Whether you love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad has got a way of leaving an impression, either by attending Bersih rallies unannounced or showing up unexpectedly to a forum discussing his age. His most impressionable moments may have something to do with his ongoing beef with the current prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and in the course of this tension several things have happened that make it seem like Mahathir’s legacies during his 22-year tenure as Prime Minister are deliberately being attacked or erased.
Johan Saravanamuttu, an analyst from S. Raharatnam’s School of International Studies believes that Mahathir’s legacies will be the “overarching overtone” for the upcoming election, so an attack on his legacies is a pretty solid tactic. In the recent years, we may have heard of few such instances, like the recent BN manifesto:
They actually deleted the Petronas Twin Towers from their image, but kept the reflection for some reason. Sometime in the past, the Minister of Multimedia and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak did say something about demolishing the KLCC if they’re really serious about destroying Tun M’s legacy…
“If the Government wanted to erase his legacy, we could have just demolished KLCC.” – Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak, as reported by the Star.
While technically BN had already done that in their manifesto, there are other subtler ways Tun M’s legacy had allegedly been threatened, like when…
[UPDATE 30 APR 2018: Apparently, not even election posters are safe. In recent news, MalaysiaKini reported that Dr M’s image had been dramatically cut out of a standing billboard advertising the Pakatan Harapan’s candidates in Ayer Hitam, Johor.
“We were told that our billboard cannot carry Mahathir’s picture and the Election Commission’s decision was to cut out Mahathir’s picture,” – Liew Chin Tong, Ayer Hitam’s Pakatan candidate, for MalaysiaKini.
According to the report, EC’s new guidelines state that candidates can only put the photos of two leaders (prez and deputy) on their party’s campaign material, other than the photo of the candidate for that area, and pictures of other party officials are not permitted. END OF UPDATE]
1. The government is building two towers that are bigger than Tun M’s towers
Phallic building jokes aside, there had been a little bit of drama concerning KL’s timeline in the recent past. When the twin towers were finished in 1998, they were the tallest buildings in the world, and they basically put Malaysia on the map. However, soon progress happened, and they’re the world’s tallest towers no more. Still, they’re pretty iconic, but there are new towers being built that will change that.
The building of the Merdeka PNB118 tower was launched in 2016 by the current Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, just 4 kilometers away from KLCC. Set to be Southeast Asia’s tallest tower when completed in 2020 (644 meters), Najib had denied that Merdeka PNB118 is an attempt to one-up Mahathir.
“No, no, it’s not a question of dismantling his (legacy). That’s a totally frivolous statement. What Tun Mahathir has done is admirable, what we need to do is to build on his success and move on.” – Najib Razak, as quoted by the Straits Times.
And then there’s also the building of The Exchange 106, another skyscraper built within 2 kilometers of KLCC, under development by the Ministry of Finance. While it may not be as tall as the Merdeka PNB118 will be, it will still be taller than the KLCC (492m vs 452m).
While Dr Mahathir had expressed his desire to retain KLCC as the highest buildings in Malaysia, economists like Jalilah Baba is optimistic that the building of the new towers will fulfill the increasing demand for property once the global economic situation improves.
“This tower is being built for the future, to attract investors. There is nothing wrong with having more than one tower, as other cities like Chicago are full of high-rise buildings. We must have a few buildings that we are proud of instead of just promoting the same building all the time,” – Datuk Jalilah, for The Straits Times.
2. He was left out of a local civics textbook
Sometime in 2017, a picture that depicts a controversial question went viral on social media.
In the sample question, students were asked to design a greeting card that depicts their appreciation and support to the country’s administrative machinery for their efforts in keeping the world’s peace. Images of the prime ministers were given as a stimulus, except Dr Mahathir’s. Things escalated, with the public accusing the Ministry of Education of trying to change the facts of Malaysian history by not including Dr Mahathir as the fourth prime minister.
The Ministry had later identified the book as a Form 3 Civics Textbook, but not one published by the Ministry. They lodged a police report towards the publishers of the book for the damaging publicity and released a statement saying that they had never put out directives to remove Mahathir from education in any way.
“MOE [Ministry of Education] is upset with the allegations and based on the outcome of our cross-checking, the book concerned is not published by this ministry and would like to stress that every textbook produced by it is based on co-curriculum documents and actual facts that occurred at that particular time or period. MOE has never issued any written or oral directive to schools under this ministry to remove Dr Mahathir’s picture.” – excerpt from MOE’s statement, taken from the Malaysian Digest.
Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, the Education Minister himself, believes that the incident was a deliberate act of slander by certain parties to make the public blame the Ministry. He stated that although in politics, Tun Mahathir is basically the opposition, there had been no need to remove his picture, and no way of doing so as there are strict procedures in place when it comes to the content of school textbooks.
3. He got kicked out of Petronas for supporting the Opposition
In 2016, the Cabinet had fired Dr Mahathir from his post as adviser to Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), a post that he had held since he retired from being Prime Minister in 2003. He was replaced by another former PM, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The reason given by the Prime Minister’s Office was that Mahathir no longer supported the current government, as before the termination Mahathir joined some Opposition leaders in signing a “Citizen’s Declaration” that calls for Najib’s resignation.
“The Cabinet decided that since Mahathir is no longer supporting the current government, he should no longer hold any position related to the government. Therefore, the Cabinet today agreed unanimously to terminate the appointment of Mahathir as adviser to Petronas,” – The Prime Minister’s Office, as quoted by FMT.
Among other things, by commiserating with several other key Opposition leaders, the Cabinet had accused Dr Mahathir of aiming to topple the “democratically-elected government led by Najib Razak“, and several quarters have since called for Mahathir’s removal from top GLC posts.
The Malaysian Insight did a check at the Petronas Gallery about a year after the sacking, and they found that Mahathir was missing from not just his post. Both the photographs of Dr Mahathir and Tun Hussein Onn was missing from the wall near the main entrance, and a multimedia presentation on the journey of Petronas displayed in another part of the gallery had not used any images of Dr Mahathir at all, just his name with a background photo of the Petronas Twin Towers.
4. The local car company Proton was sold off to a Chinese company
Being the founder of the first badged local car company, Dr Mahathir had a long relationship with Proton Berhad. After he retired as Prime Minister in 2003, Dr Mahathir took the post of adviser to Proton, and later the non-executive post of chairman to the company until 2016, when he resigned voluntarily to save it.
“I decided on my own, for the sake of Proton I should leave. I, therefore, have no grudge against Proton nor do I want it to fail after I left. This is because Proton seems to be having difficulties with the Government and for some unknown reason, sales of Proton cars have plummeted. I know I am persona non grata with the Government. I do not want to be the cause of Proton’s inability to recover because of my presence,” – Dr. Mahathir, to The Star.
However, Proton still struggles, and last year, to save it the Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom sold off 49.9 per cent of its stake in Proton to Chinese carmaker Zheijiang Geely Automotive. This follows the terms given to it after receiving a RM1.5 billion government aid in the previous year, saying that Proton have to pursue a turnaround plan and seek a foreign partner.
Dr Mahathir was deeply affected by this sale, saying that the sale of Proton is but the beginning of Malaysian assets being sold off to foreigners. He also claimed that the government is trying to erase his name from Proton by preventing its staff from starting any cooperation with his supporters.
“They say Proton is my brainchild. Now the child of my brain has been sold. Yes. I am sad. I can cry. But the deed is done. Proton can no longer be national. No national car now.” – Dr. Mahathir, as reported by FMT.
However, others have said that it’s no big loss, and with the next elections close at hand, Dr Mahathir hinted at the possibility of another national car company should Pakatan Harapan succeeds in capturing Putrajaya.
5. Wawasan 2020 became the TN50
In 1991, Dr Mahathir introduced a national ideal called the Wawasan 2020 (W2020). Among other things, the ideal called for improvements in all aspects of life, including economic prosperity, social well-being, world-class education and political stability. It aimed for an economic growth of 7% per annum until 2020, which is also the deadline for Malaysia to become a self-sufficient industrialized nation.
However, during the presentation of Budget 2017, the government suddenly announced a new plan called the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50), without even mentioning what will become of the previous plan, the W2020. With four years to the deadline, the situation caused many a head to be scratched, as even the official UMNO online portal was reported to have written “TN50 ganti Wawasan 2020” (TN50 is replacing Wawasan 2020).
“TN50 will be moved by the multiracial younger generation through Cabinet-approved national treatises, will be handled by the Sports and Youth Ministry and of course be oversaw by me myself as the prime minister. TN50, this is our mantra starting today. Let the old legacy pass on. We will renew Malaysia’s future hope,” – Datuk Seri Najib Razak, as reported by the Malay Mail Online.
A few months after the announcement, Najib Razak clarified that his administration had not rejected Mahathir’s Wawasan 2020, but rather the new TN50 was a continuation of Mahathir’s plans for the country, with a few differences. One of them, as stated by Najib, was that while Mahathir’s Wawasan 2020 used a ‘top down’ approach, the new TN50 takes into account the views of every rung of the society, through dialogues and discourses.
However, Dr Mahathir had since took the TN50 agenda as an admission by the federal government that they are unable to reach the Wawasan 2020 deadline. He also said that Putrajaya’s new deadline of 2050 is too far ahead, and most of the Malaysians now won’t be there to see it, or perhaps, realise it.
“Those that came up with TN50 believed that they won’t be held accountable should it fail,” – Dr. Mahathir, to the Malaysian Insight.
6. The F1 races were discontinued… or were they?
Last year was the final year the Formula 1 race was held at the Sepang International Circuit, which was opened by Dr Mahathir back in 1999. Since the circuit’s opening, Malaysia’s government had funded the grand prix, but last year we decided that the race no longer justifies the investment. In April 2017, the Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Cabinet had agreed to end the contract to organize the F1 race starting 2018.
The race costs the government about RM300 million annually, and dwindling returns in recent years had prompted the decision.
“However, it is time that the government review the organisation of the F1 races by taking into account the changes which have taken place since we began organizing it in 1999. This decision was made after taking into account reports and views from Sepang International Circuit (SIC) on the financial impact to all relevant parties,” – Datuk Seri Najib Razak, as reported by the New Straits Times.
However, cost may only be part of the problem. According to the circuit’s chief executive, Razlan Razali, even if the grand prix was offered to the country for free, Malaysia would still not want it. This is due to the declining interest of the fans seen through ticket sales, viewership and tourist numbers.
“I myself am not able to sit in front of the television and watch from lap one until whatever lap (for) two hours. It’s hard to sell this kind of event and to get bums on the seat…and it’s not worth the investment at the moment.” – Razlan Razali, for the New Straits Times.
Dr Mahathir, on the government’s decision, had stressed that the returns from hosting the race can far outweigh the cost in the form of advertisements and other things, including exposure.
“If you want to have a three-minute show in Japan on one TV station, it will cost you a million ringgit. But here they do it for free for three whole days showing Malaysia. That value is important to build more visits from tourists. Yes, we have to put in some money. But the returns are far greater than what we spent.” – Dr. Mahathir, for FMT.
While the F1 races are gone for now, Najib Razak had not discounted the possibility of hosting it again sometime in the future, provided that the conditions are right.
“But it does not mean it cannot be reconsidered sometime in the future, provided the economic set of conditions is deemed to be favourable. It is time to call it a day, although we have benefited from hosting the F1. It has been a kind of diminishing returns for us,” – Najib Razak, as reported by F1i.com.
To be fair, Mahathir erased quite a number of things during his time too
In most of these cases, it may seem like Mahathir is being attacked, but the reality is arguable. In the civics textbook case, it just happened in one particular brand of textbook that wasn’t approved by the Education Ministry, and while the F1 races have been discontinued, other races are still being held at the Sepang International Circuit. Proton had to take in a foreign partner to save itself, and being fired from Petronas was…
Okay, maybe the people claiming that Mahathir’s legacies are being attacked do have a point, but as the senior adviser to the Pacific Research Centre, Oh Ei Sun had said, maybe it’s less about attacking legacies and more towards breaking out of Mahathir’s shadow.
“…Najib is showing he is his own man. 1MDB aside, he wisely targets matters which are close to people’s daily needs, such as housing, health and transport.” – Oh Ei Sun, for The Edge Markets.
In his own time, Mahathir had done some drastic changes as well. One of the famous cases was turning the Internal Security Act into a government weapon that only allowed gomen-approved speech through measures like the infamous Ops Lalang and amendations to the Printing Presses and Publications Act, effectively making democracy defunct for a while. He also introduced the New Economic Policy during his reign, and while the original intention may be to help out a lagging sector of the public, had devolved into an instrument of cronyism that hurts not only the non-Malays, but the Malays as well.
Mahathir’s time also saw the powers of the royalty reduced to practically nothing through the 1993 amendments to the constitution of Malaysia, which means that among other things, rulers will no longer be immune to the law as well as having little to no power to stop a new law or bill from being passed. Also, after the constitutional crisis of 1988 which saw the sacking or suspending of several prominent Malaysian judges, the judiciary system of Malaysia had seemingly lost its independence and much of its power as well.
So yeah, Najib may be accused of trying to destroy Mahathir’s legacy, but looking at the bigger picture, we can’t really say if Mahathir hadn’t done the same thing in the past as well. After all, history is written by the victors.