Ambassador Malott: Give Tun Dr. Mahathir a Second Chance to Save Malaysia

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.

COMMENT: Dennis Ignatius, a veteran of Malaysia’s foreign service, recently wrote an article in which he said,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.”

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.”

But today?

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 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 organise that? And really make a difference?

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

18 thoughts on “Ambassador Malott: Give Tun Dr. Mahathir a Second Chance to Save Malaysia

  1. Mahathir needs to apologize to the rakyat for past misdeeds.
    Enumerate them and say what he did and his policies were wrong.
    He might find much more support but Alas – he has set up another race based party – Why??
    He won’t change, Shahrin. –Din Merican

  2. I agree with Amb. Malott, full heartedly.

    Blatant Apologies are for wimps. A subtle hint would be enough. Read between the lines. Forgiveness is the path to blessedness.

    I’m aware of how the government used to work and now ‘works’ – perhaps more than John, Din and ignatius. Just don’t ask for my CV.

    While Octo ain’t the ideal panacea, reality and pragmatism dictates. I will even support his proxy so long he doesn’t belong to the coterie of arse lickers – including the thuggish present DPM.

    We don’t have the luxury of time nor the stomach for more economic treason.
    Any questions?

  3. Save Malaysia from what?

    A Trampled Judiciary he gave to the country and at his disposals leaving a country without quality leaderships ?
    A “Bangsa Malaysia” and a ” Amanah,Bersih dan Cekap” system that were promised but never delivered?…. giving rise to the deeply embedded culture of MACCP that had largely been responsible in disenabling and disrupting the whole country’s delivery system? …..All at the expense of the people.

    Give the Rakyat a break….., not condoning, perhaps, D. Najib should ask the people for a chance to show leaderships without being constantly interfered.
    14 Ge shall eventuality determine .

  4. Amb. Malott,

    I am one of those “who point out that it was Mahathir who subverted Malaysia’s political institutions, which Najib has now used to his advantage.’
    My unshakeable view is that if you are the problem, then you cannot be the solution.
    You have put three conditions forward upon which you are willing to let Mahathir have his shot at redemption.
    I say you have missed the most important one. Mahathir has to agree that after he pushes Najib out constitutionally, he will NOT have any say in shaping the administration or impose any influence on policy-making. Chances are you are better off getting Donald Trump to release his tax returns.
    Until Mahathir gives us those guarantees, I hesitate to stand with him. It will only herald another era of Mahathirism through his scions or Muhyiddin or someone else who would do his bidding until he kicks it.

    The slate must be wiped clean once and for all.

  5. Dr M’s legacy — 30% good and 70% bad.
    But if he succeeds in his current quest, perhaps 60% good and 40% bad 🙂

    Like him or not, he is certainly a “mensch” and at heart, a Malaysian patriot concerned about the future of Malaysia. He could easily say
    “To hell with it all, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the rest of my life quietly”
    But he is fighting …… (like Lenin trying to remove Stalin at the end of his life)
    So, I agree with Ambassador Malott

  6. Quote:- “Mahathir needs to apologize to the rakyat for past misdeeds”

    If he does, Najib will have 2.6b ironclad reasons to arrest him or at least demonize him permanently.

    No, the rakyat will have to take him at face value.

    Malaysians are in the unenviable position of having to choose the lesser of two evils. Some people however may even argue that Mahathir is not necessarily the lesser. We deserve it.

    My guiding principle in everything I do has always being to take one step at a time.

    We all know what Step 1 is, do we or don’t we?

  7. Sorry, my Yiddish is poor — Dr M should be described as
    having “chutzpah” and not as a “mensch”

  8. Dr Phua, I just don’t get it why LGE’s open letter does not allow feedback/comment? The same here for Tun M’s new party.
    Trusting Tun M simply means choosing who he is going to pick for the next generations.

    Get real, his age is ..

    Also, with no due disrespect, Tun M has been quite bad in choosing the leaders for the nation. A generation has been screwed by his two successive bad choices.

    Unless Tun M proposes someone exciting, people around him currently is really *ahem* not very exciting. If we have to trust Tun M, we would prefer Tun M suggests his daughter instead of his son. We know Tun M’s daughter’s thought process much better than his son.

    In reality, it is not about Tun M, whether we trust him or not. It is about the next leadership and the road of how we can come up with the next leadership.

  9. Giving Tun M to lead the charge for bringing down Najib and Anwar to take over the leadership could be the more suitable and sustainable formula.

  10. We should Save America first. The country which promotes demon-crazy. – Who is better, they who promote truth over happiness, or happiness over truth? – Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900)

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