“No way Tun M can bounce back for he’s just a pale shadow of his former self”

POLITICAL scientist James Chin is of the opinion that twice former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad might make a comeback. I don’t know about that. In my mind, I am quite sure that Mahathir is a spent force.

Dr Mahathir is almost 100 years-old and he does not have an organisation or machinery to back him. Since he resigned in 2003, we can clearly see that Dr Mahathir is not an esteemed figure whose wisdom and counsel are sought out by younger politicians.

It is precisely because his successors in UMNO, Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) and Datuk Seri Najib Razak do not see him as a wise person whose advice and counsel is invaluable to them so much so that their relationship with him became estranged.

In reaction to his deteriorating relationship with his successors in UMNO, Dr Mahathir left UMNO which then left him bereft of the backing of a powerful organisation and machinery.

Without a powerful organisation and machinery, Dr Mahathir only has his brand to keep himself relevant. Brand Mahathir as we can see in his foray in Pakatan Harapan (PH) in 2018 is something politicians outside of UMNO only seek to exploit, not value.

PH only expected to leverage Brand Mahathir to get them to Putrajaya. They had no desire to submit to his directions or actually give him any real power once they arrived at Putrajaya. Even if Dr Mahathir leads Perikatan Nasional (PN) today, PN will also likely just desire to use Brand Mahathir to get them to Putrajaya.

Just like DAP and PKR had no desire to actually follow his lead in 2018, Bersatu and PAS are not going to care very much for his direction either. They have their own leaders and system and method and ideologies which don’t recognise Dr Mahathir’s relevance and which Dr Mahathir cannot identify with.

Crediting Tun M’s predecessors

One’s position in an organisation is something that takes a lifetime to cultivate. The nature of relationships and entanglement is as such that the longer one belongs in an organisation and the higher one is stationed, one’s presence and influence will pervade throughout the organisation to the point that the organisation itself will identify with one.

As long as one remains in that organisation, one will have immense power and strength because one’s power and strength is backed by the organisation itself. Such power and strength, however, is not transferable.

When one leaves that organisation and joins another organisation, one has to leave behind that power and strength. Without UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN), Dr Mahathir will never be able to wield any real power.

Without any real power, Dr Mahathir is not going to be able to establish any legacy in terms of ideology or successors. The chances that Dr Mahathir will be able to groom Mukhriz as a future PM of Malaysia is next to nil. He doesn’t have that clout and Mukhriz – to be frank – is just not cut out for it.

James Chin argues that Dr Mahathir’s “legacy is assured” and that one “cannot write a book about Malaysia without mentioning his name”.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

This is true but having legacy alone is not enough for it is what sort of legacy also matters. Dr Mahathir would obviously like to be remembered as the father of modern Malaysia. But without him having control of the narrative, he might lose this legacy.

To be frank, I also believe that the credit for modernising Malaysia should rightfully go to Dr Mahathir’s predecessors who laboured to enable the conditions for Malaysia to rise and progress.

They are the ones that laid the foundation of modernisation. They are the ones who created an efficient and highly respected civil service, courts, schools, institutions, processes and policies.

Right timing

Dr Mahathir was just someone who arrived at the time when the seed that they planted and cultivated had turned into a fruit bearing tree. Just because he was lucky enough to reign as the prime minister (PM) during harvest time, it doesn’t mean that he was the one that is responsible for the harvest.

Just like how it is our first three PMs in the 1960s and 1970s that should be credited with the good times we had in the 1980s and 1990s, Dr Mahathir should actually be judged for the way that Malaysia has fared in the 2000s till today.

If you watch the movie Anwar: The untold Story that debuted a few months ago, you can clearly see that if Anwar continues to reign, Dr Mahathir will be blamed for many of the problems that we are seeing in Malaysia today.

If Anwar continues to reign, I will bet my last ringgit that Dr Mahathir’s legacy will be blackened to point that he will be seen as the cause of racial tension, corruption, nepotism and the debasement of our civil service, courts, schools, institutions, processes and policies.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (left) and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

It is not hard to pin the blame of all that ails Malaysia today on Dr Mahathir either because it is not even untrue.

Everybody assumes that Dr Mahathir is just being difficult today because things are not going his way but the truth is that he is probably just petrified. In his extreme old age, there is a very real prospect that his legacies will be wiped out and his past sins might be catching up to him.

Some people run when they are afraid but others stand and fight. To his credit, Dr Mahathir has always been the second latter. Say what you want about him but nobody can deny that he is a fighter.

Preserving legacy

Dr Mahathir has won all of his previous fights. He has continuously won for longer than many of us are alive. Now in his sunset years, he faces the prospect of a final and grand defeat. It is a defeat so final and grand that it might wipe out all of his previous wins.

Dr Mahathir is like a man who has done whatever needs to be done to climb to the highest position in life but just to find out that in the end, he has reached an edge from where there is no place to go but down.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has not only failed to defend his Langkawi parliamentary seat during last year’s 15tth General Election (GE15) but also lost his deposit in the process. Interestingly, Pejuang encountered a total wipe-out in GE15 when all of its candidates lost their deposits, including Dr Mahathir’s supposedly political heir Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir.

Behind him, he can hear the footsteps of past sins catching up to him. He is afraid that everybody that he pushes down in order to climb up will soon be reaching him. When they reach him, he is sure that they are going to push him over the ledge.

In response to his fear – like a cornered beast – he is lashing out even at the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Contrary to what most people believe, as we age and come closer to death, we don’t lose interest in life. We will instead just imagine continuing our life in some other manner.

Some people imagine a life that will continue in a paradise or a heaven, others imagine it to continue through the lives of their children or grandchildren while some imagine it to continue in the legacy they live behind.

To those who imagine that their life will continue in the legacy they leave behind, seeing your legacy debased is as painful as seeing all your children die before you or believing that the gates of heaven will not be open for you.

It is the pain of knowing that your legacy will almost certainly be debased and go to ruin that is what is prompting Dr Mahathir to do whatever he is doing today. – Nov 26, 2023


Nehru Sathiamoorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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