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Unbecoming to use uncouth language against Mahathir

Photograph: zaid.my

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Benedict Lopez thinks it is shameful and disgraceful that some Malaysians have tossed their values to the wind in the way they spew venom at the 92-year-old.

Of late there have been bloggers and Facebook accounts spewing all kinds of venom at the Dr Mahathir. Is this how we behave towards a senior citizen and more so a nonagenarian?

I agree it is the right of one to disagree with another but this should be done within the confines of civility, decorum of respect and with etiquette.

When he was prime minister, I disagreed with many of his policies; some were in fact shameful and disgraceful episodes like Operation Lallang and the events that took place following the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim. But that is history now.

If we are to consider ourselves civilised, decent and fair-minded human beings, we must give the old man credit where it is due. He built a strong economy and had a vision for this country – a vision to make it a developed country. And he did it his way.

Agree or disagree with him, he implemented policies in that direction like the Look East Policy, Vision 2020,the Multimedia Super Corridor, heavy industries, infrastructure development – and he created tycoons.

Sure, they were his cronies who made millions and billions, but at least the tangible benefits were filtered down towards all sectors of the economy. With the old man, we knew the course he was navigating for our country.

Diplomacy was not one of his virtues and he always called a spade a spade. He never talked with a sugar-coated tongue and was always outspoken, at times crude and blunt. With him everyone knew where they stood as he was not one to mince his words. That was and still is his style.

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And he never sued his critics in his personal capacity when he was prime minister despite all the criticism hurled at him. These traits distinguished him from many others, including politicians.

When the occasion warranted it, he took bold and courageous decisions like in the 1997/98 financial crisis. Unlike other countries in the region, Malaysia did not go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. Malaysia broke ranks with countries in the region and instituted exchange control measures to stabilise the ringgit when it was in free fall. The ringgit was pegged to the US dollar at US$1:RM3.80

Initially, Malaysia was criticised by many economic pundits but a decade later, even the IMF agreed it was the right medicine that the doctor prescribed for the country.

At an event in the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in August 2017, he was one of the speakers along with KS Jomo. I was surprised that he stood up and spoke for 25 minutes and later took questions from the floor. His memory is as sharp as ever – a remarkable feat for a 92-year-old.

There were times when many were singing his praises and worshipped the ground he walked on. When he announced he was retiring, many cried as if there was no tomorrow. Today, he is a villain to some of these people.

They are trying in many ways to humiliate the old man including linking him to the forex scandal. But till now, not a shred of evidence has emerged implicating him as personally benefiting from any financial transgressions. We must always distinguish between a controversial business deal and personal dishonesty.

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My opinion about the old man took a 180-degree turn more than two years ago when he started becoming vocal about many issues, particularly 1MDB. He refused to remain silent unlike Pak Lah, Ku Li and Musa Hitam. Why are all these other esteemed statesmen quiet or subdued?

One thing is certain: like him or loathe him, you cannot ignore Mahathir. And shame on those using uncouth and uncivilised language against him.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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