Friday, May 04, 2007

Machiavelli to the max

A flurry of trials and litigations are going through the Malaysian courts, reminiscent of days gone by when court decisions spelled doom and the end of the political careers for those who walk through the corridors of power. Will 2007 be a repeat of 1957, 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997? Are we seeing yet more political upheaval and turmoil that swamps Malaysia’s shores every decade like the dreaded Tsunami that taught Malaysians, who had never heard of such things before, the meaning of the word? Marriages are said to suffer the ‘seven year itch’ when spouses decide to graze in greener pastures. Political ‘marriages’ are no less spared this ‘seven year itch’, only that it comes around every ten years instead.

Not all Malaysians were born around the time of Merdeka. Then, Malaysia’s population was less than half of what it is today. Many were also not born before the ‘historic’ race riots of 13 May 1969 -- and what they know about that most infamous black mark in Malaysia’s history is what has been related by those who witnessed it firsthand or by those who heard about it from others before them. At best the stories are hearsay and subject to additions and omissions according to the taste buds of the story tellers.

What really happened every ten years since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in August 1957? The history books do not tell us everything. Many remain an untold story. For that matter, Malaysian history books allowed into the classrooms are a load of hogwash that tell us nothing but crap. And those books that do relate the truth are banned because the government needs to ‘protect’ Malaysians who are not able to think for themselves. Malaysians cannot handle the truth and the truth may hurt their feelings. And once feelings get hurt Malaysians may act on it and run riot in the streets. That is how gullible and immature Malaysians are, or so the government thinks. So Malaysians need to be protected from the truth for their own good. Better the truth remains hidden than Malaysians become upset. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, the old saying goes.

1957 was when this nation was born. That was the first change to Malaysia’s political landscape; the first ‘upheaval’ and ‘turmoil’ if you wish. The first ten years till 1967 were bliss and paradise for this newly emerged nation-state. Then the bubble burst. The honeymoon lasted just ten years, but after that the ‘ten year itch’ set in. Tunku Abdul Rahman was great. He was the man who brought this country into nationhood. He was the Father of Independence who led the movement to remove the cloak of imperialism from what was then one of the few remaining western colonies in this region. But it was now time for him to go. A leadership change was in the cards. New blood needed to be infused into the political system. And the old blood, the pre-Merdeka generation, needed to be flushed out of the political system.

But change must have a ‘reason’. A reason would be needed to act as the trigger. Change for the sake of change is not on. Change in reaction to events would be more palatable. And a ‘special’ event would be needed to trigger change. The move to cast the Tunku aside was mooted. The plan was put into motion. And the greatly required trigger came in the form of the 1969 general election that saw the ruling party demolished in many parts of Malaysia, rural as well as urban.

The Tunku’s fate was sealed in 1967. The final nail in his coffin was hammered in 1969. The following year, 22 September 1970, Malaysia received its blood transfusion so much sought after. The Old Guard moved aside to allow the Young Turks to take over. New personalities now walked through the corridors of power. The Tunku was now in forced retirement. Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was now Malaysia’s new Prime Minister.

As they say, man proposes, but God disposes. And divine intervention invariably always changes the course of history. What we see today is not what was planned. What was planned is something else. But God, in His wisdom, decided that some divine intervention was in order to influence the political landscape of Malaysia. Raslan died in that most tragic car crash in front of what, today, is the Federal Territory zakat department next door to the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Raslan, one of the first Malay accountants -- and the head of the first Bumiputera bank mooted soon after the First Bumiputera Economic Congress even before the advent of the New Economic Policy in 1970 -- met a fiery death when his Lamborghini burst into flames after it hit the wall. The tragedy of his death was not just about the loss of one of the most prominent Malays of that time. It was the fact that the seat belt he was wearing trapped him in the ball of flame while his wife, who was not using a seat belt, got thrown out of the car and survived.

That ended the life of Raslan who would probably have taken Malaysia by storm in time to come had he lived. No longer would Malaysia benefit from his acumen and expertise. A vacuum was created. And, according to the laws of physics, vacuums have a way of filling itself. So enters Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to fill this vacuum. Ku Li is the beneficiary of circumstances. He did not ask for it. Divine intervention determined he would be it. And Ku Li took over where Raslan left off and took the bank to new heights. As they say, one man’s loss is another man’s gain.

By then the Tunku had already moved aside for his deputy, Tun Razak, to take over. It was not a natural succession or a career progression for Tun Razak. It was a coup, though not of the military kind. Malaysia can never accommodate military coups. Coups can happen though, but it must be a political coup. And a political coup it certainly was. And the Tunku exited and Tun Razak entered. It was political chaos at its best. It was calm on the outside but turmoil on the inside. It was like a deep river that is calm on the surface but churning at its bed. And that is what Malay politics is all about. It is like the Malay art of self-defence called silat. A lot of dancing and prancing but one never knows when that most fatal thrust will be delivered. But it will be just one thrust. It will be a thrust when the dancing ends and the players have had enough. And that one thrust is all it takes to end the match.

But divine intervention came into play yet again. A smooth succession had been planned. Tun Razak was in the driver’s seat. And he had placed his successor in the co-driver’s seat ready to take over when the time came for him to exit from the corridors of power. Unfortunately, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman died an untimely death on 2 August 1973 leaving Tun Razak the job of steering the country forward all by himself.

Tun Razak now needed a new co-driver. But the anointed co-driver was just too busy. He had much on his plate. He was the man who was busy charting Malaysia’s economic growth. He was the man who would be the architect of Malaysia’s new found wealth. He would set up the system on how Malaysia’s liquid gold would be managed, which today is the blueprint for all oil producing nations. Many do not know that Malaysia set the trend for the rest of the world to follow. The Petronas model would be the yardstick used by all oil producing countries to negotiate their profit sharing agreements with the oil exploration companies. And this acclaimed architect was Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the new guru of the oil industry, the man whose career was pushed to new heights after the death of Raslan.

Ku Li should have been the new deputy. He should have been the successor to Tun Dr Ismail. But Ku Li is too valuable to waste as a mere deputy prime minister. His brain is needed in another area. He must be the architect and engineer of Malaysia’s economic growth. He would chart Malaysia’s journey from an agricultural-based country into a modern industrial-based and oil producing nation. Why waste his talents as a mere deputy prime minister? His time will come. After all, he is a mere 36 years old, still too young to sit in the co-driver’s seat. His time will come when he has completed his most important assignment. And when Tun Razak is ready to move aside in years to come, when Tengku Razaleigh would then be old enough, he would most certainly be the one to take over.

In the meantime, yet another vacuum needs to be filled. And it shall have to be filled by a mediocre deputy who would not hold on to the job and refuse to let go when it is time for him to go. This man was Hussein Onn. He would be a safe enough deputy. He could be coaxed to retire when his time is up. And he is not strong enough to make an impact to an extent Malaysians would be sad to see him go.

But man proposes and God disposes. Tun Razak never lasted the full trip. He did not live long enough to install Ku Li as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia. He, just like Raslan and Tun Dr Ismail before that, died before his time on 14 January 1976. Another vacuum was now created. And this time the vacuum was right at the top. And the mediocre number two whose only job was to fill a vacuum and keep the seat warm for Ku Li ended up taking over instead. Tun Razak knew he was dying. He knew he did not have long to go. And he wanted Ku Li as the new number two when he takes his last breath. That was his death-bed wish. But Hussein Onn was not the bulldozer equipped to carry out this last will and testament of a dying prime minister.

Hussein Onn was under pressure. He wanted Ghazali Shafie as his number two. But King Ghaz was not an Umno Vice President. There are of course no rules to this game. The law does not require one of the three number threes fill the vacuum in the number two slot. It is mere tradition and traditions can be broken if one so wishes. But it takes a strong man to break tradition. And a strong man would have appointed King Ghaz as the new number two if that is what he really wished. But Hussein Onn was not a strong man. And he dared not fight tradition.

The three vice presidents confronted Hussein Onn and demanded that the new number two be from amongst them. Hussein Onn had three choices; Ghaffar Baba, Ku Li, or Dr Mahathir Mohamad. These are the three vice presidents. And one of them, not King Ghaz, must be that new deputy. Ghaffar Baba was the vice president with the highest votes. But he would not have made a suitable number two because of his educational background. So it would have to be Ku Li, the vice president with the second-highest votes and certainly the man with the best credentials. But Ku Li was barely 40. So he declined the job. Anyway, he still had much to do planning Malaysia’s economy. He asked instead that Hussein Onn choose Dr Mahathir, the vice President with the lowest votes, but certainly one with the right credentials. And with that Dr Mahathir became the new Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. And when Dr Mahathir finally succeeds Hussein Onn as prime minister he would take Ku Li as his deputy. By then Ku Li would be ready and of the right age.

But Dr Mahathir was not one to wait his turn. Politics is not about waiting. Politics is about grabbing what you desire and realising what you aspire. Power cannot be offered. Power must be taken. And good politicians must be Machiavellian. That is the mark of a good politician. And being the Machiavellian politician that he is, Dr Mahathir made his move to wrest power from Hussein Onn just like Tun Razak did before that with the Tunku.

Dr Mahathir skilfully pushed Hussein Onn into a corner and sandwiched him between a rock and a hard place. Hussein Onn was weak in resolve. But he was strong in principles. Dr Mahathir pushed for Datuk Harun’s pardon. Umno had voted for Datuk Harun while he was still languishing in Pudu Jail. Datuk Harun was now one of Umno’s vice presidents. Umno had spoken. It wanted Datuk Harun. The strong-principled Hussein Onn would not budge. Umno must choose between him and Datuk Harun. It cannot be both. Umno chose Datuk Harun. Hussein Onn kept his word and left on 16 July 1981. A vacuum was created yet again and Dr Mahathir, the number two, filled the vacuum and took over as prime minister.

But Dr Mahathir is not a traditionalist. He never follows norm. He will not appoint one of the three vice presidents as the new number two. He will not fulfil Tun Razak’s deathbed wish by appointing Ku Li as his deputy. He will not abide to the ‘agreement’ that Ku Li would be his anointed second-in-command when he finally takes over as prime minister. He will let the party decide that. The prospective candidates will have to slug it out. And may the best man win! Tradition has been broken. For the first time they will need to contest the seat of number two. The successor will not be handpicked. He will fight for the job.

Musa Hitam and Ku Li slugged it out. Who does Dr Mahathir favour? The members need a signal who to vote for. But Dr Mahathir stayed neutral. Let democracy prevail. Let it be the members’ choice. The president will not interfere. But they read certain signals. They read between the lines of course. And the impression seemed to point to Musa. So the members chose Musa. And Ku Li lost his ‘inheritance’. He who should be prime minister was not even the deputy prime minister. Tun Razak is dead. So his legacy died with him. Ku Li who is Tun Razak’s choice would not be it. Musa was it.

But Ku Li would not be sidelined. He knew the job was his. The job was his back when Tun Razak took over from the Tunku. But he was busy then. He had a job to do. He needed to chart Malaysia’s economic future. The job of deputy prime minister had to wait. There are more important things on hand. But then who thought that Tun Dr Ismail would die? Who thought that Tun Razak would die? Who thought that two deaths in a row would rob him of the job? And who thought that Dr Mahathir would throw the decision who should be number two to the members to decide? And they read the signals wrong. But was it really wrong? Were the signals right? Did Dr Mahathir really prefer Musa over Ku Li? Whatever it may be, Musa got the job.

Ku Li tried a second time around. But the first time it was two people in a race to fill a vacuum. The second round was a bid to unseat an incumbent. It was no longer just a race to the finishing line like the first time around. This time it was a bid to topple a leader already in office. But Ku Li failed. So Ku Li must be punished. Dr Mahathir must remove him from the post of Finance Minister. Ku Li must be sent into retirement. Dr Mahathir did remove him as Finance Minister of course. But he was not sent into retirement. He was ‘demoted’ to the job of Trade and Industry Minister. And this made Musa mad as hell. He knew that Dr Mahathir was keeping Ku Li around just to even the odds and balance things a bit. With Ku Li gone Musa would become all powerful. With Ku Li still around, Musa would have an adversary staring him in the face. Dr Mahathir, being the skilled Machiavellian politician that is, knows how to play the divide and rule game. And Ku Li as Trade Minister would keep Musa in check.

Musa was extremely upset. In 1986 he left in a huff allowing Ghaffar Baba to take over. No one suspected that Ghaffar would be the next Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, not even Ghaffar himself who one day before that lamented before Datuk Nik Hassan, the one-time Menteri Besar of Terengganu, that he is ‘finished’. In fact, Chartered Bank had published a notice in the newspapers that it is taking bankruptcy action against Ghaffar -- which it withdrew the day after Ghaffar was appointed the deputy prime minister.

Musa coaxed his archenemy Ku Li to join him in a challenge for the prime minister’s post. Musa first announced the challenge in Johor but Ku Li kept silent and did not respond. The second announcement was made in Gua Musang, Kelantan, and still Ku Li kept silent. By the third announcement in Gong Kapas, Terengganu, Ku Li accepted the challenge and announced his bid for the presidency to the thunderous applause of the crowd. In 1987, Ku Li and Musa took on Mahathir and Ghaffar, and lost.

1957, Merdeka, and Malaysia breaks away from Britain.1967, the conspiracy to oust the Tunku is hatched.1977, a new power equation in Malaysian politics is formed and a new political landscape emerges.1987, the Team A versus Team B tussle and a ‘new’ Umno is born. Yes, every ten years Umno goes through a ‘rejuvenating’ exercise, the ten-year itch of Malaysian politics. Four decades, four episodes of political turmoil. But it does not end there. We still have 1997. 1997 was the advent of the Asian Financial Crisis. Malaysia is under attack. Dr Mahathir is also, again, under attack, just like he was ten years before that in 1987.

Dr Mahathir is now under siege. Malaysia is also under siege. Anwar Ibrahim had 80% of the Supreme Council Members, Chief Ministers/Menteris Besar and Cabinet Ministers behind him. Dr Mahathir was caught with his pants down. He now had two battle fronts to fight. He had the economy that was under attack to worry about. He also had Anwar Ibrahim to take care of. One was an external attack. The other was an internal attack. But both the external and internal forces could move in concert to sandwich Dr Mahathir and squeeze him out. And they can do it at the drop of a hat.

Dr Mahathir needed help. Anwar had given him an ultimatum to resign or get kicked out. A White Knight galloped in on his white horse. And this White Knight was called Daim Zainuddin. Dr Mahathir needs help? Fine, Daim will help. But Dr Mahathir must first sit back and leave everything to him and not make even a squeak. Daim would do it his way and only his way. Dr Mahathir is not to lodge a protest, not even a whisper. It must be a total hands-off situation. Dr Mahathir can go to hell, or he can be saved. The option is up to Dr Mahathir. Daim will determine the rules of the game. And Dr Mahathir will dance to Daim’s tune. Take it or leave it. It is up to Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir was dead meat anyway. So what did he have to lose? He is under attack. Malaysia is under attack. He might as well give Daim the freehand that he seeks. On the word go, Daim moved his forces. He brought back RM20 billion stashed overseas. He injected RM52 billion into MTEN that had been earlier created by Anwar. They used this money pumped into Danaharta to buy up all the bank and corporate debts. Daim then implemented currency controls. Malaysia was successfully saved but at great expense to the taxpayers. But Daim would not include Dr Mahathir’s family in the bailout exercise. Everyone else would be saved. Dr Mahathir was on his own, abandoned by Daim.

Dr Mahathir had no choice but to solve his family’s problems himself. Petronas stepped in and took Dr Mahathir’s son’s shipping company off his hands. It was a fire sale. Dr Mahathir’s son would still be lumbered with massive debts even after Petronas takes over his company. And Petronas would make hundreds of millions in profit on the deal. But the profit would not go to Dr Mahathir’s son. Petronas would enjoy it. Dr Mahathir’s family would have to suffer a wipe-out. They would lose their underwear. Dr Mahathir was devastated. He did not realise he had created a monster going by the name of Daim Zainuddin. It was a case of a bigger devil taking care of a smaller devil. Maybe one would have been better off dealing with the smaller devil oneself. Daim bypassed Parliament and the Cabinet with full and legal authority and salvaged Malaysia’s economy. But he left Dr Mahathir and his family to die.

Daim then moved in on Anwar. He had solved the external problem so it was now time to take care of the internal problem. The plot was hatched. Anwar was axed and Dr Mahathir was given the unpleasant task of holding the axe dripping with blood and announce to the world why Anwar had to be axed. But the script was written by Daim and Dr Mahathir had no choice but to follow the script. Daim had Dr Mahathir’s balls in his hands. Either he play ball or the same axe would be used on his neck as well.

Umno turned on Dr Mahathir, as Daim knew it would. The country turned on Dr Mahathir, as Daim had anticipated. Reformasi was born, much to Daim’s delight. Street demonstrations exploded on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Dr Mahathir was now again under siege. Earlier it was Anwar who demanded his resignation. Now Daim was demanding his resignation. Go and go now, said Daim. Daim wanted Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to take over as Prime Minister with Khalil Yaacob as his deputy. Daim had the succession well-planned. Abdullah and Khalil would serve him well. They will be his stooges and willing servants. Abdullah was spineless and Khalil was dirtier than a pig in a pigsty. What better underlings to have than these two?

Dr Mahathir could not fight Daim who now had both Umno and the government in his pocket. At best he could shuffle his feet and play for time. Dr Mahathir promised to resign but only after the 1999 general elections. But Daim did not want him to go after the 1999 general elections. He wanted Dr Mahathir out before the general elections. But Dr Mahathir would not go. He insisted on waiting until after the general elections. Daim had to do something to persuade Dr Mahathir to leave. Dr Mahathir had promised to go once the problem of the economy and Anwar have been taken care of. Well, the two problems have already been solved. But Dr Mahathir would not go as promised.

Daim engineered Dr Mahathir’s defeat in the 1999 general elections. He sent his people to penetrate Reformasi. They needed Reformasi to bring Dr Mahathir down. They brought down Najib Tun Razak, Mahathir’s ally, in Pekan. Najib lost the Pekan Parliamentary seat in 1999. But then Dr Mahathir sent a couple of bags of postal votes to Pekan and saved Najib’s skin. Najib was returned in Pekan but as Wakil Pos, not Wakil Rakyat. Kelantan stayed opposition and Terengganu fell. Eight of the 15 Parliamentary seats in Kedah, more than half, fell to the opposition. But still Dr Mahathir would not resign. In the Lunas by-election, exactly one year after the 1999 General Election, Daim sent in his people to ‘give’ the seat to Parti Keadilan Nasional. Daim’s people in Reformasi engineered the defeat of Barisan Nasional thereby causing it to also lose its two-thirds majority in the Kedah State Assembly, Dr Mahathir’s home state. But still Dr Mahathir would not resign. Daim was exasperated. How in heaven’s name does he get rid of this most recalcitrant old man?

In 2001, once the economy had returned to normal, Dr Mahathir turned on Daim. He demanded that Daim hand back Umno’s money. Daim was in possession of tens of billions of Umno’s money scattered all over the world. The RM20 billion that Daim brought back to Malaysia was not his money but Umno’s. And there was still more, much more, in half a dozen banks in several countries in Africa that Daim had bought. Daim disputed the accounts but he would not produce the evidence. He does not owe Umno any money but instead Umno owes him, argued Daim. Where are the accounts, demanded Dr Mahathir. No accounts were forthcoming. Daim could not back what he says with evidence and Dr Mahathir pressed home with the bombshell.

Daim had used RM52 billion of the nation’s money to salvage the banks and corporations aligned to him. Dr Mahathir’s family was not included in the rescue exercise. And it is Daim’s and not Dr Mahathir’s signature on all the documents. Now it was Daim’s balls in Dr Mahathir’s hands instead. Dr Mahathir is not going to resign. Daim instead would have to resign. And Daim had no choice but to resign or else face a downfall of gigantic proportions. And with that Daim left the country and made Africa his new home.

Now that everything had returned to normal and with Umno safely out of Daim’s control, Dr Mahathir could clean up the party once and for all. Umno needed more than just a reformation. It needed more than just an overhaul. It needed a major makeover. There was a need for an even newer ‘new’ Umno. But first he needed to resign and hand the reins over to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Once Abdullah was in charge, the revamping can take place. He could not do this while still holding the office of Prime Minister. He must do this from the outside with Abdullah running the show. Only then will the whole exercise succeed. And with Abdullah planted in the seat of Prime Minister and Najib in the seat of Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir went to work.

1957, 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 -- five turning points for Malaysian politics. One more decade, 2007, the last decade, would be the final turning point for Malaysian politics. But what is Dr Mahathir cooking? What does he have up his sleeve? What has 2007 in store for us? What will we see in this final decade?

Dr Mahathir appears to have many lives that even cats do not possess. But how many of these nine lives has he used thus far and how many more remain? Or has he used up his full quota and will he finally bite the dust as many hope he would? Many would like this to be Dr Mahathir’s final curtain call. But the show is not over till the fat lady sings. And the fat lady has been maintaining a deafening silence. How ironical that the only Cabinet member without balls is the one with the balls. What happened to all those others with balls, especially he with the loudest mouth and who hates Mahathir the most? Why are they playing footsy with the Prime Minister’s son-in-law instead of doing the job they are being paid to do; acting as trustees to our tax money?

And where does Ku Li fit in this whole scheme of arrangements? Why did he close down his Semangat 46 and rejoin Umno? Was this move tailored to dovetail into Dr Mahathir’s plan to get rid of Anwar? Why then did Abdullah and not Ku Li replace Anwar as the Deputy Prime Minister? Was this Dr Mahathir’s choice or something that Daim gave him no choice in? And why Najib as the number two? Did someone put a gun to Dr Mahathir’s head in the matter of the removal of Anwar, the appointment of Abdullah, and later the appointment of Najib as well? If so, who then was the one who held the gun at Dr Mahathir’s head and what was it they had on him that tied his hands good and proper? And how did Dr Mahathir eventually manage to untie his hands and turn the tables on his captors?

Hey, this piece is already more than seven pages long. Cukuplah! You don’t expect me to go on and on and answer all these questions do you? Anyway, why spoil everybody’s fun by revealing all now? Oh, I forgot, I opened this piece by saying “A flurry of trials and litigations are going through the Malaysian courts, reminiscent of days gone by when court decisions spelled doom and the end of the political careers of those who walk through the corridors of power.” Well, that is the key to the whole issue.

There are five ongoing court cases -- okay, six if you include mine where I am being sued for RM85 million by a very unhappy Malaysia Today reader -- and these court cases will be the trigger that will bring change to Malaysia’s political landscape. That will be when Dr Mahathir plays his final hand and prove that he had everything under control ever since he first made his move on Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1967. Yes, 40 years, that is how long Dr Mahathir has been playing the political game. And he never lost the plot all along. Ku Li thought he did in 1987. Anwar thought he did in 1997. Daim thought he did in 1999. But Dr Mahathir outlived and outlasted them all. But is this Dr Mahathir’s endgame or the end of Dr Mahathir’s game? Is this Dr Mahathir’s final curtain or has he still a life or two up his sleeve unused? Well, you be the judge come 2008. I will stop here for the meantime and allow some things to remain unsaid. After all, why would I want to reveal what Dr Mahathir is up to and spoil the plot?

From Malaysia Today's Corridors of Power

2 comments:

Selva said...

I am not a supporter of the government

However, I think RPK deserves to be sued for writing something like this...almost none of the speculations he has written is backed up by hard evidence

But then again, what an entertaining piece of work! MT - Berita Terkini, Hiburan sensasi!

penangite said...

reminds me of his article entitled 'Facts, Fallacy and Fiction'. So this could be fiction. Maybe he should just put an advance statement whereby 'all characters are purely coincidental..bla blah..tiada kena mengena dengan hidup mahupun mati'.