Where is the Mahathir I once admired?

 |Feb 24, 2017
File pic credit Global Peace Foundation.
File pic credit Global Peace Foundation.


Perjuangan kita belum selesai, Tun.
Jangan dihanyutkan lagi bangsamu dengan untaian kata-kata bersulam agenda.
Anak bangsamu menangis mengenang nasib.
Dahulu megah disanjung tinggi.
Hari ini diperbodohkan tanpa isi.
Jangan lukakan lagi hati kami.
Yang dahulu menjulangmu sepenuh hati.

As someone who was born in the same year that Mahathir Mohamad became the prime minister of this country, it can be said that he was the only leader I knew my entire childhood and young adult life.

He led the country for 22 years, which means up to the age of 22, he was my only prime minister and at that time, the only prime minister I cared to know.

When he voiced his intention to quit in 2002, I felt sad. While I did not know much about politics and its intricate web of complication at that time, I knew that I did not want him to step down.

Alas, the inevitable happened. He handed over the reins of this country to someone else the following year.

That was 2003.

Now, 14 years later, again I find myself feeling sad. However this time around, it is no longer out of admiration that I had once felt for Mahathir, but sadness with a hint of betrayal.

Long ago, he was a giant of a man. To me, he was a genius, a man who could deliver a thousand shards of cutting glass simply by saying the simplest of things.

He was a Malaysian whose interest was solely in taking his country to heights we never even dreamed possible. He was a hero to many, an enemy to our enemies.

Today, my heart breaks as I feel betrayed by a man I used to look up to.

In 1996, Mahathir penned a poem. He called it the unfinished fight (loosely translated). In Malay, it was titled ‘Perjuangan Yang Belum Selesai’.

In it, he talked about how it was an even bigger struggle post-independence to elevate the status of his people.

“Our task is not finished apparently, to uphold and honour our race, for only the successful will be respected,” he wrote.

The poem resonated with me.

I read it from the perspective of someone who was deeply motivated to ensure his people would succeed and be respected the world over.

He wanted his people to abandon all negativity in order to be revered and not get left behind.

To me, it sounded like he wanted Malaysians to rise above mediocrity and learn to realise their true potential. To aspire to greater heights and stand tall amongst the giants of the world.

How then was I not supposed to look up to this towering Malaysian?

In 2017, my observation brings to light a man who has abandoned the spirit behind the words he once penned.

How are we supposed to rise above mediocrity if Mahathir, in his capacity today as the chairman of his new non-Umno political platform, appears to be banking on Malaysians to remain mediocre, and even worse, stupid?

It is not my intention to dissect his current political strategy, instead my only interest is in the simple fact that I no longer see this man as someone who wants his people to achieve success.

How can this be when he now opts to generalise and make remarks that are meant to scare what I can only label as the unthinking segment of society?

In his latest swipe at Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mahathir is selling the fear of companies closing down and people losing jobs if ‘Proton is to be sold to foreign companies’.

In a blog post made up of merely seven paragraphs, Mahathir, indirectly blaming Najib, said that if Proton falls into foreign hands, then we shall ‘remain a third world developing country’.

A man who was once well-known for being detailed and comprehensive in his approach is now resorting to throwing a few doomsday predictions in hopes to oust Najib. Another example was when he choose to attack Johor’s Forest City development by dangling the fear of foreigners taking over our land.

I am not interested in defending Najib in this opinion piece. The only thing I wish to highlight is how Mahathir appears to thrive on making remarks that should only work with an unthinking crowd.

I would like to believe that my fellow Malaysians are smart people. As much as I am faced with the contrary on a daily basis, be it on social media or in real life, I know there are smart people out there.

Mahathir’s tactics of late are in stark contrast to what he used to preach.

He wanted us to become a towering nation, to stand proud amongst those from first-world countries. That means he would have wanted his countrymen to grow intellectually as well.

How else can we compete with the rest of the world if we choose to remain uninformed and stupid?

In a video clip of a speech he made in Kuala Kedah recently, it was evident to me that the man I once regarded as brilliant and perhaps, expected the same of his people, is no more.

In his stead, was a man motivated solely by the politics of hate, and to achieve whatever political ambition he has today.

The remarks he made were comical, which served to draw spontaneous laughter from the crowd, but if one were to ponder for a few seconds longer, it wasn’t even funny, much less intellectual.

Where is that man I once admired?

Perhaps it is time for him to revisit the words he once crafted and look deep within himself to find that spirit again. Perhaps then he will reevaluate the approach he has adopted of late.

‘Perjuangan kita belum selesai, kerana hanya yang cekal dan tabah, dapat membina mercu tanda, bangsanya yang berjaya.’ – Mahathir Mohamad (Malam Puisi Utusan, May 4, 1996).

We are not done with this fight, Tun. If there was still much to do in 1996, the load has not lessened today. In fact, we have a long way to go.

What you are doing now is not taking us any closer to our goal, it is simply taking us farther and farther away from becoming the nation you once aspired for us.

It is heartbreaking today, to listen to your words and to read your remarks, because when it is placed side by side with what you said in 1996, it is like comparing the words of two totally different individuals.


Farah Harith has been in the media industry since 2008. Her field of work has been predominantly centred on politics and human interest. She joined the industry to have a better grasp on the issues plaguing the masses.