Tariq Ismail takes on The Economist for calling Dr. Mahathir Mohamad “Chief of Everything”

August 18, 2018

Tariq Ismail takes on The Economist for calling Dr. Mahathir Mohamad  “Chief of Everything”

By Tariq Ismail


Image result for tariq ismail ppbm

I refer to the article referencing an editorial in The Economist entitled “Malaysia’s New Leaders Have Found Their First 100 Days Tough”.

The Economist editorial board opined that although Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has made headway in fulfilling key election pledges, in effect Mahathir is hindered by a “novice” Cabinet.

The article further contends that this has resulted in Mahathir having to become the “chief of everything”, thus reverting to his old autocratic ways. The piece also claims this is why Mahathir is retaining “cronies” such as those in the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) and Daim Zainuddin.

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Malaysia’s ” Chief of Everything (The Economist)” or a strong crisis Leader ?

Worse still, The Economist is mischievously insinuating that Mahathir has no intention of dismantling racial policies seen as favouring the majority Malays despite his unexpected move in appointing Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister.

The Economist further, and I have to say very subtly, insinuates that this state of governance is hindering Malaysia’s economic growth, by comparing Malaysia’s expected growth rate of 5% for 2018 against 6% in 2017.

I have to say, this is a very mischievous and almost maligning piece by The Economist. I thus feel compelled to enlighten the public, both local and foreign, of the state of matters as it stands.

The Economist, as influential as it is, must surely understand the nature of change, particularly involving changes in government. Who can forget the case of the Missing W’s when President George W Bush took over from President Bill Clinton? Or even the debacle of the US Cabinet appointments under the leadership of President Donald Trump? Yet, The Economist expects immediate and absolute perfection in the new Malaysian Cabinet line-up despite a game-changing opposition win after 60 years of single-party rule.

The Economist apparently fails to understand that in situations of change, there will be learning curves and gaps in knowledge and experience. That is only to be expected.

I challenge The Economist to undergo an equally momentous change without similar issues, just within its own organisation.

Image result for council of eminent person

The Council of Eminent Persons is, in fact, a crisis management team. It is being led by former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin who took Malaysia out of two serious economic recessions. His leadership of CEP and his steady stewardship of the economy (in 1986 and 1998) is welcome by the international and domestic business community, given the uncertain times ahead as the trade war between America and China heats up. –Din Merican

The appointment of the CEP was made in recognition of this gap in experience and knowledge, particularly given the anticipated challenges in cleaning up after the Najib Razak administration. Professionals in the field of change will know that in such situations of extreme challenges, it is important to establish a team focused on clearing and cleaning up while the existing managers ensure that business runs as usual.

Failure to do so will exacerbate the tremendous problems currently faced.

It is just good change management practice and should be more relevant given the situation the new Malaysia finds itself in.

As for becoming the “chief of everything”, I am surprised The Economist says this. After all, isn’t a CEO a chief of everything? Yes, under normal circumstances, a CEO approves by exception only. However, these are exceptional times for new Malaysia. A new ruling alliance and fresh-faced ministers are confronted with a corruption and money-laundering scandal which has inspired a new field of study in international money-laundering, and these same fresh-faced ministers have to contend with the fall-out of that scandal domestically.

I ask the CEO at The Economist, had you been the incoming CEO in such a situation, would you freely delegate as you would in more normal circumstances? Or would you keep tighter control on the reins of power?

I have to say that despite all this, Mahathir has been admirably receptive and flexible to the suggestions and objections of the coalition ministers in his crafting of policies and handling of issues.

I think The Economist and regrettably most Western commentators on the new Malaysia underestimate the fine balance between the PH coalition and the public support behind it. There is an assumption, especially in the international media, that change was imminent simply based on the change instigated by PKR 20 years ago, and that this meant the PH coalition partners are all cut from the same cloth, so to speak, and are thus of one mind. This is a simplistic and careless analysis of Malaysian politics.

The reality is that Malaysia’s voting demographics, whether by economic standing or ethnicity, is fractious at best. This extends to political party support as well. PKR would never have made it on its own without the other coalition partners who are more modest in comparison but who still commanded crucial support from the section of society that could push PH over the 50% mark to win the election.

At this juncture, everyone would do well to remember that a coalition by definition is “a temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government”. Massive amounts of negotiation and give-and-take are required to make a coalition work, and even more so to make it historically successful. This does not happen without a firm leader guiding the numerous coalition partners in thought and deed, such that everyone reaches a consensus. If this is mistaken for Mahathir reverting to his “old autocratic ways”, I can assure you, a significant number of voting Malaysians are happy for it to remain so for now.

I say this because The Economist, and probably many others, seem to have forgotten the most important lesson of the new Malaysia. It is this: ordinary individuals who share the same universal values and the desire to do what is right by their own selves have the power to effect change regardless of race, ethnicity, economic standing, gender, age and ideology.

As such, The Economist’s pathetic attempts at stoking the fire of dissent and racial enmity topped by a prediction of poorer economic performance will not work in the new Malaysia. The people of the new Malaysia have always been the drivers of our own economic and political fortunes, good or bad. We know this for certain. And we know that as we did before, we can do so again if need be. The power is in our hands.

Tariq Ismail is a member of the PPBM Supreme Council.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

13 thoughts on “Tariq Ismail takes on The Economist for calling Dr. Mahathir Mohamad “Chief of Everything”

  1. The economist is just a long distance critic. Dr. M & Anuar have a tacit understanding. Both worked well in the 1980′ & 90’s. During 1st 3 months positive changes have taken place. Mahathir is a man in a hurry & would not over stay. Anwar too is a proven leader who would lead M’sia to greater heights.

  2. //I say this because The Economist, and probably many others, seem to have forgotten the most important lesson of the new Malaysia. It is this: ordinary individuals who share the same universal values and the desire to do what is right by their own selves have the power to effect change regardless of race, ethnicity, economic standing, gender, age and ideology.

    Mr Tariq, I am borned a Malaysian. But, I gave in to giving up to a hope of being Malaysian. There would be hope, if you as one who has the power, could do your part in convincing a clerk to place a link in some official website to the original output of the Reid and Cobbald Commission.
    To me, those two documents that I found online, carry the spirit you have mentioned. A government that attempts to hide those two documents do not.

  3. The main lightning rod of the CEP is Daim – because he himself was responsible for many of Mahathirism economic, corporate and financial failures – not to mention he is known to be one of the richest men in the country the original basis is corruption.

    Fact is Daim’s past failures and sins have very little chance of major influence on the things CEP has to do. Furthermore the CEP is so much more than Daim – the other members are no pushover, in fact highly opinionated themselves.

    The problem with the substance criticism of CEP it’s really mostly just Daim

  4. Well written Tariq. The Economist has intentionally provided a lopsided analysis, on the one hand saying a’novice’ cabinet has been hand-pocked, and on the other hand, claiming the Council of Elders is packed with ‘cronies’. But we all know the US global agenda, and more so with Trump’s ‘America First’ policy. It’s about time the Americans and her allies realize and ‘painfully’ accept that Malaysians have matured politically. Granted, we still have festering internal social, religious and racial issues to deal with, but don’t many if not most democracies face the same? Americans, ask yourself, what of the policies facing immigrants, African-Americans, anti gun laws, drugs, homelessness, health care and cost, education, senior citizens, etc? The list is a long one! The US may have a few pristine and very credible universities, yes…but can the majority of American citizens attend the Columbias, or Harvards, or Berkeleys??? Like Michael Jackson penned, look at the man in the mirror’ first. And hats off to Tun M and his very capable team…!!

    • @dr Alatas,
      Immigrants like me in the United States do not face constitutional discrimination. According to American Constitution, I am no second caste. My kinds in Malaysia is not as fortunate. All of my first caste Malaysian Columbia classmates were funded by the Malaysian government. Not the case for the other two second caste Malaysians.
      I am happy for my first caste classmates. Yet, decades later, a few of them suggested they wished they could have stayed in US, after graduation.
      One wonders how long Malaysia could sustain the support of such generous funding, without addressing underlying issue. Caste system (i.e. affirmative Action for the majority) like Malaysia’s just wouldn’t be sustainable.
      While average Americans could not afford their college tuition, neither could average Malaysians afford them. Yet, second caste Malaysian families have been coerced to pay for foreign college tuition fees. They have been doing so for at least three generations. We could be quite sure dr Syed Hussein Alatas would not wish this is still taking place in today’s Malaysia.

    • “…what has the Economist got to do with US?” Katasayang.

      For vast majority readers in Malaysia, not only Economist represented US, Hollywood movies also represented American society and families.

      That is how it works…

  5. I happen to agree with the Economist, despite all that fluff. Is that a crime?

    After more than a hundred days of rule, the incumbent Gomen cabinet is still concentrating on relentlessly whacking up the Oppo – in part to deflect the unfulfilled promises in their manifesto and pure childlike inexperience. Not to mention the curious requirement for 3 buy-elections due to unfortunate demise of PH heroes in Selangor.. I’ve gotta ask why PKR can’t chose non terminally ill candidates or DAP get better road worthy assemblymen? Instead we’re experiencing Polemics, worse than before GE-14.

    Ask any of the 1.6 mil Civil Servants, and they could have toldja that Gomen Files are classified into Biasa (White or Green), Sulit (Amber), Rahsia (Pink or Red) and Amat (Besar) Rahsia – Palang (Crossed Red – meant for KSU, JUSA, minister’s and cabinet level only). Any decent business entity of corporation would have similar restrictions, don’t you think? So why blame the “Secret” File? Dunno, say dunno and apologize for ignorance.. No need for Drama-lah, cuz it makes mockery outta of Tokongism and Latuk Kung Worshipping.

    Only Octo, Azmin and Muhyi (if he was well enough) would know what is required of them. The others are mumbling, fumbling and stumbling along, including our most munificent DPM who’s somehow got conned into nominating a most useless gatekeeper (i.e KSU) and kicking out the previous much more efficient one. Ditto for our Dry Thunder Tokong..!

    Now, without the CEP, i’m sure it could’ve been worse – but they should now ride into the sunset – which i’m told Diam2 and Zeti will do so soon. RK will hang up his Mojo after Octo’s Bunga Mas visitation to Emperor Winnie the Pooh. After that we will end up with another Council of Elders – like any good Amerindian tribe.., but modeled after the German Bundestag ya?

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