Ops Lalang: To Apologise Or Not to Apologise, that is a Futile Exercise

October 29, 2017

Ops Lalang: To Apologise Or Not to Apologise, that is a Futile Exercise

by Terence Netto


Image result for Terence Netto

As a choice for the immediate future, Najib is execrable whereas Mahathir is merely reprehensible.–Terence Netto

COMMENT | The push to get Dr Mahathir Mohamad to apologise for Operasi Lalang is futile because it fundamentally misperceives his political persona.

He is a practitioner of Machiavellian craft. To a Machiavellian, admission of error or weakness is abjured because that is a sign of weakness.

As a national and transformative leader, Mahathir is one of the more successful deployers of Machiavellian political craft since Otto von Bismarck.

The ‘Iron Chancellor’ in the 19th century welded the Prussian principalities into a united German nation by dint of his skill at pushing for the attainment of his objectives through the tactic of restraining contending forces by manipulating their antagonism.

As Prime Minister over a 22-year span (1981-2003), Mahathir was skilled at destroying opponents in UMNO, mainly, as well as outside his party, by manipulating their weaknesses.

This skill had enabled him to stay in power over an extended period – too long for the health of a polity – to achieve his aim of transforming the country from a primary commodity producer to a manufacturing one.

It was a successful span, given that the economy grew and the middle class burgeoned, as that class must if a country is to climb out of Third World classification to a higher position in the global economic order.

Mahathir built up the country physically and emasculated it morally. The institutional life of the country petered out under his rule.

Mahathir won’t say he’s sorry for, as the then Home Minister, signing on in October 1987 to the detention of 106 political and social activists, several of whom are clamouring for an apology for grave wrongs from the current chairperson of the movement to depose Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Many think an apology for his misdeeds is imperative for Mahathir to begin to be credible as a reformer.

His detractors argue that sans an apology, he would be prone to replicate his wrongs, to borrow with a twist George Santayana’s famous aphorism that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

True, the movement for political change in Malaysia suffers from discouraging, though not disabling, inauthenticity on account of Mahathir’s misdeeds.

Several of his transgressions against liberal democratic norms have been leveraged to the detriment of the Malaysian polity by its incumbent supremo, Najib.

But unless one regards voters in most democracies as apt to be faced with a selection between good and better, rather than what the philosopher Edmund Burke envisaged, as a choice between the undesirable and the intolerable, Mahathir’s misdeeds over his 22-year premiership (1981-2003) are not a fatal disqualification for the role of majordomo of the movement for political change in Malaysia.

As a choice for the immediate future, Najib is execrable whereas Mahathir is merely reprehensible.

Another five years of Najib’s premiership will be the prelude to perdition, as he seeks to hide what can no longer be camouflaged: nation-debilitating larceny on a stupendous scale.

Though he has denied wrongdoing, it rings hollow. In the main, he is believed only by people in whose interest it pays to abide his denials.

Even if he is a risky alternative, at 92, Mahathir can only have a limited turn as pilot of the ship of state, should the opposition Pakatan Harapan win the next general election (GE14).

If his turn at the stern is to be nasty and brutish, as detention under the Internal Security Act was, it will almost certainly be short.

A nonagenarian, even one of Mahathir’s formidable spirit and longevity, cannot hope to last long in the pressured role as Prime Minister.

Actually, the Harapan of PKR, DAP and Amanah should contrive to use Mahathir for its purposes more than he is wont use to others for his covert ends.

Their use of each other illustrates Charles de Gaulle’s dictum that in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies; only interests are permanent.

A Buku Jingga-like manifesto for Harapan and a Harapan leaders’ declaration pledging consensus on major issues as the coalition’s mandatory modus operandi would tilt the balance against deviation.

It’s a wiser, viable and more likely winning strategy than getting a man of Machiavellian craft to do something that goes against the grain of his persona.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

13 thoughts on “Ops Lalang: To Apologise Or Not to Apologise, that is a Futile Exercise

  1. For those that were politically active and had directly or indirectly suffered from the actions of Mahathir, an apology is in order and would go a long way towards the healing process and eventual forgiveness.
    For those that were not politically active during Mahathir’s time and are only now involved in politics, an apology doesnt mean a thing. They have not experienced a mean significant impact and as thus they dont feel a need for an apology.

    Ín making a comeback and pursuing the removal of Najib,Mahathir must admit his actions during his time as PM created the problems facing Malaysia today. He needs to be reminded that he made many major mistakes such as Ops Lalang and the removal of Salleh Abas and destroying the independence of the Judiciary led to his present dilemma when seeking recourse from the courts.

  2. A well written piece by Terrence.

    When my significant other read about this ‘Apology or Not’ brouhaha, she turned to me and said – “It’s as if these blokes demanding Octo’s apology for Ops Lalang, are like all those poor Comfort Women who were raped, brutalized and prostituted by the Japanese Imperial Forces.., ya?”

    I answered: “Yes dear, some of them suffered grievous psychological and maybe physical rape. Karma is wont to repeat, if there’s no positive feedback loops.”

    Having graduated with Biochemistry as her first degree, she replied: “Ya, negative feed-backs are like a monkey on their back. They will be hunched, pinched and sour until the very end. They are probably lousy Buddhists too, and won’t understand what it means to let the dead bury the dead.”

    And i don’t doubt her wisdom: History doesn’t repeat, unless you allow it to do so. So much for retro-sexual George Santayana.

  3. Mahathir, despite development, had largely initiated and replicated the rogue system of governing, while Najib had deepened and expanded on it, both of whom are equally held accountable, and assuming apology is non -issue, and people are forgiving,

    what then, are the better alternatives?
    where are the quality successors of quality and integrity?

    Unless, these questions are substantively answered, there is no winning solution for the people, who are always on the losing end.

  4. MO1 is trying to use the wrong doings, if any, of the past to cover his present and continuing wrong doings/crimes. His persecution of the Warisan leaders and TDM shows that he is very afraid of their shadows because they are eating into his fixed deposits by exposing his kleptocracy and cronyism. Malaysians unit for the future of our country sovereign from being pajak to foreign powers. Malaysians are becoming aliens in our own country.

  5. Edit :
    Paragraph 2, line 2,
    “where are the quality successors of quality and integrity ? ”

    should read,
    “where are the quality successors of competence and integrity ? ”

    Errors is regretted.

  6. Mahathir should apologize but it’s not so simple it’s just a case of his personal view. Like it or not, an apology would cause him some stature of voters he is trying to win over. The victims can be dismissive of those voters but fact is Mahathir those voters are more valuable then theirs. Cold hard ugly reality.

  7. Mahathir is ironically in a real “Dilemma”, whether of his own making or not, depending on who you ask.

    (1) If he apologizes, it might or might not “…cause him some stature of voters he is trying to win over”

    (2) If he does not apologize, it might or might not “…cause him some stature of voters he is trying to win over”

    A 50/50 odds.

    So far so good.

    However, his strategic mistake, in my humble view, was to put the blame squarely on one single public servant, the then IGP. It borders on cowardice, and actually adding insult to injury to the people concerned, or at least to some of them it seems.

    He would have come out smelling better if he had said, no, I would not apologize because I have nothing to apologize for because at that time and under those existent circumstances as I, the PM of the day, saw it, and together with the professional advice of the public security forces, there was a national security situation which required immediate and extraordinary actions to be taken within the framework of the ISA.

    The people, or some of them, who were affected are together with me today standing shoulder-to-shoulder to change, within the framework of our constitutional processes, (the same constitutional framework which gave us the ISA), the government because we sincerely see, inspite of our different political view point, that at this time and the circumstances now existing in the national life of our nation, there is a dire national crisis which requires remedial actions to be taken by the people who could take it.

  8. /// It was a successful span, given that the economy grew and the middle class burgeoned, as that class must if a country is to climb out of Third World classification to a higher position in the global economic order. ///

    Those who think Mahathir destroyed all the checks and balances, but still give him credit for developing the country are, in my opinion, giving him too much credit.

    The test should not be on how Malaysia under him produced the NS Highway, Perwaja Steel, Proton, Twin Towers etc. The test should be – at what costs? What happened to all the hundreds of billions of Petronas’ profits?

    Malaysia did progress economically. But when compared to its contemporaries – the Asian Tigers and Dragons – Malaysia lagged woefully behind. Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore did much better than Malaysia during the same period.

    The period Mahathir presided coincided with the peace dividend accruing from the end of the Vietnam War. All countries in SEA boomed – some more so than others.

    Yes, Malaysia under Mahathir improved its per capita GDP modestly. However, those of the Asian Tigers increased by leaps and bounds.

    High tide floats all boats – and Mahathir’s span happened during the high tides.

    Bottomline is – Malaysia has not been able to break out of the middle income trap.

  9. It’s disheartening to observe the power of this mendacious former prime minster has over the followers in the opposition. Just because you choose the lesser of two evils – something debatable btw – does not mean you have to demonize the people who choose not to remain silent over what this old tyrant did.

    Commander Thaya in his piece said more or less the same, ultimately it is the people who felt the raw power of this man to air their grievances or accept whatever compromises they see fit. There is no need for people to attack the former and make a mockery over whatever principles the opposition claim makes them different from UMNO

    A rational opposition supporter who hopes that this old man can unseat Najib would not castigate people like Kua Kia Soong who has articulated our countries problems far better than most when all this old man has done is refer to Indians as “Kellings”, demonize the Chinese community when it suited his purposes, nurtured an Islamic bureaucracy that has destabilized the secular nature f this country and manipulated the Malay community who he considers stupid.

    When Anwar was ejected from UMNO paradise what I witnessed especially in the early days was a politician who was not above mea culpas and who inspired a movement that believed that a different Malaysia was possible.

    I remember how the UMNO Establishment was furious because Anwar’s message did not change although he emphasized different things to different audiences. That’s politics I suppose and something i could live with.

    It just shows you that this old tyrant understands Malaysians better than the average opposition supporter and nobody uses this man, he uses people. As he is doing now with the opposition.

    Lim Guan Eng thinks this tyrant is needed to overthrow the tyrant Najib which is OK I suppose but when I see the way how the opposition behaves and the response from its supporters, I think this country is truly fucked.

    • Dear Conrad,
      As a Malaysian, i see MOI taking us down the road to predition.
      1. MO1 prostituting the country to try to get POTUS to halt the DOJ investigations which has reached the criminal stage. Why is he so desparate if 1MDB is not even contesting the seizures?
      2. Promising to buy a fleet of Boeings when MAS is eyeing at leasing Airbuses?
      3. To offer to scrap the Federal Highway tolls when the concessionaires maintain that their concession have many more years to run. Who is going the pay the compensation to the concessionaires?
      4. GST is hurting the very poor.
      5. Using the settler’s own money to pay them bonuses. Where has their money and land gone? and many more.

  10. Hi Jeffrey,

    As I said in my post, I do not have a problem with the Oppo partnering with Mahathir to replace Najib but what I do have a problem with is the way how people like Dr. Kua are vilified just because they bring up the sins of the old man.

    Not only Chinese elites, Malay elites too. All elites cannot connect with minions like you and I.Dr. Kua has a big heart and is not afraid to be different. –Din Merican

    • War is not like going to a party so said a revolutionary leader and in today’s world if we do not go towards a Malaysian Malaysia sooner or later we will end up like Yugoslavia, the USSR, Myanmar, Afganistan or a host of countries which have ongoing upheaval or have broken up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.