Mahathir’s Memoirs isn’t the last word on His Era

March 11, 2011

Mahathir’s Memoirs isn’t the Last Word on His Era(1981-2003)

by Terence Netto

The self-description of a life in an autobiography or its stepchild, memoirs, is an uneasy task to anyone who has lived in the maw of febrile political events.

Practitioners find it difficult to tread the line between their involvement and the detachment that is necessary if their narratives are to be considered as contributions to the historical record.

Inability to steer by that fine thread usually results in the genre falling between two stools: the self-serving tract or the evasive testimonial.

But what about the mendacious account, the one that’s deceitful about the facts and gives such a patently one-sided version that the stones cry out for reproof?

Those versions can only be gainsaid by the accounts of other participants in the same dramas, personae not necessarily more capable of the detachment that helps build up the historical record, but whose accounts could serve the purpose of dispatching drivel to where it ought: the trash bin.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad‘s much-awaited memoirs, ‘A Doctor in the House’, reportedly went through 17 drafts before it was launched earlier this week, something like seven years and four months after his retirement.

The wait appeared to take as long as his premiership, which was 22 years and three-and-a-half months – too long a span, as even Mahathir admits, but the fault for that, typically, was not his.

The blame lay in Anwar Ibrahim‘s alleged sexual misdeeds which caused a storm whose swells Mahathir had to navigate safely before actually handing over to another successor. As ever, with Mahathir, the fault is with the others.

A season of memoir-publication

Whether that was always true can somewhat be deduced from the accounts of Mahathir’s sometime coadjutors, former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam and former finance minister Daim Zainuddin.

Both were about to come out with their memoirs but held back to allow their former boss to bat first in Malaysia’s hitherto unprecedented season of memoir-publication.  Musa and Daim are expected to rewrite parts of their books in response to Mahathir’s patently self-serving account of affrays in which Musa and Daim were part.

Daim’s account would be the more eagerly awaited as Mahathir has implied he had to be jettisoned because of the miasma of corruption that clung to the former economic czar. Mahathir also says in his memoirs that Daim was covertly against the capital controls he introduced in 1998 in the face of the currency and stock market crisis that laid siege to East Asian economies.

Certainly, Daim would have something to say about all this. It has been bruited about on the grapevine that he felt he did a lot for Mahathir and that the latter was ungrateful for what Daim did to rescue the economy twice, in the recession of 1985-87 and the crisis of 1997-98.

In retrospect, a career such as Daim’s – covertly powerful, beneficent and sinister in equal parts – could only have been possible under an authoritarian leader like Mahathir. Their alliance was a potent one of convenience. Both were men of high and scheming intelligence. Both had their share of arrogance, greed and ambition; both wore it with one another the way two temporarily allied conspirators could, probably sublimating the inherent tensions in a stream of acerbic commentary on the menagerie of knaves and inferiors around them.

Musa to return salvo?

With Musa, Mahathir’s relation would have been different. He was a genuine democrat where Mahathir was an authoritarian to the manner born.

Mahathir claims he told home minister Musa that he did not want the ISA to be used during his term of office.Well, Mahathir has been on record as saying many things, such as that Musa, Ghafar Baba and Anwar would succeed him when he left the office of PM.

In the event, only his fourth deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, succeeded to the office – and Mahathir promptly helped yank him off the stage; so much for the assurances of Mahathir.

Musa used to say that after his exit from active politics, whenever he met Mahathir on a social basis, his former boss would banter with him, reminding him, only half in jest, of how Musa had stabbed him in the back.

From Musa’s forthcoming memoirs, presumably, we can get to know what he felt about Mahathir’s barb and its justification or lack thereof. His account, like Daim’s, is bound to be grist for the chattering classes.

‘May you live in interesting times’ goes the Chinese saying that has particular resonance for Malaysian politics.

In fact, there’s doubt about its Chinese provenance, like the doubt Mahathir conjures about his ancestry, because the saying appears naturally crafted for the byzantine ways of Malaysian politics.

The upcoming memoirs of Daim and Musa should help us around the twists and turns. But there’s no certainty that Mahathir would not, subsequently, add another round of convolution to the whole morass.

The Najib Factor in Merlimau and Kerdau

March 7, 2011

The Najib Factor in Merlimau and Kerdau By-Elections

By Jahabar Sadiq
Editor, The Malaysian Insider

ANALYSIS — In just three years, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has promoted himself and his agenda to revive Barisan Nasional’s (BN) fortunes for another string of by-election wins yesterday while Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has floundered due to a cohesive strategy and policy.

BN won both the Merlimau and Kerdau state seats with significantly higher majorities than in Election 2008, where it had lost 82 Parliament seats and four state governments to a loose political pact led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The pact later coalesced as PR but remains as loose as it was on March 8, 2008 when it shattered the veneer of popularity for then-Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his UMNO, the dominant partner in the BN.

Abdullah never recovered from the blow of Election 2008, just four years after he brought BN to its biggest victory ever in the 2004 elections where the ruling coalition won 91 per cent of the parliamentary seats and all states except Kelantan which PAS has kept since 1990.

Najib took over in April 2009, weighed down by scurrilous gossip that linked him to the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder and an UMNO that could no longer command the majority of Malay support, its raison d’etre since the party was first founded in 1946.

Instead of pushing a damaged UMNO and a hurt BN, Najib has pushed himself to the fore with economic policies and a moderate tone to win over Malaysians, including the Indian community that deserted the ruling coalition in the aftermath of the HINDRAF march in November 2007.

He started with 1 Malaysia, proceeding to unveil his New Economic Model (NEM) with the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and later the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) which covers nearly 200 projects and business opportunities.

The jury is out on the programmes and the funding but Najib has enjoyed a comfortable level of personal popularity since succeeding Abdullah, although UMNO itself has yet to recover from the bruising Election 2008.

A measure of his success is the young candidates UMNO has put up in the last three by-elections, or whom Najib has dubbed “winnable candidates” in his quest to renew and reform the party revived by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after it was declared illegal in 1988.

“Basically, even if you don’t trust UMNO, you can trust Najib. That’s the message,” an analyst told The Malaysian Insider last night. The analyst also said facing Najib in the past two years has been an increasingly rudderless PR where de facto chief Anwar has been distracted by yet another sodomy trial, the first which pushed him out of contention as prime minister in 1998.

Anwar has thus far kept quiet over this past week’s brewing spat between allies PAS and DAP over Kelantan’s anti-gambling laws. All three parties had ironically promised last year not to allow football pools which was initially licensed to a Berjaya Group unit but has since been rescinded.

“PR is far from united as Anwar is the glue for PR but the trial is taking its toll and has reduced him to a figurehead,” said a PR leader who declined to be named.

In many ways, he added, the past three years have seen a reversal in fortunes for both Najib and Anwar.“Anwar led us to a string of victories from Election 2008 to some of the by-elections but that seems so far away now. Najib is on the rise,” warned the leader.

“We have to get our act straight, work on our strengths and ensure the momentum of 2008 is not lost,” he added.

For the record, PR has won eight out of the 15 by-elections held since Election 2008.Political analyst Datuk Dr Zainal Kling said the double win last night could be used as a benchmark of public support although the political tsunami that swept during the 2008 general election has not subsided.

“This is because we are yet to be sure of support by urban voters but there are signs that public support has returned to BN,” he told state news agency Bernama.Zainal said this was due to hard work by Najib who created policies like the GTP, ETP and National Key Result Areas (NKRA).

“The BN government has to double its efforts to maintain the existing momentum, because the opposition always come out with plans and agenda to attract interest of the people,” he said.

INTI International University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid said BN cannot be too comfortable with the wins as history has showed that small errors can lead to a political tsunami like in 2008.

“However, Barisan Nasional is now on the right track to face the next general election,” he told Bernama.Najib has not indicated when the general election is but last night’s victories and the impending Sarawak state polls appear to suggest that it could be as soon as this year, as he said in an interview with the Reuters news agency during last week’s official visit to Australia.

UMNO officials have cautioned Najib against calling for snap polls soon as the party has yet to recover its popularity, an UMNO warlord told The Malaysian Insider recently.

“We briefed him about the preparations on the ground but told him he might be popular but the party isn’t as popular as him,” the warlord said, attributing most of the wins to Najib’s policies.

In yesterday’s polling, BN retained the Merlimau state seat when UMNO’s Roslan Ahmad defeated PAS candidate Yuhaizad Abdullah with a majority of 3,643 votes. Roslan obtained 5,962 votes compared with Yuhaizad’s 2,319.

In Kerdau, BN candidate Syed Ibrahim Syed Ahmad defeated PAS candidate Hasanuddin Salim by a majority of 2,724 votes. Syed Ibrahim obtained 5,060 votes to Hasanuddin’s 2,336 votes.–