Saturday, May 23, 2009



MAY 24 - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has a legitimate grouse.

He should not be the only former Malaysian prime minister with an "ism'' tagged on to his name.

Sure, he emasculated Malaysia's proud and independent institutions; encouraged and then watched helplessly as form over substance Islamization forever changed the complexion of this once progressive and moderate nation; swatted away dissenters like pesky mosquitoes and put Malaysians on a path which left them strangers.

The impact of Mahathirism goes on and on. Hardly surprising since he led this country for 22 years.

If today, some Malaysians, Opposition politicians, NGOs and foreign commentators dread the return of Mahathirism, it is because they have been witnesses to the excesses of the Mahathir years.
They also understand a fact of life here: the former premier will not stay retired or a disinterested observer of politics when his ideas, policies and plans are disregarded by the Najib administration.

But let's be fair. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is also culpable for the fine mess we find ourselves in. In some ways, he was more dangerous for the country than Mahathirism.

With Dr Mahathir, what you got was what you saw. There was little pretence. He did not care for human rights, democratic space and opinions other than his own.

The ends justified the means. Full stop.

Now Abdullah was more difficult to pigeon hole. He sold Malaysians a dream. He offered Malaysians an illusion of change.

He deluded the public into believing that he was interested in the software of the country, in rehabilitating the judiciary, police and the civil service.

Badawism represents an illusion of change. Important announcements, followed by spin, followed by the realization that the more things changed the more they remained the same.

Think about it. Just what changed between October 30 2003 and April 2 2009?

Did the Father of Democracy really open up the democratic space in Malaysia, unshackle the timid mainstream media, respect human rights, restore the credibility of the judiciary and put the zip back into the fight against corruption?

Did he preside over real change?

For Abdullah to claim that he encouraged dissent and debate in Malaysian society is akin to Al Gore saying that he invented the Internet.

Fact is that the Malaysians starting shedding their fear of government after the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998.

And the birth of the alternative media platform, the sheer disgust at the excesses of the ruling coalition and a more educated population unwilling to swallow officialspeak as the truth had more to do with free flow of ideas and open debate than the fifth PM.

If Abdullah was sincere about bringing meaningful change, he would not have dithered over abolishing or at least overhauling the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Opposition from Umno ministers in Cabinet saw him put the review on the backburner, a familiar position every time his party objected to change.

If Abdullah was sincere about bringing meaningful change, he would have done away with the archaic law that requires newspaper to obtain a publishing licence from the Home Ministry.

He did not. How can the man who is credited with opening democratic space leave in place the legislation that continues to manacle the ability of the media to report without fear?

If Abdullah was sincere about making the judiciary credible in the eyes of the public, he would not have selected loyal Umno servant Tan Sri Zaki Tun Azmi as the Chief Justice.

Malaysia must be one of the few countries where the top judge used to serve as the legal adviser and chairman of the disciplinary board of the ruling party. He could have gone for someone untainted with political affiliation but that would have been too much of a risk for a man whose first loyalty was to his party.

So he selected a safe choice - a safe choice by his party's standards.

If Abdullah was sincere about improving the sullied image of Malaysia's institutions, he would have opted for real change rather that the cosmetic variety.

Remember the Royal Commission of the Police Force and the Royal Commission on the V K Lingam video clip.

When his administration pushed for the setting up of the two commissions, he was feted as a leader who was unwilling to sweep dirt under the carpet, a man genuinely interested in holding accountable those who tarred the reputation of the police and judiciary.

Prominent members of Malaysian society were appointed to the two commissions, reports and recommendations were made.

But there has been little substantial change. The original independent police complaints tribunal proposal is in the KIV tray somewhere in the Home Ministry and the half-hearted attempt to take action against those named in the Lingam judge-fixing scam has all but petered out.

Oh yes, nearly everyone one of the "big names" charged with corruption just after Abdullah took office (it was supposed to show Malaysians that he really meant business) has been acquitted.
Eric Chia, Saidin Thamby…

So what really changed between October 30 2003 and April 2009?

What changed was that the enduring patience Malaysians have shown towards Umno/Barisan Nasional finally snapped. They were unwilling to settle for a return of Mahathirism (I know best) and had given up on Badawism (illusion of change).

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