Dr Mahathir, you were the one that divided the Malays — Taufiq Ahmad

Despite previous vows never to work with those who “stabbed him in the back,” he finds himself in the same boat as the same political enemies that tormented him in his first tenure as prime minister.

(MMO) – Former Malaysian prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently expressed concerns about the division among the Malays. According to him, the unity of the Malay community weakened under the leadership of his successors. During his 22-year tenure, the Malays largely supported the United Malays National Organisation (Umno). However, after his resignation in 2003, when he handed over power to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Umno faced challenges and lost control of five states in the 2008 general election.

Yet it is important to recognise that the root of these issues lies with Dr Mahathir himself. Dr Mahathir rose to power under favourable conditions. Malaysia’s economy had been growing robustly for decades, thanks to the prudent economic management of a highly competent bureaucracy. Governance and tax collection were efficient, and debts were minimal. Natural resource wealth, including oil, was managed professionally.

A decade of robust redistribution to the country’s ethnic Malay majority had restored social stability after the race riots of 1969. Foreign investment was abundant and set to increase even further. Dr Mahathir inherited one of the most cohesive ruling parties (the United Malays National Organisation, or Umno) and coalitions (the Barisan Nasional, or BN) in the world. The regime was authoritarian but not excessively repressive or disliked in comparative terms. In short, Dr Mahathir held a strong position when he became prime minister in 1981.

Privatisation was part of his growth strategy, but the beneficiaries were businessmen loyal to him rather than talented entrepreneurs. When the global economy entered a recession in the mid-1980s, patronage began to dwindle. Umno split, largely due to Dr Mahathir’s heavy-handed style of governance. Dr Mahathir’s two most talented rivals, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Tun Musa Hitam, left Umno despite their deep personal ties to the party, mainly to distance themselves from Dr Mahathir. In response, Dr Mahathir launched a police operation under the pretext of racial tensions, imprisoning and intimidating political opponents, and solidifying his autocratic control.

So much for unifying the Malay polity.

By the late 1980s, all the defining features of Malaysia’s current crisis under Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership were already evident under Dr Mahathir. The regime was becoming more repressive. The office of prime minister was turning into a bastion of autocracy. Ethnic tensions were being exploited for political gain, especially after severe election losses at the hands of the opposition. The economy was becoming worry[some]

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