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Mahathir, the enigma

Photograph: zaid.my

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Perhaps in his old age with nothing to lose but his dignity, Mahathir will be able to be a little less forgiving of the negative practices he cultivated to stay in power in the past, says Ramesh Ganapathy.

Mahathir is such an enigma for a child of the 1980s like me.

There was much division among us. Our unity was poisoned. We developed a culture of cronyism while ego was flamed into its current dizzy heights.

We grew up envious of the unity and liberal stories of 1950s Malaya and the 1960s. Things just got stranger however with every passing decade.

To lead such a corrupt nation and yet not be tainted by corrupt excesses, Dr Mahathir Mohamad must have been an idealist. I think what idealistic leaders must learn very early in the game is that pragmatism and conservative thinking cannot be ignored or suppressed – not when by nature, such idealists are rare.

Perhaps he thought he would give in to some of the pragmatists and conservatives while holding on to some basic ideals. Perhaps racism or the lack of it was not an ideal he valued – especially if he could go on to create a new race united by religion that would please the conservatives.

The pragmatists were fed cronyism and corruption to perhaps catch up with the ex-colonialists and the foreign migrants who had an unfair advantage.

If Malaysia was a corporation, it failed the litmus test of modern leadership wisdom when it came to corporate culture. Corporate culture cannot embrace negative values; not even as a tool.

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Plenty of successful companies flout this wisdom but they do fail eventually when negative cultural elements consume them – or worse, if the tolerated negativity within corporate culture closes one eye to the misdeeds of its leadership.

Perhaps in his old age with nothing to lose but his dignity, Mahathir will be able to be a little less forgiving of the negative practices he cultivated to stay in power in the past. I can only hope.

Kedah-born Ramesh Ganapathy is a broadcast consultant by profession who has worked in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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