Condemned to the annals of history as the Jew-hating malay ultra who is not quite as malay as he tries to be, Mahathir Mohamad is back at his best as he attempts to stem a tide of renewal that is deconstructing his legacy. I mean, I can’t actually blame the man. He did after all spend two decades plus two years creating what he saw fit for Malaysians, and had it no other way. Any oppposition to his ideals and vision was quickly – some may even say severely – dealt with. Countless of individuals had garnered the courage to speak against him. All save a rare few with courage and conviction stood by what they said. The rest, horrified by what he did to them or blackmailed into submission, went back either as quiet sycophants or eunuchs in his court of jesters.
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang was one who stood by his conviction. A political ultra in his own right, he suffered political arrest for allegedly stirring racial sentiments and was held under the ISA, in an operation codenamed Lalang. It was a time when Mahathir administered with an iron claw, and the Malaysian gulag was Pulau Jerejak, an island off the coast of Penang.
Current Information Minister, Zainuddin Maidin, was not spared the whip as well. When he was Editor-in-Chief of Malaysian newspaper Utusan, he inadvertently got on the wrong side of mahathir and was banished to the lowly post of news correspondent in London. Only after writing a book that basically brown-nosed Mahathir, was he allowed back but not as Editor-in-Chief anymore, but a ceremonial role as Deputy Chairman of the newspaper group. He eventually worked up his way in government, all the time subservient to Mahathir’s whims and fancies.
In his time, Mahathir was not without his legion of fans, although many suspected that it may be for an opportunity at jumping on to the gravy train more than anything else. Big business is more often than not linked to political patronage, and this happens globally. However, these businesses work towards a result and most deliver value. Many of Mahathir’s business cronies on the other hand were half-past-six. Case in point was Tajudin Ramli, who wrecked the National Carrier Malaysia Airlines and left the government to pay him for the return of the carrier, at a high premium above the traded stock price. The airline suffers from his legacy till today.