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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Malaysian Malaise Excerpt # 2: Mahathir and His Trail of Corrupt, Rotten, and Incompetent Successors

 The Malaysian Malaise:  Corrupt Leadership, Failing Institutions, And Intolerant Islamism

M. Bakri Musa


Excerpt #2: Mahathir And His Trail of Corrupt, Rotten, and Incompetent Successors


Mahathir’s second tenure as Prime Minister began in a benign way and with all the best intentions. After first serving from 1981 to 2003 (the longest serving), he came out of retirement to help defeat the corrupt Najib Razak and his band of bandits in Barisan Nasional during the 2018 14th General Elections. Mahathir went beyond. He claimed the major if not sole credit for ousting Najib’s coalition. With that he convinced Malaysians that he was indeed the nation’s savior.


            The world too was impressed; a nonagenarian making a spectacular political comeback! There was indeed hope for other ageing global leaders; they too became emboldened if not inspired to hang on to their positions. As such Mahathir spent much of his first year being lauded as a geriatric celebrity of sorts, flying to various major capitals to be interviewed by other oldies in the media, think tank, and global institutions like the International Monetary Fund. Even venerable Oxford University got in on the act! At home, he convened a panel of five-member Council of Eminent Persons. Such was Mahathir’s newly acquired aura that even his earlier severe critics like the eminent economist K S Jomo and the hard-nosed sugar mogul Roberk Kuok gladly agreed to be co-opted into that august super select body.


            At age 93, the understanding was that he would retire in two years to make way for Anwar Ibrahim who was then still in prison on trumped up charges of sodomy (the second such charge). Yes, unlike the rest of the modern world, Malaysia still has such archaic statutes in her books! Even Singapore had chucked away those medieval legal relics.


            With the new coalition’s victory in 2018, its acknowledged leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was expected to be pardoned and thus able to return to active politics to assume leadership of the nation, as was agreed upon by leaders of the victorious coalition, including Mahathir.


            Then with unexpected suddenness, in February 2020 Mahathir resigned. By right, then Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azzizah should have taken over. Fearful that she would give way to her husband Anwar Ibrahim, who by now had been pardoned and subsequently elected to Parliament, Mahathir executed what he thought was a shrewd move. He concocted a back door scheme, dubbed the Sheraton Move (named after the hotel where the political horse trading took place), that would have the Agung appoint the cancer-stricken Muhyiddin Yassin to take over. Mahathir himself was not at that infamous conspiratorial meeting, but again his fingerprints were very much evident.


            Thus Mahathir willfully and negligently failed Malaysia. That is unpardonable. He cannot escape history’s condemnation for his pivotal role in subsequently plunging Malaysia into an unneeded period of political turmoil, and coming during the critical Covid-19 pandemic.


            Others too share in this critical culpability, specifically the then Agung. He was satisfied (or was made to feel thus) with that extra constitutional maneuver where a parade of MPs was summoned to the Palace with their Statutory Declarations in hand, purportedly expressing their support for Muhyiddin Yassin as Prime Minister. The Agung took that to have met the statutory requirement that the Prime Minister be someone who commanded (or could command) the majority in Parliament. In fact that statutory requirement had been circumvented, or more correctly, manipulated and subverted.


            The Agung (and his advisors) was confused, ignorant, or purposely chose to ignore the obvious reality that decisions made in private, statutory declarations in hand notwithstanding, cannot replace or be predictable from one taken following an open robust parliamentary debate. That should have been the proper procedure. Group dynamics can and do affect decisions quickly and dramatically right to the last minute.


            Like all backroom deals, this Sheraton Move did not last long. Barely twenty-two months later Muhyiddin was outmaneuvered by yet another dark backroom scheming, to be replaced by that clueless character, UMNO’s Ismail Sabri. Thankfully his Administration too was short-lived, booted out in the election of November 2022. The irony was not lost; that election was prematurely called by Ismail himself.


            Meanwhile the Malaysian malaise and downward spiral continued. Using the ringgit as a surrogate indicator, it fell to its lowest level ever vis a vis the US dollar, trading on October 13, 2022 at RM4.70, lower than during the Asian economic crisis of 1998. I wonder what happened to those five “Eminent Council” members tasked with advising Mahathir!


            Ever the schemer, Mahathir was not yet finished. Leading yet another splinter party, Gerakan Tanah Air (lit. Motherland Action Party), and not content with the wreckage he had already inflicted upon Malaysia, he again offered himself to be Prime Minister, without blushing or any trace of embarrassment. That is, if Malaysians were to let him.


            Alas, mortals may plan, but God (as represented by the ummah, citizens) decides. In the November 2022 elections, not one of Mahathir’s 158 candidates (115 parliamentary and 43 states) including Mahathir was successful. The humiliation did not end there. All, Mahathir included, lost their deposits. What a humiliation, and well deserved too! Mahathir’s latest delusion of his delivering another ‘miracle’ was punctured, and I hope for Malaysia’s sake, for good.


Next:  Excerpt #3–Poster Boy For Term Limits


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