart , malaysia may well re write political change from martin luther, mandela and ghandi – no icons required, just people who have same “mission”.

    Otherwise just one front fight alone would not cut it.

  8. Ambassador John Mallot has some ideas on how the messaging needs to be delivered to the heartland. I had put up some ideas. But the work needs to come from many different fronts in concerted coordinated actions. protests gathering etc. Not going to work , not at the moment. Ground swell Egypt style while it sounds great is fraught with danger, emergency can be imposed rightly by police and army . everything will be lost after that. It requires imagination. There is no saints about but a few good men(the expression includes women) about.

  9. I have my misgivings about Mahathir. Although I did not really like Anwar Ibrahim when he was in Umno, what Mahathir did to him was way too much and I despised him for that. But I do believe that Mahathir is a patriot who works genuinely and tirelessly to serve Malaysia’s best interest. So yes, I am prepared to give Mahathir another chance because what he is trying to do is better than the damnation that we are all up against if the current regime continues to rule Msia.

  10. I am waiting to see if the new political party to be formed by Mahathir or his nominees is a multi-racial one or just a mirror image of UMNO Baru.

    Mahathir will never admit he did Anwar wrong because he, Mahathir, was 100% sure the latter was a confirmed sodomite. The crime of sodomy is not just a temporal misdemeanor, but one prohibited by divine injunction. So Mahathir felt he was doing God’s work. So why should he admit any wrong doing? To admit he was wrong would merely give Najib another argument to demonize Mahathir.

    At the moment many heartland and urban Malays, (admittedly the only community that really matters), are still waiting for Anwar. So it is for Anwar to sacrifice himself, get his wife, the President of PKR, to forgive and throw themselves 100% behind Mahathir. If Anwar were to play second fiddle to Mahathir, then so be it. The Malays must have one or the other to follow, not both.

    Remember the recent by-elections? Just one letter from Anwar and we have greater chaos than before among the opposition.

    Our support of Mahathir is already grudgingly given though we have no personal grievances to speak of. Can Anwar whose personal and political life was utterly destroyed by Mahathir truly forgive and forget for the sake of the country? His and his wife’s recent behavior says no.

    A divided Malay populace is Najib’s strength. One half is still whole-heartedly behind Najib, (regardless of what the US DoJ can say or show), while the other half is half-heartedly against.

    Anwar must say clearly to all Malays that he is no longer a force, and that Mahathir or his new political party is the only man / vehicle they must now follow.

  11. The general consensus among the well-informed is that Mahathir brought huge development to Malaysia, he subverted state institutions to serve his purposes and that he nurtured crony capitlalism to benefit a chosen few but he never enriched himself.

    As for Anwar, it was Mahathir who first fixed him with a charge of sodomy. So I find it strange that Ambassador Malott should ask Mahathir to tell the people, especially the countryside Malays who still love Anwar, that Anwar was unjustly imprisoned by Najib. Is the Ambassador implying or conceding that sodomy1 charge brought by Mahathir is just but sodomy2 charge brought by Najib is unjust?

    As far as I can see, both were framed-up charges and politically motivated to destroy Anwar for good. Politics is so dirty that both Mahathir and Najib can go to the extend of destroying a good man and his family when they themselves have families. How would they feel if Anwar were to do the same to them and their families? (not necessarily sodomy but with some other serious charges)

    Anwar was charged and convicted for the suppossed act of sodomising Saiful. Who is Saiful, apart from the fact that he was personal assistant of Anwar? He was the guy who went to see a top ranking police officer and followed it up by seeing Najib, then DPM(?). Najib’s side explanation was that Saiful came to seek assistance on some education matter concerning himself. It was after these two significant events that investigation on Anwar started. What does this suggest? It suggests that Saiful is a plant.

    Saiful had access to the apartment where the sodomy acts were said to have taken place. All that the Special Branch (or hired private eye) need to do is to is to place pin-hole cameras in the apartment with the assistance of Saiful and Anwar would have been a dead duck caught in the act. Perhaps this was done and nothing came out of it simply because Anwar was never a sodomiser.

  12. Yes Hawking Eye , all Malaysians are CONVINCED that it was a fix-up…..political jealousy is thick in Malay blood, because that’s the only easiest way to getting fame and recognition , without much stuff in the grey matter……

    Tun Mahathir was one kind ( one of a kind , from Kerala , but tried to be more Malay than Malays….. like most Malaysians trying to be more ‘ Mat Sallehs ” ! )

  13. Yes gentlemen, I agree with you all when it comes to Mahathir fixing-up Anwar. But the writer of this article – Dato’ Dennis Ignatius, has a point. And we need to see the practicality of his plea. As much as I may hate Mahathir, I just cannot stand another minute of Najib, Rosmah, the AG, the IGP and all of the Umno Ketua Bahagians. The thought of them being in total control of Msia for the next 7 years (2 more years until the next electiona + 5 more after that) is unthinkable. What I have done since yesterday was to spam out the weblink of Dato Ignatius’s article together with this message below. This is the least I could do…

    Salaam and greetings to you.. I am just taking my chances with you with regard to our political inclinations in the wake of the circus that Msia is going through over the past 12 mths.

    In case we are on the same page, i would be grateful if you could please send out this weblink to your friends and family. I just read this article this morning and felt compelled to send this weblink to whoever i can reach out. I am not a great fan of Mahathir but i guess what he is trying to do is better than whatever we are all up against if the current regime continues to rule Msia.

    If we are not on the same page, pls ignore this msg and i apologize for the intrusion.

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