The Flying Squirrel That Missed His Last Branch
M. Bakri Musa
[News item: There had been endless distracting speculations since the 14th General Elections of May 2018 on when Mahathir, who became Prime Minister for the second time, would make way for Anwar Ibrahim. That was apparently settled at a meeting on Thursday, February 20 when leaders of the ruling coalition agreed to give Mahathir the freedom to choose his timing. All that ended when on the very next day Anwar’s putative deputy in his Keadilan Party, Azmin Ali, schemed to derail the plan and have Mahathir join the opposition coalition and sideline Anwar and Pakatan. That resulted in Mahathir’s unexpected resignation as Prime Minister as well as leader of his party. Azmin is kicked out of the his party and government when his nefarious scheme was exposed.]
Had Mahathir been satisfied with only getting rid of Najib Razak in the May 2018 elections and not “volunteered” himself to be Malaysia’s seventh Prime Minister, his stocks would have soared and remained in the stratosphere. He would have been anointed a national hero for having saved Malaysia.
Malaysians would also have overlooked if not forgiven him for his role in Najib’s rapid ascent and rapacious greed. Najib was but Mahathir’s political child, his ugly legacy.
Najib’s 1MDB mess, together with his unprecedented greed and obscene ostentation, is but a variation on the theme of Mahathir’s many earlier sordid scandals. Remember the Bank Bumiputra debacle, London Tin fiasco, and Pernas’ expensive bailout of his son’s teetering shipping company? Those and many others as yet unrevealed are all Mahathir’s unmitigated blunders, so well captured by reformasi’s vote-getting phrase of a few decades ago–korupsi, kolusi dan nepotisme (KKN, or corruption, cronyism, and nepotism).
Malaysia is still reeling from that. Look at Malaysia Airlines. The difference between Najib’s greed and Mahathir’s cronyism is only quantitative, not qualitative; matter of degree, not kind.
Today, barely over a month into his much ballyhooed Vision 2020 dateline when Malaysia should have been celebrating her entry into the elite club of developed nations, Mahathir has thrown the country into an unwanted, unneeded, and very destabilizing political crisis. It was your typical Third World variety leadership tussle.
Where was Mahathir at this moment of crisis? Holed up in his The Mines luxury estate. His Deputy Azzizah, together with leaders of the Pakatan coalition, had to chase him down, first at his office (he had ponteng that Monday morning), then his official residence, before finding him holed up in his private home.
A man who always had been at ease with the media suddenly found himself desperate to escape it. None of the usual smooth press conferences with his trademark silly snide grins and snickering belittling sarcasms on those who disagree with him. The man who only a week earlier had the gumption to tell President Trump to resign, suddenly found himself tongue-tied and camera-shy.
Two iconic pictures capture best the silly and futile drama of this past few days. One was of Deputy Prime Minister Azzizah sitting on the bench outside Mahathir’s private residence, with Anwar standing, arms folded, exuding confidence. The other coalition leaders with him, Lim Eng Guan, was casually standing at the side, while Mat Sabu was busy texting on his cellphone. The implied message from their body language: You old rat; we have you cornered. We can wait here all day.
That snapshot eerily reminded me of the scene when the American troops finally trapped Saddam Hussein in his desert rat-hole hiding place. They had cornered their slimy target. They could wait all day; he could come out and surrender, or rot in there.
The other searing sight was of Mahathir in the back seat of his limousine, alone, sans his wife who usually accompanies him on such important missions, his face glum, with defeat smeared all over it. He was on his way to the palace to hand in his resignation. That was far from the portrait of a victor.
What a way to cap your career, the hitherto agile flying squirrel who had missed his last tree branch.
In personally confronting Mahathir at his home that Monday morning, Anwar had shown that he was not in the least cowered by the old man’s usual antics and silly scheming. Anwar however described the meeting as “very satisfying.” That’s confidence verbalized.
Make no mistake. This past weekend’s sandiwara or contrived drama could have ended badly for Malaysia. The endless frightening chatters on What’sApp and other social media brought back ugly reminders of the horrors of May 1969.
In my reckoning, Anwar had saved Malaysia from that. He also saved Mahathir from committing his third and possibly irremediable blunder or strike-out.
Mahathir’s first was his having the incompetent and soporific Abdullah Badawi succeed him back in 2003. Abdullah dozed away while his “Fourth Floor “ boys were busy self-aggrandizing themselves and destroying Malaysia in the process. Credit Mahathir for owing up to that error and successfully undoing it.
Mahathir’s second strike-out was his aggressively promoting Najib Razak to overthrow Abdullah. Najib did nothing to advance himself. He was just happy to be the instrument and beneficiary of Mahathir’s effort.
Credit Mahathir for once again recognizing his error and going about to remedy his second mistake, but not before Malaysia was saddled with 1MDB and other crushing loads.
Whether Mahathir was responsible for Najib’s Barisan defeat at GE 14, or whether Mahathir was merely the flying squirrel who flickers his tongue claiming credit when the coconut fronds above swayed in the breeze, does not interest me. I am just relieved that Najib and his ilk are now facing serious criminal charges.
Ponder this. Had Anwar not confronted Mahathir this past Monday morning and exposed his scheming to his face, Mahathir was set to commit his third strike-out.
Drive around KL today and plastered all over town are tall billboards with faces of Mahathir and Azmin Ali, with privilege and a smug sense of entitlement pouring out of their pores. No mistaking the implied message there and elsewhere–Azmin would be Mahathir’s successor.
This Azmin character, with his degree from an ulu American state university, fancies himself an expert in economics, but he could not manage his family’s microeconomics. He skipped out of paying on his family’s luxurious travel bills.
There’s more! Even his mother has disowned him. His relations with his own siblings are dysfunctional. That is understating it. Nonetheless Azmin deludes himself into thinking that Malaysians would trust him to bring harmony to Malaysia’s diverse society.
The only saving grace to this weekend’s third-rate political drama is that Malaysia is spared Mahathir’s third strike-out. This deadbeat pengkhianat (traitorous) Azmin is now out. That is reason enough to celebrate. If Mahathir is anywhere as smart as he thinks he is, he should thank Anwar and the other Pakatan leaders for that.