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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 19, 2024

The Malaysian Malaise Excerpt # 3: Poster Boy For Term Limits

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

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #3:  Poster Boy For Term Limits


Leaders like Mahathir, together with his ilk in the region like Indonesia’s Sukarno and later Suharto, as well as the Philippines’ Marcos, Sr., is proof of the evident wisdom of term limits. America, despite the spectacular successes of Franklin D Roosevelt and his New Deal, adopted presidential term limits in 1947. The angst in China today is that Chairman Xi, without doubt a far more effective leader than Mahathir could ever hope to be, had amended the Chinese Communist Party’s constitution allowing him to serve beyond two terms. To many of today’s Chinese, memories and evidence of the follies of the overstayed Great Helmsman Mao are still fresh. If Indonesia had not imposed term limits in the immediate post-Suharto period, the republic would not today be blessed with her Jokowi.


            The world has seen far too many leaders who have overstayed their welcome, with the Muslim world having a disproportionate glut of them. Mahathir should have resigned, been fired, or be investigated for his role in exposing Malaysia to the 1997 Asian economic contagion. More to the point, had term limits been operative in Malaysia then, she would have been spared the worst of that storm. Malaysia punished the wrong leader back in 1998 when Anwar was arrested and subsequently jailed.


            Much has been written on the obscene greed and egregious corruption of Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Sixth Prime Minister. Less acknowledged is that he is the product of Mahathir’s tutelage, his political son. Beyond Najib, Mahathir was also responsible for the soporific and ineffective Abdullah Badawi taking over in 2003.


            Najib learned well from his mentor, but not well enough. The only and crucial difference between the two is that Najib lost the election, was pushed out, and later jailed. With that his sins were exposed. Mahathir won all his elections (except this last one in November 2022). His many sins thus remain hidden. Consider such debacles during his tenure as the massive foreign exchange loss during the Asian contagion. Earlier there was the equally horrendous London Tin loss when Mahathir thought that he was smarter than those professional commodity traders and thus could outwit them, using taxpayers’ money of course. The magnitude of that loss has yet to be accounted for. Likewise with the Bank Bumiputra and Perwaja Steel Mill collapse, and many more expensive blunders under his watch.


            Economist K S Jomo in one of his many books enumerated Mahathir’s many economic follies pre-Asian Contagion. Fast forward to two decades later, Jomo willingly allowed himself to be co-opted into Mahathir’s Council of Eminent Persons. Thus we cannot blame ordinary less sophisticated Malaysians for having been swooned and taken in by Mahathir’s second coming. However, if Malaysia had had term limits, she would have been spared these burdens. Mahathir is the perfect poster boy for the campaign for term limits in Malaysia.


            The most prescient observation on the Mahathir character was made by one of his political opponents, Fadzil Noor, when he was President of PAS. On the occasion of Mahathir’s birthday, Fazdil wished him a long healthy life, and then mischievously added, “so he could see the damages he had wreaked upon Malaysia.”


            This collection of my commentaries, written from January 2020 to December 2022, covers the dangerous and politically uncertain period that also coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic. The season began auspiciously enough for Malaysia when the long-ruling Barisan coalition was booted out in the 14th General Elections of May 2018. Then in an absurdity hard to comprehend, the new coalition picked the 93-year-old Mahathir to lead. Nobody gave thought to the fact that it was this wily old man who was instrumental for the corrupt Najib Razak becoming Prime Minister in the first place. The old man’s many sins had been conveniently forgotten with everyone praising Mahathir and giving him the full credit for having defeated Najib. Nor did anyone ponder the incredulity that if the man could not achieve what he wanted for Malaysia in his earlier 23 years as Prime Minister and when he was much younger, what hope would there be with his being in his mid 90s, and ailing.


            The blight that afflicts Malaysia today all bear Mahathir’s fingerprints. In retrospect it is not difficult to discern Mahathir’s reason to resign back in February 2020. It was for the singular purpose of preventing the Prime Ministership going to his arch nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim, even though that was earlier agreed upon by the leaders of the component parties of Perikatan Nasional (National Coalition).


Next:  Excerpt #4–Mahathir’s Many Sins


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