Dr Mahathir, tragic Greek hero with a flawed character

(The Independent, Singapore) – As we head into the final stretch of 2019, the Malaysian news maker that has stolen the the headlines and the limelight for all the wrong reasons is Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

A friend commented as I wrote this article, that Aristotle defined a tragic Greek hero as one “who faces adversity, or demonstrates courage, in the face of danger. Sometimes he faces downfall as well.”

The Greek sage added that a tragic hero’s downfall evokes “feelings of pity and fear among the audience.”

While Dr Mahathir fulfils the first part of the definition, he has failed miserably in evoking a sense of pity among the people. In fact, it is now fear that grips the audience for, like a good dramatic play, they do not know what his next catastrophic move will be.

A series of statements and actions by the nonagenarian have simply left Malaysians gasping, befuddled and confused as to what his motives and his designs for ‘New Malaysia’ are.

On the foreign front, Dr Mahathir has managed to earn the ire of India, one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners, endangering a favourable bilateral balance of trade that will sting the oil palm industry, of which a majority of smallholders are Malays.

During a trip to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Dr Mahathir alluded that India had invaded Kashmir, which is historically and factually wrong.

India is an important emerging nation and is the world’s biggest buyer of edible oils. The world’s biggest democracy imports more than RM6 billion in palm oil and palm oil products from Malaysia. It has, in recent times, displaced China, since 2014, as Malaysia’s biggest buyer of palm oil.

Any reduction in exports to India will hurt the entire economy and leave a stinging bite in an already depressed economy.

Industry players are now in a state of shock and do not know what to expect next.

Another catastrophic foreign policy blunder was the recently concluded KL Summit, which saw the attendance of Qatar and Iran, two countries known to be rivals to Saudi Arabia for hegemony in the region.

Whether it was a deliberately calculated move to form a cartel friendly to China and Russia at the expense of Malaysia’s long-held diplomatic practice of non-alignment or just plain naiveté and ignorance, on Dr Mahathir’s part, no one can say.

Master of political irony

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, maintained that matters concerning the Muslim world should be discussed by the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.

The result is that we now have more enemies than during the BN/Najib regime of kleptocratic rule.

On the domestic front, Dr Mahathir seems to be pivotal in causing the breakup of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) biggest coalition member, PKR.

By seemingly backing Azmin Ali, through a series of cryptic statements, he has caused massive fractures and fissures in PKR that threatens to not only to split the party but also the very existence of PH!

There seems to be now serious questions as to if, and not when, Anwar Ibrahim will eventually take over as Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Another friend whom Dr Mahathir seems to have deftly managed to distance from the people is the DAP, the second-largest party in the PH coalition.

A series of arrests of 12 DAP members, including two elected reps, on alleged ties with the defunct LTTE of Sri Lanka under the draconian Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), has riled not just Indian party members but put the Chinese leaders in a quandary as to how to react.

Dr Mahathir is surely the master of political irony. By using the very Act that PH had promised to repeal on DAP members, he has made everyone in the coalition, except his Malay-based Bersatu party, look like a Malaysian version of Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor in the American War of Independence in 1780.

Now, the latest controversy involving the introduction of khat or Jawi script in schools, including vernacular Chinese and Tamil schools, has riled up Chinese educationist group Dong Zong that has vehemently opposed the move.
A planned gathering of 17 groups to organise the “Chinese Organisations Joint Conference” to discuss the khat issue was scuttled just days ago after police secured a court injunction, citing security concerns.

Several NGOs threatened to rally against the holding of the Conference, with one even raising the spectre of the May 13 racial riots if the meeting by the Chinese educationists was allowed to carry on.
The counter-rally by Malay rights NGOs comprising of the Angkatan Gerak Minda Malaysia (Agra), Perkasa and Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS) took the cue from the PM.

Dr Mahathir had given covert support to the NGOs by saying that if Dong Zong had proceeded with the conference, “Malays could be expected to react the ways Malays do.” What that means is left to the fertile imagination of the reader. But the authorities knew, and promptly put an end to that conference.

The final curtain call

But the point is that, instead of calming the potentially explosive situation, the PH leader had, indirectly, given the nod to the counter-rally by not stating in no uncertain terms that the government would not tolerate any breach of the peace.
When Dr Mahathir led the PH coalition to a stunning and completely dramatic electoral victory over the BN coalition, he was touted as the world’s oldest comeback kid, slaying a Goliath on behalf of the people.

But almost two years after that spectacular victory, he is has become the proverbial tragic hero, minus the empathy and sympathy for him.
The question on everyone’s minds, both friend and foe, is what Dr Mahathir’s end game plan is?

If, and when Anwar Ibrahim takes over the premiership, he will be inheriting a devastated foreign front and a divided domestic political platform.

Whoever inherits Dr Mahathir’s office is likely to find a scorched earth so badly burnt, it may never be possible to return Malaysia to the path charted in the PH manifesto on which it was elected to power.

And with that, the end of PH, like the demise of the villain in a Greek tragedy, awaits the final curtain, without an encore for the players.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Independent Singapore. /TISG