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Did Mahathir mess up Malaysia?

We may have abundant natural resources and oil wealth, but if we lack capable political leadership with integrity, the nation will inevitably fail

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When the going gets really tough, we have to ask some tough questions.

Did Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who twice served as Prime Minister – from July 1981 to October 2003 and from May 2018 to March 2020 and at 96, perhaps still hopeful of landing the top job again – really mess up this country?

We are now in the throes of political uncertainty and struggling with health and economic crises. How did a onetime ‘Asian tiger’ end up like this?

Was Mahathir the cause of the many serious ills that plague this nation today?

Mahathir anointed his successors but then played a role or influenced their elimination: think of Musa Hitam, Ghafar Baba, Anwar Ibrahim, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak. Today, as Mahiaddin Yassin goes through his end game, Mahathir is still tinkering around.

Well, Mahathir was not wrong in seeking their ouster part of the time. Think of 1MDB and the failures of the present unelected government.

But how did we end up with prime ministers only to find they were not of leadership quality?

Why did Mahathir force out promising candidates such as Musa Hitam and Anwar Ibrahim?

The man who chiselled Vision 2020 for Malaysia, a dream blueprint, today leaves us with crumpled promises.

Mahathir built an edifice that is now near economic collapse, social disintegration and political chaos.

Yes, we ‘developed’ resplendent mega-structures, an entire administrative capital and glittering palaces.

Yes, under his watch, we joined the ranks of the ‘Asian tigers’ (but was that growth trajectory sustainable?).

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Yes, he helped us overcome the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.

But he eliminated sound leadership from our political landscape – and had a hand in putting in place questionable figures in leadership positions.

He did not root out the cancerous corruption spreading its tentacles in our society.

How do we undo the mistakes of this one man? How do we keep building on some of the good he brought for us?

Are we any better off from the time the first prime minister stepped down in 1970 or are we worse off today?

We can have all the abundant natural resources and oil wealth, but if we do not have a track record of capable political leadership with integrity and a sound political roadmap, the nation will inevitably fail.

Today, as the economy reels from the pandemic, it has exposed a deeply wounded society and a badly managed battle plan against the pandemic. We know this is mainly due to a lack of sound, capable leadership.

So, is Mahathir the reason for our failures?

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