Mahathir versus Mahathirism

umar mukhtar

Umar Mukhtar

Whatever the motivations of Dr Mahathir in raising those tough questions casting aspersions on Prime Minister Najib Razak, they remain valid questions that beg answers. The incongruent thing is that Malaysians are assumed to be co-opted into being frustrated at this state of affairs and join in the pressure to remove Najib as PM. As if removing Najib is the solution to our woes!

What is so different about Malaysia under Najib and Malaysia of the last three decades? It has been business as usual, Mahathir-style. Okay, maybe the misrule now is a bit too conspicuous and the social media is too pervasive as not to allow for duping the people so easily. Other than that, things are straight from the Mahathir playbook.

The inheritors of Mahathirism are also expected to at least provide some semblance of political leadership. Yes sure, this, Najib has failed to do. And they are not expected to steal too much and too obvious from the nation coffers. Mahathir had laid down a system expecting these inheritors to be a bit restrained. That is why he took pains to annoint the last two PMs.

After 22 years, Mahathir has left behind a legacy of power consolidation characterised by a multi-layered model that no detractors can easily overcome. Let’s examine how it looks like:

The innermost core sorrounding the PM are close family members, political and business cronies. Remember AIDS; Anwar Ibrahim, Daim, Sanusi? Mirzan, Mokhzani, Kamaluddin, Khairy Jamaluddin? Then Syed Mokhtar, Syed AP and many others. They are fed the most. From negotiated contracts, concessions, privatisation projects, MNOs, and monopolies.

These terms never existed 30 years ago. Mahathir damned the institutions to allow for that. Remember Yeoh Tiong Lay, Arumugam, Ananda Krishnan, Eric Chia, Abu Juling, Patrick Lim, Brahim’s and too many others to mention. The more they are fed, the stronger the core is from external or internal threats. Money speaks. Loud.

The second layer is made up of party warlords and the divisional party leaders who are fed directly or indirectly. They will thwart any internal dissent in return of positions of power that can be very lucrative. You name the government agency and I will nod. The key is to allow them to operate semi-autonomously to allow for an appearance of independent thinking in support of the PM.

The third layer is made up of the beneficiaries, direct and indirect. Ranging from the operators, buyers and sellers of the businesses courtesy of the cronies, to professionals who are ever grateful for being employed in rewarding careers courtesy of well-connected patronage. The civil services of enforcement, regulations, licensing, overseeing, right down to the lowly file-clerks are enriched by dubious sources of income. No Departments are free from this cancer.

The fourth layer are genuine lovers of the Party for its sectarian bias, and they also benefit  materially from numerous credit schemes, incubation schemes, housing assistance, BRIM, taxi and stall licences and local appointments of prestige that entitle them as small town and village nobilities. This is the thickest and most invulnerable layer and consequently the most expensive to maintain. A little bit of skill in political manipulation helps.

The last layer is the fence-sitters. These might turn against you but they are not above ad-hoc remunerations just before the elections. Both for their pockets or their souls.

At first glance, what’s stopping this multi-layered incestous relationships from being a legitimate political and economic model? Isn’t it the government’s role to serve the people? Alas, It will not last because it is a non-inclusive system that sacrifices impartiality, hard-work, meritocracy, the right to dissent, productivity and competitiveness. And money.

It depends on material rewards in return for blind loyalty. After years of such practice, decadence and rot of the human spirit will set in, especially when the government coffers become dry from delirious skimming to satisfy a bottomless pit that lacks motivation to be self-replenishing.

Top-ups like GST is envitible to prop up such a spendthrift habit like a jet-liner for government VIPs in the midst of global economic challenges. The people pay for these indulgences every day every time they spend on their families.

That is actually what Mahathir is afraid of. Collapse of his legacy by shallow-thinking custodians. He wants to correct the Mahathirism abusers not the governing style.

Mahathir is not concerned with the long-term interest of an ever-changing democratic society or the well-being of the disenfranchised. Only his grudges with those who take advantage of Mahathirism. And yet there are shallow-thinking opposition leaders who now welcome Mahathir’s criticisms of Najib as if Mahathir is returning to be our saviour.

So now he takes on a fight against the people who will defend themselves with the very thing he had created to consolidate his power. In the current scenario nothing is more important to these people than money and how to get it easily.

It will not be an easy fight. Money is the prime mover of the layers of that system. Imagine how many people will lose if the boat is rocked! Najib will just have to find more money to feed the monster. And not all of Daim’s money and Mahathir’s own money can compete with the sovereign wealth under Najib’s control.

Now that Mahathir is out of power, what can he offer the Yeoh Tiong Lays and Daims in return? Already he just learnt that not all PM’s wives is like the gracious Dr Siti Hasmah.