Everyone of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s comments these days is nuanced, loaded as a multidimensional message.
In the one dimension he conveys his actual message.
Hidden in another dimension is often a barrow in which he advances his dynastic ambitions.
Dr. Mahathir’s recent “apology” is anything but an apology.
His mea culpa is a convenient late admission of self realisation that his deeds live after him but not necessarily for him as he desires.
His delusions of grandeur and his failure at succession planning is evident in his “apology”.
Dr. Mahathir believed he had set the stage for dynastic rule whilst in office.
He believed that it would bind his successors in office.
Dr. Mahathir’s curtailing of the Agong’s powers in his time was a device he constructed in order to enjoy unfettered powers in running the country without interference from the Agong.
He is now attempting to deny Prime Minister Najib Razak the benefit of the same powers that enabled him to deal with the nation’s challenges.
Now to examine the ‘invisible ‘dimension of Dr. Mahathir’s “apology”.
Although a silent admirer of the man who made him bristle more often than any other leader, the late Lee Kuan Yew, the Mahathir is no Lee Kuan Yew in politics.
Perhaps that’s because the respective destinies of the two men were cut along parallel paths towards identical goals intersecting only occasionally on common regional issues.
Dr. Mahathir lacked the depth, breadth, vision and intellect Lee demonstrated in his lifetime as leader of Singapore.
The Mahathir lacked the foresight, creativity and long term defensive planning strategies that came naturally and instinctively to the late Lee.
Again perhaps this is because of circumstances.
That the two were authoritarian, long serving leaders of their respective countries is where the similarities begin and end.
Lee’s children are high achievers .
None of Mahathir’s children come anywhere close to them when compared.
Marina Mahathir and her siblings display none of the brilliant qualities the Lee children are endowed with.
In terms of leadership, judgment, scholarship or in fact anything else other than being Dr. Mahathir’s children the Mahathir children are little else.
Dr. Mahathir’s son’s Mukriz alienated himself from the grass roots Malays especially in Kedah.
The truth to that statement is borne out by his performance in his quest to be Kedah’s Mentri Besar.
The Mahathir children to be brutally honest are a collection of mediocrity at best when compared to Dr. Mahathir and Dr. Siti Hasmah Hasim.
Sadly Dr. Mahathir now lives to prop them up. It would appear as if Mahathir and Siti Hasmah had depleted their respective gene pools leaving nothing to pass on to their children.
It is a painful truth where parents leave very large shoes for their children to fit into.
Now to the primary issue of the “apology”, this being the question of the Yang Di Pertuan Agong’s constitutional position and his prerogative powers.
The simple truth this. Dr. Mahathir was advised during his term in office that the Agong’s powers to assent to legislation and to veto it, is a ceremonial and customary duty more than an effective constitutional power to exercise as some believe it to be.
The Agong’s power of veto has long fallen into disuse and would require some exceptional set of circumstances to revive.
Under the constitution the Agong acts on the advise of his cabinet of ministers before he gives his assent to any bill.
The question of what happens if the Agong holds back or refuses his consent to a bill has never occurred in Malaysia’s post independence history in any significant way we know of.
Even if the Agong did refuse assent to a bill, the powers available to parliament (and by that the prime minister), the most powerful of the three arms of government, would override any attempt by the Agong to frustrate the passage of a bill.
What many Malaysians, that incudes their legal fraternity, do not understand is that the separation of powers is a doctrine recognised more in the breach than for its observance.
The supremacy of Parliament and the sovereignty of government override the inherent powers of the other two arms of government anytime.
In the event of an emergency it is in fact parliament that holds all the cards.
One must remember using the English example (from which the principles of the Malaysian constitution are framed), parliament is all powerful.
It can make and unmake anything and everything through laws including regulating succession to the throne (in England) and appointing or removing the Agong in the Malaysian context.
Those powers go further to even extending parliaments life in certain situations.
The Agong conversely is unable do the same.
He may only do what he does on the advise of his ministers (Cabinet in the Malaysian context).
He is hardly able to do anything on his own initiative.
It is said that somewhere in the constitutional system of government we practice, the despotic power of government must reside.
And in Malaysia’s case that power resides not in the Agong but in parliament (meaning the PM and his cabinet and majority in the Houses).
Let us test this argument as Dr. Mahathir postulates that the Agong’s powers to declare an emergency or to sign the declaration of emergency are an exclusive a constitutional power for the Agong alone to exercise.
Let us examine what would happen in the following hypothetical situation where say a Bersih operative assassinates the Agong?
The maxim “the king is dead, long live the king” reminds us that the king (Agong) lives on even after the person who holds the office of Agong has died.
In such a situation, who is it then who signs the proclamation or declaration of an emergency?
Is it the Agong as Dr. Mahathir suggests?
After all in a dire predicament as the assassination of the Agong, the ensuing situation would demand the proclamation or declaration of a state of emergency.
Any responsible government would in these circumstances make such a declaration a priority in a politically charged environment such as Malaysia is today.
Is it then the Timbalan Yang Di Pertuan Agong or is it the Agong in parliament’ who holds that power Dr. Mahathir refers to?
When we describe the Agong as the King (Agong) in parliament the concept of King in the constitutional sense becomes clearer in this situation.
The inalienable connect between King (Agong), government and parliament becomes obvious.
Constitutions are malleable flexible documents and conventions.
Originalists like to see them as something cast in stone static and not dynamic or capable of change.
In the above example the distinction between the person of the Agong as an individual and the office he holds, that as ceremonial head of the government is laid bare.
The power of the prime minister, his cabinet and parliament vis a vis the Agong becomes even clearer in the context of the triumvirate of the Agong, the legislature and the judiciary.
Each of these as a constituent component of the sum total of the three arms of government is thus explained.
A desperately despondent and heirless Dr. Mahathir is today faced with the reality of his mortality.
He is struggling to come to terms with the fact that succession planning is one thing.
Having the talent in capable and competent heirs to execute the plan is another altogether.
That nightmare that now haunts Dr. Mahathir causes him to convulse into fits of political rage and become delusional.
His statements made in an attempt at immortality, is destroying what once was the carefully cultivated image of a respected statesman and leader.
Not to be too unkind to the man, we must accept that he did put in place a number of initiatives that would alter Malaysia’s course from that of a glorified malarial swamp to a country lit up by its cities in a pretence of being first world at least.
But the truth appears to be more correctly summed up in an Australian saying “the lights are on but there’s no one home” at the Mahathir dynasty headquarters.