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Thursday, October 31, 2013

What would Malaysia be like if Dr Mahathir were still PM?

A decade ago today, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad left public office as the prime minister and Umno president.
Would Malaysia be any different if the acerbic leader were still in office today?
Political analysts, while having different takes on the matter, agreed on one thing: Dr Mahathir would be running a tighter ship and would not tolerate the escalation of inter-religious and inter-racial conflicts that the country is seeing now.
This would mean resorting to a firmer rule in the name of public order and political stability.
It would also mean that preventive laws such as the dreaded Internal Security Act (ISA) which provided for detention without trial and the Emergency Ordinances (EO) would very likely not be repealed.
"A strong and disciplined government was the hallmark of the Mahathir administration. Knowing him, I would not have expected him to change even if he was in charge now," said Sabah UiTM political analyst Dr Arnold Puyok.
Additionally, Dr Mahathir would unlikely allow controversial events and scandals such as the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) land deal and the RM250 million National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) cattle-rearing project to develop to the point they had.
"He ran a tighter ship and he would have found a way to manage the impact of these scandals before the news or scandals reached the public," mused political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.
In the decade since the 88-year-old Dr Mahathir retired, numerous events have taken place.
Besides the PKFZ and NFC scandals, others include Barisan Nasional losing its two-thirds majority in the 2008 and 2013 general elections, Bersih holding street rallies for free and fair elections, the Hindu rights movement Hindraf rally, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s release from prison and acquittal of sodomy charges.
Dr Mahathir's pet projects like teaching Maths and Science in English and mega development projects which he had believed would spur the country's economic growth would have continued but possibly at the expense of good and transparent governance.
But the strongman would be facing growing public discontent which he would be hard-pressed to stifle due to a changing political landscape as well as the advent of the internet, which he had pledged will not be censored.
Dr Mahathir also would find that he cannot depend fully on the traditional print and broadcast media to shape public opinion, as seen in the last two general elections, noted Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political analyst Dr Jeniri Amir.
"He would have tried to control and exert his opinions onto the people with his logic and influence. But with growing political awareness, he would find it difficult to control and there would have been conflict between his views and that of the people.
"Like it or not, he would have had to listen to the people's demands and views. It would have been difficult to sweep many issues under the carpet as there are many ways for people to expose them due to the opening of the public sphere and greater awareness.”
Centre for Policy Initiative director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said that the public's current growing opposition to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and by extension to Umno is not a response to Dr Mahathir's strong personality and influence.
"It is a response to the bad governance and defective socio-economic policies put in place by the BN as well as the rampant corruption and profligacy of the country's ruling class."
Interestingly, Lim said although Dr Mahathir now seemed to have endorsed Malay right-wing group Perkasa, he would not have done so during his tenure as PM.
"Some of his actions and hardline comments have been driven by a desire to show how weak the new PM is, whether it is Abdullah Badawi or Najib Razak and how much better off the country would have been under him, rather than as evidence or proof of his support for extremism."
Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over the premiership and Umno presidency from Dr Mahathir when he stepped down in 2003. After BN's disastrous performance in the 2008 national polls, Abdullah stepped down and Najib took over in 2009.
Would Malaysia be a better place if Dr Mahathir were still in charge? – October 31, 2013.

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