By M Santhananaban
It is premature to write any poignant political obituary of most of Malaysia’s senior political leaders.
But after more than half a century, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s misplaced policies and priorities seem to have somehow mutated to acquire a monstrous, toxic and dismal identity. He himself is now a polarising, isolated figure and is fast approaching irrelevance.
For most of the past forty years, Mahathir had been able to create and control the mainstream narrative and the talk in the corridors of power. He has lost that power now. A full six months after losing his deposit in a parliamentary election, he seems a forlorn, frustrated and finished figure.
Yet Mahathir makes it out that he is not finished. Instead, he lays claims to an unrealisable and preposterous agenda: his long-lasting ludicrous and near lunatic gambit, his overzealous obsession, to politically obliterate the current Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. The two-time former prime minister, however, faces a stately stonewall in this highly questionable quest.
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Yet in this narrow negative area, Mahathir seems to have found some quirky resonance and sympathy from the oddest combination of relatively younger political sojourners. That group includes Pas president Hadi Awang and some other discredited politicians.
What binds Mahathir to this small select group is their own obsession for the prime ministerial post. Their problem is they obviously don’t have the comfortable numbers or the national standing to mount a challenge against Anwar. They do not display any credible inspirational or innate ability to assume the prime ministership for the time being.
Applying any measure of suitability, several outstanding people of calibre and character could have become prime minister over the past three decades. The delusional and divisive Hadi Awang would not have been in that category.
But Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or even Rafidah Aziz could have been considered – had the country had a more magnanimous, majestic and less mean-spirited leader. They would have been in office for a time and provided the much-needed redirection and realignment the country badly needed to build national unity with balanced growth and equity.
Abdullah Badawi was the least imaginable choice.
Najib’s boldness and brazen disregard for set procedures and processes could have been averted or moderated. Instead, today the country has had to eat mud.
Anwar Ibrahim is the best and most timely choice as Prime Minister. Already six months in office, he has fared fairly satisfactorily. Most of the time, he seems to say the right things that have to be said in a plural, inclusive nation.
The PM has had a unique first-hand insight into the contents and character of the country’s bloated bureaucracy, its bankers, the monopolists and malcontents in the super billionaire and multimillionaire class.
Anwar does not seem unnerved by the worrying reality that the country has grown a fair bit, but the wealth of a small segment of its modestly remunerated political class has grown immensely, if not exponentially. He has hinted that there are some notable individuals carrying the highest titles whose net worth is awesome and alarming. Further investigations are ongoing.
So far the PM has not started a witch-hunt by asking members of the public to share their insights into the legendary wealth of some of these super-rich individuals and their families.
Valid questions, however, are being raised in some circles as to why the nation did not get enriched the way these politicians and their families did.
Thus, Anwar cannot be faulted for embarking on an anti-corruption drive.
We seem to be in this necessary phase in our country’s rollercoaster ride to achieve some equilibrium between truth and reconciliation. That must run its normal course.
Honest men of integrity should have nothing to fear; they should not be paranoid about Anwar’s actions. If the nation can recover some misappropriated assets, the extra funds will serve us – especially the poorer people in Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan and Terengganu – well.
Straightforward, seasoned political leaders should not lose sleep over this matter.
Absent an able and attractive alternative, Anwar seems to be the best choice for the moment.
It has been a game of musical chairs with some dreadful, mediocre and malignant leaders since April 2009.
Let us trust that that phase has ended and that we are now on a path to a period of some sobriety, political stability and sustainable growth.
M Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience