Dennis Ignatius: Mahathir’s last hurrah

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Mahathir cannot or will not see that it is only by building a more inclusive society premised upon democracy and good governance that Malaysia can best secure its future.

Earlier this week, Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the formation of a new coalition – Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) – comprising Malay-Muslim political parties, academics and other professionals. Included in the new grouping were Mahathir’s Parti Pejuang , the National Indian Muslim Alliance Party (Iman), Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra)and Parti Barisan Jemaah Islamiyah Se-Malaysia (Berjasa).


He said that the goal of GTA is to save “our country, our nation, our religion” by reuniting Malay-Muslims under a single banner. He made clear that GTA would be going head-to-head with UMNO which he said had deviated from its original struggle. GTA, Mahathir said, will fight for Malay interests, address the issue of Malay poverty and ensure that the Malays get their fair share of the wealth.

Unlike Pakatan Harapan which he was once privileged to lead, Mahathir’s new coalition brings together a bunch of nonentities, nobodies and washed-out politicians; in short, a coalition of losers. Other parties are certainly not going to lose any sleep over such an inconsequential grouping. Mahathir is hoping to field candidates in 120 constituencies come GE15; they have as much of a chance as a snowball in hell.

That all Mahathir could pull together was such a motley collection of piffling parties and personalities is a measure of just how irrelevant he has now become. Though he probably refuses to acknowledge it, the nation has moved past him. He had his chance – not once but twice – and he blew it; few would be willing to give him a third run at the top job.

Of course, he is right to be concerned about money politics, corruption and the incompetence of the current Malay leadership but he is wrong in thinking that race-based political and economic solutions are the way forward.

Malaysia has had almost 50 years of race-based politics and policies, almost half of them under Mahathir himself. In that time, some RM1 trillion has been spent via 50 national budgets and 12 Malaysia Plans. In addition, dozens of different agencies have been established to oversee hundreds of different bumiputera advancement initiatives and programmes. If, after all that, the Bumiputeras still do not have a fair share of the nation’s wealth, as Mahathir claims, then a reasonable conclusion would be that the policy has been an abysmal failure and ought to be ditched.

As many political economists have pointed out, affirmative action policies have been spectacularly abused by the very politicians and their cronies who now pretend to lament the plight of the Malays. It has created a class of corrupt rentier capitalists who have fed like vampires off the rest of the population. It has crippled competition, stifled creativity and left the Malays as a whole dependent on government largesse to survive or succeed. Having squandered so much of the wealth of the nation, Mahathir and other Malay politicians have no business complaining about Malay poverty or offering to remedy the situation. Truth be told, the Malays have more than their fair share of the nation’s wealth; the problem is that it is all concentrated in the hands of a select few.

It is a pity that even now – after having witnessed the disastrous effects of race-based politics and policies – Mahathir cannot or will not see that it is only by building a more inclusive society premised upon democracy and good governance, one that harnesses the talents of all its citizens in equal measure, that Malaysia can best secure its future. It is hard to understand how someone of his intellect and experience can be so blind to what is so glaringly obvious.

But that is Mahathir, hopelessly hemmed in by his race-based worldview, doggedly convinced that it is the only way forward for Malaysia. Indeed, his GTA is but a rehash of what he tried to do the last time he was prime minister – ditch Pakatan Harapan to create a Malay-Muslim coalition under his unchallenged leadership. The Sheraton Move doomed those efforts; he appears to be looking for another way to accomplish the same goal.

Though he is coy about who will be PM if his GTA manages to miraculously win, there’s no mistaking his intentions. He may be 96 but both his ambitions and convictions remain unchanged and undiminished. Perhaps he harbours hopes that his son would ascend to the highest office in the land. But that too would be another mistake given that Mukhriz has been spectacularly mediocre in every position he has ever held.

Hopefully, Mahathir’s latest gambit might serve to awaken Malay voters to the gravest threat they now face; the hopelessly corrupt, abusive, self-seeking, immoral and incompetent leaders that they narcissistically keep returning to power.

As for Mahathir, the GTA will come to be seen as the last hurrah, the sad and ultimate folly of a man who could have become a truly great statesman and leader but for the abhorrent racism that took hold of him. – Dennis Ignatius