“Why Anwar must punish Mahathir”

WHEN you are at the top, like it or not, you are either an example or you must be made an example of.

Leaders are selected because they are presumed to have qualities and characteristics that the group, be it a nation or a tribe, idealizes and wishes to emulate.

Part of the reason why a leader is given power is because as possessors of qualities and characteristics that are idealised by the group, they are authorised by the group to use the power bestowed upon them by the group to instil and cultivate the qualities that they possess in the group.

The problem however, is that as Lord Acton famously said, power has a tendency to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

Once a leader is hoisted into a position of power, sooner or later, the power in their position will almost certainly corrupt the fibre of their being, but being in the position of leadership and possessing power, they will still carry the image of someone that is worth idealising or emulating.

Herein lies the danger. A corrupted leader who is emulated and idealised by the group, will inculcate cancerous traits and characteristics into the group, which will then rot the group from within.

If the rot itself doesn’t kill the group from within, then its weakened state will make it vulnerable to external predators, who are ever looking for weak groups, be it nations or tribes, to prey upon.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in a speech yesterday had ominously warned those who deem themselves to be so untouchable and powerful that they can embezzle huge sums of money without fear of punishment on account of the influence they wield, that the day of reckoning is upon them.

“My room at Sungai Buloh remains vacant,” Anwar said. “Let me make it clear. Whether you hold titles like Datuk Seri, Tan Sri, or Tun, if you are virtuous, we respect you. However, if you engage in corruption, we will apprehend you and imprison you.”

I will go out on a limb to say that Anwar’s warning is directed to people like Tun Daim Zainuddin and Tun Mahathir Mohamad, because he would further add that age is not an obstacle to one being held accountable for their wrongdoing.

“So, if an old person robs, is it acceptable? If an old person rapes, is it acceptable? Where did you learn this?” he lambasted.

“In old cases, if someone took RM200, I forgive them, but in old cases where RM20 bil was taken, that’s not my money, it’s your money, it’s the people’s money,” he was also quoted as saying.

Considering his reference to old age and theft to the amount of billions, the people that first came to my mind in reference to what he said are old timers like Daim and Mahathir, who to be frank are generally considered by the grassroots in the country as chief among those who have taken billions from the country.

Tun Daim Zainuddin (Pic credit: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The fact that Anwar was blasting those who asked him to turn a blind eye to old people who had robbed the country on account of their old age, is to me, also another sign that the people that Anwar wants to put in his old room in Sungai Buloh are old timers like Mahathir and Daim.

People at the grassroots who do not wish to see the likes of Mahathir or Daim being punished mostly cite their age as the reason why they both should not be punished.

Other than their age, many are also of the opinion that these old timers, despite their shortcomings, have done a lot for the country, and thus deserve a get-out-of-jail card, even if they are guilty of doing things like embezzling the wealth of the country, because of their age and contribution.

However, I have to remind you that that in terms of organisational psychology, the likes of Daim and Mahathir have to be seen receiving at least some form of punishment to send a clear signal to the organisation that the qualities that Mahathir and Daim represent are no longer seen as qualities and characteristics that is worthy of emulation and admiration by the organisation.

It is only if we send this signal clearly, will such cancerous practices, like corruption, cronyism or nepotism, which is, rightly or wrongly, associated with the likes of Mahathir and Daim, become a quality that will be rejected by the masses.

As long as Mahathir and Daim prosper and are honoured and esteemed, no matter how many times you tell the people to not practise such things like corruption, or that corruption is an illegal and sinful activity, they will still practise it as it is the nature of people to follow examples, not instructions.

Before he can change the quality and characteristic of the people – or more precisely, before he can reform the quality and characteristics of the people – Anwar will have to establish himself as a leader in the eye of the people, and to do that, he will have to make an example out of the likes of Mahathir and Daim. He has no choice.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Pic credit: Straits Times)

Without taking action against Mahathir and Daim, he cannot claim to have the rights of a leader who has the authority to set the examples and ideals for the nation.

A succeeding leader either inherits the right to lead from his predecessor or wrests the right by overthrowing his predecessor.

If a succeeding leader inherits the right to lead, the succeeding leader must, by and large, use the preceding leader as an example for the nation.

They can add characteristics of their own or subtract some aspect of the earlier leadership that no longer fit the times, but by and large, they must still use the preceding leader as an example for the nation.

If the succeeding leader gains the right to lead by overthrowing his predecessor however, the succeeding leader must make an example of the preceding leader, to justify the reason why he or she overthrew the preceding leadership.

A person cannot simply overthrow the reign of a country to satisfy their personal desires or ambitions.

If you overthrow the leadership of a country, it must be because you are concerned that the ideals and examples set by the previous leader are going to bring ruin to the nation and the people.

If Anwar doesn’t take any action against the old order, it will look like he only overthrew the previous regime to satisfy his own desire, which will then cause him to lose his right to set an example for the people and the nation.

Like it or not, Anwar must act against Mahathir and members of the old regime, because he is compelled to do so, by powers beyond his ken.

We can hope that he will be benign and magnanimous in punishing the members of the old order – in that he has a choice – but he must punish them, at least symbolically, or else lose his right to lead the nation. – Feb 22, 2024


Nehru Sathiamoorthy is the author of “While Waiting for the World to End”. He was a columnist at FMT and a frequent contributor to the South China Morning Post, The Star, Malaysia Today, MalaysiaNow, MalaysiaKini and Focus Malaysia.

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


Main pic credit: Getty Images


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