Why Mahathir Has To Be Malaysian Of The Year 2019

Last year, my Malaysian of the Year was the Malaysian voter who courageously voted for a change in government after about 60 years of Umno-led rule, first as the Alliance and later as the Barisan Nasional (BN)
I had selected the Malaysian voter “for the courage shown in overcoming complacency and fear, for becoming agents of change and giving notice to politicians that they are asserting their right for a say in the nation’s direction, and for showing that change is possible if people act in unison”
Now, of course, we are learning that the voter’s courage and action alone are not enough to ensure change for the better; that we need capable and sincere political leaders to bring about change. But that’s another story
Last year, there were many firsts amid the momentous change that had taken place and, therefore, several contenders for Malaysian of the Year. This year, though, the field is narrower
One Malaysian who has been constantly in the news this year is former prime minister Najib Razak who is facing 42 charges of corruption, breach of trust and money laundering
While fighting the charges in the court of justice, the former Umno president has also taken the fight to the court of public opinion. In fact, he is putting up an exceedingly spirited fight on social media and engaging with Umno members and others
There can hardly be anyone interested in politics who has not heard of Najib’s “Bossku” tagline. Most people charged with corruption or any other crime would avoid being seen in public but not Najib. As a politician, he knows that if he hides himself or remains silent, people may see it as a possible admission of guilt but if he stays public, he can carry his “I’m innocent” plea directly to the people
He is doing a good job of reinventing himself, of gathering at least some people’s support despite the charges against him. There are some who actually want to take selfies with him and are proud of displaying these photos on social media; and there have been instances where large crowds have come to hear him speak
Is he preparing the ground for a return to active politics? Is he amassing sympathy so that his “Bossku” supporters will see the criminal charges as a political plot against him? Are “Bossku” supporters being primed to possibly rise up in protest in the event he is found guilty
Whatever it is, Najib is proving to be a crafty politician. But then again, he learned from someone who can give Machiavelli and Chanakya a run for their money. I’m, of course, talking about Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad
The man is simply amazing, given his age. At 94, he is still going strong and putting men half his age to shame. Mahathir appears to have the energy not only to manage the country, but also to travel frequently to other countries to strengthen ties
He is trying to be the champion of the Malays at home and the champion of Muslims on the world stage. And one can be forgiven for thinking he wants to run the world as well, given the chance
He is purpose-driven. Mahathir 1.0 came up with Vision 2020. Now, Mahathir 2.0 has come up with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. He has gone after corruption with a sledgehammer, as he promised
As Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman, he has a tough job trying to keep all partners satisfied. People are criticising PH for not fulfilling many of its reform-related general election promises, with some even seeing him as the stumbling block. Some supporters of prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim have been telling him to quit and hand over the reins to the PKR president. But Mahathir is unperturbed, or gives the impression that he is unperturbed, by all these as he tries to steer the nation forward
By not giving a specific date for Anwar to take over, he remains firmly in control. For one thing, politicians will not gravitate towards Anwar as the date draws near, making Mahathir a lame duck prime minister. For another, it will keep Anwar and his people guessing and, therefore, give Mahathir control
In fact, he has checkmated everyone to secure his position. Anwar has to “behave” if he wants to take over; the DAP has to “behave” if it does not want PH to break up; PAS and Umno have to “behave” if they want the Malay-Muslim agenda to move forward
After the PH win, Mahathir, just as Umno and PAS, saw that the DAP, with the second largest number of MPs in PH, had become a powerful force. And he knew the DAP would not be as pliant as the MCA had been in the BN under him. He also knew that with the largest number of MPs, PKR, and therefore Anwar, had more clout than he did
So he quickly began strengthening his PPBM, enticing Umno MPs to join his party. He has succeeded to some extent in this, thus strengthening his position in PH. But that is not enough to ensure control
As prime minister, he quickly met PAS and Umno leaders. And soon after, PAS began saying it would support Mahathir as prime minister. Umno, too, has indicated its support for Mahathir. In fact, he has had several meetings with some leaders or MPs of both parties since
You can only marvel at his ingenuity. Mahathir has engineered a situation where opposition parties PAS and Umno want him to remain prime minister, pledging to back him if there is any move within PH to remove him. Can you beat that? What a clever man
How did this happen? Your guess is as good as mine. But can anyone say the topic of the DAP being in government was not discussed at these meetings between Mahathir and PAS and Umno? Can anyone say the possibility that the Chinese or non-Malays would be emboldened to make more demands was never discussed at these meetings
Is it incorrect or improper to assume that some form of arrangement may have been made at these meetings to checkmate the DAP, and even Anwar, with PAS and Umno applying pressure from outside
PH promised a New Malaysia but we are increasingly seeing Mahathir’s Old Malaysia. The Look East Policy is back, the (third) national car is back, criticism of the West is back, the fight with Chinese educationists is back, the tension with Singapore is back, and some say the practice of helping certain businessmen is back
And he is doing it so smoothly that his PH partners are lost in the woods or unable to protest too much for fear of breaking up PH. Now, that is some astute leadership ability
Then again, although there are complaints and unhappiness, including over some policies, he is providing leadership and the country is stable
Importantly, for many people, Mahathir is an inspiration, especially his drive to do what he thinks is good for the nation, and his ability to keep aspiring and moving forward even at age 94
For these reasons, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is my Malaysian of the Year for 2019
A Kathirasen is executive editor at FMT

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