I love him, I love him not

Raja Petra Kamarudin

When Tun Razak died in England and Hussein Onn replaced him as Malaysia’s Third Prime Minister in 1976, one-time PAS Menteri Besar of Terengganu Daud Samad and I debated as to who would become the new Deputy Prime Minister. Daud Samad, fondly known as Pak Su Daud, rooted for Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Ghafar Baba. I, however, rooted for Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Pak Su Daud did not think my forecast was correct. He felt strongly that Hussein Onn, Bapa Perpaduan (Father of Unity), would certainly choose either Tengku Razaleigh or Ghafar, the two true Malay nationalists and ‘real’ Malays. Mahathir was not ‘true’ Malay but a Mamak, plus he was a traitor to Umno, having been sacked from the party in 1969 after which he worked with PAS for about three years in trying to undermine the Tunku’s government.

In fact, the Tunku was about to arrest Mahathir under the Internal Security Act but was saved by the Member of Parliament for Rawang then, Tengku Abdullah, one-time Chairman of MBF and the man who spearheaded the effort to turn the Kuala Lumpur Central Market into what it is today, Pasar Seni or Cultural Market, in the footsteps of Covent Garden in London. Tengku Abdullah and Mahathir were buddies and it was the effort of this prince from the Negeri Sembilan Royal Family that kept Mahathir out of jail.

Mamak or no Mamak, he could have been a thoroughbred Indian for all I cared, but I felt Mahathir was what this country needed. This was a man who had vision, who dared challenge authority and go against the establishment, and he was not a product of Britain or a British ‘running dog’, like the Tunku, Tun Razak or Hussein Onn. Mahathir was a loose cannon and I just love loose cannons. More importantly, a successful politician must be Machiavellian and go by the maxim that the ends justify the means. If people need to be sacrificed, then they have to be sacrificed for the good of the bigger cause.

Well, I was only 26 years old in 1976, 30 years younger than I am today, so I definitely had different values then that I have today. In fact, I did not even become a ‘proper’ Muslim until the following year when I became neighbours to Harun Jusoh and Mustapha Ali, two PAS Terengganu warlords, and acquired a better understanding of Islam. So matlamat menghalalkan cara (the objective makes the method kosher) as far as I was concerned.

I first met Mahathir in the flesh soon after he became Prime Minister when I attended a joint Malay Chamber and Chinese Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Equatorial Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. It was a Chinese dinner and each table of ten was allocated to five members from the Malay Chamber and five from the Chinese Chamber, and we had to sit alternate to each other so that the Malays were not all bunched at one end of the table and the Chinese at the other end.

Mahathir’s speech that night inspired me and made me feel proud we had such a man as Prime Minister.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) will have to end in 1990, warned Mahathir. The Malays cannot expect the NEP to go on forever. It was agreed that the NEP would run from 1970 to 1990 and it cannot be extended beyond that. This was the agreement made between the Malays and the non-Malays and it would be unfair to the non-Malays if this agreement is violated.

To the Chinese, Mahathir said, they should not put the government in a situation where it will be forced to come out with a policy to elevate the lot of the Malays. The Chinese must find ways to work with the Malays, voluntarily, and help the Malays improve their economic level. Most of the businesses are owned by Chinese, argued Mahathir. So, rich Malays benefit Chinese.

Chinese do not spend their money, Mahathir explained. They save and invest. Malays, however, like to spend, even when they don’t have money. If they have no cash they will borrow. So, if the Malays become rich, they will spend all their money, and they will spend it in Chinese owned shops.

Therefore it is a good idea that the Chinese help the Malays become rich because this will mean the money will all go back to the Chinese anyway. If the Malays are poor, who will buy from Chinese shops? When Malays cannot afford to spend, then Chinese shops will not get business.

Think about it, said Mahathir, rich Malays mean even richer Chinese. Think of it as an investment. You invest in the Malays knowing that the Malays would pay you dividends. Their money would all become yours in the end when they spend it in your shops.

I must say I was really taken in by that piece of logic, whether it really made sense or not. Mahathir was trying to explain in simple, layman terms, that once the purchasing power of the Malays is strengthened, businesses benefit, and since most businesses are Chinese owned, then the Chinese would be those who benefit.

I was a Mahathir fan the first ten years or so. After that I got quite tired of him and felt that a Prime Minister should rule for only two terms or ten years and then retire, never mind how good he may be. Maybe Malaysia should pass a law allowing the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers (Menteri Besar) to stay in office for only two terms. Possibly this should apply to Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen as well, just like how Senators can stay in office for only two terms. Then they leave before we get sick of them.

I never understood why Mahathir brought Anwar Ibrahim into Umno, or why Anwar agreed to join Umno. Actually, it was not Mahathir but Tengku Razaleigh who brought Anwar into Umno. Mahathir at first did not agree to this but was finally persuaded by Tengku Razaleigh to accept Anwar. It was not until 20 years later when I read Mahathir’s Asiaweek interview that I comprehended what probably went through Mahathir’s mind then.

Asiaweek: JANUARY 26, 2001, VOL. 27 NO. 3

From an outsider’s point of view, it seems that the hatefulness comes from Malaysian politics. When you dismissed your deputy and then he ends up getting caught in this cruel judicial process, that’s what brings people on to the streets.

You bring up my deputy, but you should listen to what I said about him. This man, who had been brought up by me, pushed up until he became my deputy, all along was working for himself. He joined UMNO not because he believes in UMNO. He had a choice. His inclination would have been to join PAS, the Muslim party. But he joined UMNO because he foresaw no future for PAS.

There was no way PAS could ever make him a prime minister. But there was a greater possibility that he could become a prime minister if he is in UMNO.

He had no commitment to UMNO. He came in because he thought he would be able to control UMNO and turn it his own way. And all along he was plotting — according to some people he expected to become prime minister within 10 years. You can imagine his frustration after 10 years I am still the prime minister.

But with all due respect, Dr. Mahathir, weren’t you both playing the same game? You brought him into UMNO because you needed to bring the Malay Islamic factor into UMNO.

I brought him into UMNO to keep him from joining PAS and creating mischief. I would have thought that once you are in UMNO you must accept UMNO’s struggle. Not make use of UMNO for your own personal purpose.

He built up cells in every organization. In the police, in the armed forces, in the civil service, among the students, among the university teachers, abroad. He was building up personal loyalty to him, using his power.

Once he became deputy prime minister his next step was to overthrow me. He had overthrown a whole series of people, [former deputy prime minister] Ghafar [Baba] among them. The next target was me. I could not imagine a person I helped would do that. But now I have people telling me how he plotted against me, although his dismissal had nothing to do with politics or economics.

He went along with me even when we imposed the currency controls because at that time he was still in the government. But after that I found out that his attempt to push me out was very real. I thought he wouldn’t succeed. But now I am not so sure that if he had challenged me while he was still in the party that I could win.

In 1987, when I was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh [Hamzah], I very nearly lost. So [Anwar] was quite hopeful that by building up cells of support in the UMNO itself, he would be able to overthrow me.

This is the kind of person he is.

Once action is taken against him, he told me he would fight. And his fight, of course, includes the usual things he used to do before, when he was outside the party, get students to demonstrate. Now he was much more sophisticated, of course. He had a lot of connections so you can notice that while he was in the government there was no demonstration. Once he is out of the government, demonstrations start.

That’s my deputy. You see I am very happy I discovered him in time, and I did so for a different reason, because of his bad morals. That was the reason. Without that I think he would be the prime minister now because I had planned to step down in 1998.

Now it is clear. Mahathir was just being his Machiavellian self. He was keeping his friends close and his enemies even closer, and he regarded Anwar as an enemy who must be kept close. But when Anwar made his move to challenge him for the Umno Presidency, he got rid of Anwar.

Mahathir suspected that Anwar joined Umno merely to become Prime Minister and that once he was ready he would make a bid for it. Mahathir was playing with fire and he knew it. Knowing that Anwar wanted to become Prime Minister, yet bring him into Umno, which would make him that closer to his goal, was dangerous. Anyone else would have fought tooth and nail to ensure that Anwar stays outside Umno where he would pose no threat. But not Mahathir! He brought Anwar into Umno where he could be closely watched plus be allowed to make mistakes that would result in his downfall. The Malays call this: ulur tali — or as the English would say, give you enough rope to hang yourself.

And, looking at it from a purely political angle, Anwar did just that, he hung himself. Mahathir did not hang him as much as we may want to blame him for what happened to Anwar. Whatever happened to Anwar, he sort of did to himself, in that he brought himself to the edge of the cliff and all Mahathir did was give him a small push and he fell off the cliff.

That is Machiavellian for you, a move by a ‘perfect’ politician.

Yes, I loved Mahathir the first ten years and ‘chose’ him over Tengku Razaleigh and Ghafar. Then I hated him the second half of his tenure as Prime Minister. I love him, I love him not. I must admit that I am now going into the third phase of my love-hate relationship with Mahathir. I am now guilty of loving him again.

What is it with me? I loved Anwar when he was in opposition to Umno. I hated him when he became the Deputy Prime Minister. I loved him again when he was thrown into jail. I loved Mahathir when he first became Prime Minister. I hated him when he stayed too long and would not retire. And now I seem to love him again.

Well, it may not actually be that at all. Probably I am so disgusted with Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that Mahathir appears so much better in comparison. And Mahathir is, again, proving to be a loose cannon — and, as I said, I just love loose cannons — just like in the days before he became Prime Minister. Mahathir is now in ‘opposition’ to Abdullah and Umno. He is against the New Straits Times, the mainstream media, government policies, the rise in petrol prices, the shakeup in Proton, and much more. Mahathir is beginning to think just like how I do.

I hope I don’t start harbouring thoughts that the country would be better off with Mahathir back at the helm. That would be a terrible thought. But when even this thought becomes palatable, that is certainly bad news indeed.

An old friend, now departed, related how the first time he was transferred to a remote rubber estate as the manager he hated it. The women just look so terrible, he sighed. But, after a few months, I found that it was not so bad after all, he related. After six months, the women began to look quite pretty and I actually got quite horny looking at them, my friend said.

Yes, that is the affect when there are no better alternatives — even the terrible ones start looking good. And, today, that is how Mahathir is beginning to appear compared to Abdullah.

Sad, sad indeed, that is how bad things have become. When you start thinking that maybe Mahathir should return as Prime Minister, then you know we are really in the pits. Frightening isn’t it?