July 28, 2016
Ambassador Malott: Give Tun Dr. Mahathir a Second Chance to Save Malaysia
By John Malott
JOHN MALOTT is a former US Ambassador to Malaysia. The above article first appeared in Din Merican’s blog.
Dennis said that “our nation is deteriorating rapidly, and our democracy is dying.” I agree with both points that Dennis made.
The question is – why should we give former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad a chance?
Every time Mahathir’s challenge to PM Najib Abdul Razak is raised, there has been no shortage of people who point out that it was Mahathir who subverted Malaysia’s political institutions, which Najib has now used to his advantage. There is no shortage of people who point to the corruption and cronyism that occurred during Mahathir’s era.
But to me, there is no comparison between Mahathir’s day and the incredible kleptocracy that we see today under Najib.
In the old days, people were content to steal millions. Then it was tens of millions. Now, under Najib, it is billions that have disappeared.
In the old days, Siti Hasmah was respected; today Rosmah is despised. In the old days, Mahathir flew on Malaysia Airlines (MAS); today Rosmah and Najib fly around the world for shopping trips on private jets.
There are many people, myself included, who say that it does no good to get rid of a corrupt leader like Najib – if there is no change to the Malaysian political system itself. All we will do is substitute one devil for the other.
Mahathir spent his political life bashing America, and there was no love lost between us during my time as ambassador when he decided after the Asian Financial Crisis to blame America, day after day, for everything that had happened.
That was followed by his arrest of then Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. That led to even more tensions between our two countries. But I was there, and I knew the truth about what happened. I knew the truth about the charges against Anwar. I also knew what happened to all of the economies in South-East Asia, and why.
So I thought it was totally unfair for Mahathir to blame everything on the United States. That was the easy way out for him – it was America and the “orang puteh’s” fault, and it had nothing to do with him.
I was the US Ambassador, and I was not going to stand there – and just go play golf – when my country was attacked unfairly.
But actually, I also understood how upset Mahathir was about what had happened to his country’s economy – and why he chose to lash out and blame America for what had happened.
Even though I grimaced when Mahathir spoke ill of my country, I still had respect then (and I still do now) for what that he did for over 20 years to promote Malaysia’s economic development and raise its stature in the world.
Now Najib has destroyed everything that Mahathir accomplished.
I think I know both Mahathir’s strengths and his warts. I have studied and followed him for over 20 years. If I were Mahathir, I would be concerned about my legacy. I would be concerned that everything I accomplished during my years as Prime Minister is now being destroyed – by Najib.
Today Malaysia has become, as I said, Mugabe-land. It was not the country that Mahathir dreamed for – and worked for.
I recognise 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.
Today people are out to make as much money for themselves as they can, regardless of what happens to their country.
Yes, Mahathir had his sycophants. He was very susceptible to flattery. But he also had some very intelligent and competent ministers, with whom I was privileged to work and engage. He “ran a very tight ship.”
Najib’s movie producer stepson Riza Aziz is famous for the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says was produced with money stolen from the Malaysian people.
Riza also produced a movie called ‘Dumb and Dumber, Too’. How appropriate. Dumb and Dumber. Because it seems that under Najib, his ministers are competing with each other to see who can “out-dumb” each other. Their number one concern is loyalty, sycophancy, and making sure that they can keep on making money.
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 creates – must call for Anwar’s release from prison.
2) He must call for dropping all the sedition and other political charges that Najib has filed against other opposition political figures.
3) He must say that those who have stolen money from the Malaysian people must and will be brought to justice. In order to find the truth, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the attorney-general (AG) must be fired.
As for Bersih?Maria Chin Abdullah says that she will lead Bersih 5. It probably will be held, as always, in Kuala Lumpur, so it will be a waste of time. In KL, she will be “preaching to the choir”, as the saying goes.
To get rid of Najib, you have to get out of KL and go into the Malay heartland – and make sure that they know the truth. And who better to do that than Mahathir? In the Malay heartland, Mahathir is still famous, loved, and respected. So is Anwar.
So here is the 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 Bersih willing to organise that? And really make a difference?
If so, then for the sake of Malaysia’s future, I will stand with Mahathir.