COMMENT Malaysia’s fourth prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and the one who has served the longest in office so far, celebrated his 90th birthday on July 10.
It was no ordinary birthday because it came at a time when Mahathir seems to be most active in Malaysia's political arena.
In a more precise term, he has emerged as a formidable phenomenon in asking for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for his alleged involvement in Malaysia's infamous 1MDB financial scandal.
Mahathir has said, on many occasions, that he regretted supporting the Najib to assume the post of prime minister and that Najib was much more worse compared to the "ineffectual" Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who had succeeded him.
Mahathir is furious that, until to date, Najib (photo) has not explained the whereabouts of the missing RM42 billion from the coffers of the 1MDB.
Moreover, the expose by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that RM2.6 billion was deposited into the private accounts of Najib has only further incensed Mahathir.
Mahathir now wants wants nothing less than “a pound of flesh” - in other words, the resignation of Najib and his possible prosecution by the law enforcement agencies.
In the last year or so, Mahathir has made a strong comeback from retirement to be the main spokesperson for the "opposition" in demanding that Najib resigns. Many would agree that he has "stolen" the thunder from the opposition.
As a former prime minister and one-time Umno president, the man who brought mega projects to Malaysia has come to enjoy certain "immunity" from being prosecuted. Perhaps some would even say that he is more powerful that the country's royalty!
Dr M is privy to confidential information
Mahathir gets more attention, locally and internationally, than any other person. His views have been sought by many, especially those who unhappy with the administration of Najib.
It would therefore not be wrong to say that he is privy to more confidential information than any other person or agency in the country.
In the Umno circles, Mahathir has emerged as the most sought-after leader. In fact, if not for his age, many would prefer him to make a comeback to head the country's administration.
Najib, caught in the web of financial scandals and unexplained murders, is a “midget” compared to “Goliath” Mahathir, at least politically speaking.
Many look upon Mahathir as though he is a saviour. Given the financial scandals, administrative mismanagement and the rise of ethnic and religious tensions, a certain degree of “love” for the past has set in.
Some segments of the population are yearning for the "good" old-days of Mahathir when there was “stability", "peace" and "order".
Is Mahathir really the answer for the country's woes at the moment? Is he a person who cares about the country and its people? Can his views be implemented for the betterment of the country?
Mahathir has taken a heroic and praiseworthy role in the fast unfolding 1MDB crisis. He must be granted the credit due for taking on Najib and his supporters for ruining the country. But beyond this, we need to see who this person truly is, and what he is up to.
As the longest-serving prime minister of the country, Mahathir introduced grandiose policies ostensibly for the economic and social betterment of the country.
However, those who opposed his policies were sidelined or removed from positions within the party or in the government.
Musa Hitam made the cardinal mistake of opposing Mahathir and lost out in Umno. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a prince from the state of Kelantan, became the victim of the political intrigues hatched by Mahathir.
Used and manipulated before being discarded
Similarly, Ghafar Baba was used and manipulated before he was discarded by Mahathir.
Anwar Ibrahim, then seen as the most likely successor of Mahathir, was ousted from the party and government on the grounds of sodomy charges. He was later imprisoned and subsequently came out to head the opposition front.
Mahathir, despite all his talk about accountability, was seen as a tyrant when he was the prime minister. He was ruthless to his political enemies. He did not spare anyone who he thought might be forced to be reckoned with.
In the economic and financial realm, it was during his term that financial scandals started making their appearance on the Malaysian horizon. While these scandals were nothing compared to 1MDB, they obviously provided a kind of platform for the re-emergence of major forms of scandals.
Mahathir talks about Najib and the spendthrift ways of his wife, Rosmah Mansor (photo). Surely, he himself knows that without his preponderant role in Umno and government, his sons would not have emerged as multi-millionaires and billionaires.
Surely, he cannot say that they had talents and financial skills. He might not have showered favouritism on directly, but he made sure that they succeeded.
Cronyism and favouritism in the awarding of projects started during the days of Mahathir.
In the name of helping Malays, licences and awards given t for the enrichment of Umno leaders. Umno leaders made it big during the days of Mahathir, even though these individuals and groups had little or no economic or financial skills.
Non-Malay businessmen faced the toughest battle during the days of Mahathir. Due to the vigorous implementation of the NEP, they lost out in many areas for their previous dominance.
Mahathir took on a very "racist" angle to promote bumiputeraism, but ended up promoting the rich rather than the poor Malays.
Much later, before his resignation, he blamed the Malays for their economic and social woes! He said that Malays had “short memory”!
The rise of ethnic chauvinism saw the beginnings during the Mahathir era. Islamisation was promoted by Umno to compete with PAS. While Pas went on a “roller coaster” on Islam, it was Mahathir who announced that Malaysia was a “Islamic state”. He wanted to rob the very religious legitimacy of PAS.
Whatever said and done, it was during Mahathir’s time that non-Malays lost out heavily in economic, political and social terms. This has continued, albeit in some and other ways during the time of Abdullah Badawi, and later during Najib’s term.
In the final analysis, Mahathir can pretend all he wants about his “hey days”. But he must not forget that the country’s present malaise started during his term in office. What is stunning is the fact that Mahathir conveniently forgets about his past misdeeds!
P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.