Mahathir’s Lasting Shadow


For Mahathir, the choice is clear: he will remove any of his successors who try or even appear to undermine Ketuanan Melayu

Prof James Chin

There is an ongoing debate about Mahathir’s motives in working with key opposition figures such as Maria Chin Abdullah, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, Mahfuz Omar, Mustafa Ali  and Azmin Ali, to remove Najib Razak from power.

In fact, Mahathir’s idea of the People’s Declaration has sharply divided civil society, with many questioning the need to “sleep on the same bed” with Mahathir to get rid of Najib. There is real fear that once Mahathir achieves his objective, he will regain control of UMNO and the opposition will be back in square one, or worse. The other strong argument is that Mahathir is the cause of the present rot in Malaysia’s political system and helping him to get rid of Najib is to help him restore the system that is absolutely corrupt and racist. Others simply think by working with Mahathir, key opposition figures are showing their true colours- political expedience and hypocrisy in the highest order.

Those who signed argue that while Mahathir is guilty of human rights abuses, corruption and racism on top of cementing a race-based political system, removing Najib is a national emergency. If Najib is not removed, the country will literally “go down the drain”. Hence the tagline “Save Malaysia”.  In other words Najib represents a bigger threat to Malaysia than Mahathir. Mahathir can pay for his many, many sins at a later date.

Raja Petra Kamarudin (creator of Malaysia-Today website) on the other hand, argues that Mahathir’s main motivation is ensuring that his son, Mukhriz, gets a pathway to be a future PM of Malaysia. It has nothing to do with “Save Malaysia”.

In a book published last year, Prof James Chin, a leading scholar of Malaysian politics from the University of Tasmania, argues that the primary motivation for Mahathir’s move to replace Najib can be summarised into the following,

1) Mahathir wants continuity in his policies, and perhaps more importantly, to maintain a political system based on UMNO and Malay hegemony.

2) Keeping UMNO in power and Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) are both one and the same. For Mahathir, keeping a race-based political system using Ketuanan Melayu is the key to keeping UMNO in power

3) keeping UMNO in power allows the creation of the Mahathir family political dynasty, ie, Mukhriz as a future PM

He concludes that Mahathir continued role in Malaysian politics has stunted political developments in the country and held Malaysia back from breaking free from an ethnic-based political system.

You can read the full chapter here: