Dr Mahathir Mohamad has not ceased harping on race, and in the process creating suspicion or fear in the minds of Malays that their dominance of national life is under threat.

A lesser man would likely have been probed for uttering words that could be deemed divisive in multiracial Malaysia.

On March 1, for instance, Mahathir was reported as saying that Malays no longer dominated the economy and that they were taking a back seat in politics.

“That’s why before I die, I will work for my race,” he said at a press conference to explain why he was joining the Ibrahim Ali-led Putra party. He predicted a bleak future for Malaysia if Malays were not the dominant force.

He added: “Call me racist, but Malays are now left behind after giving way to the foreigners.”

This is classic Mahathir, of course. Expecting to be called racist, he went on the offensive, giving the impression that he’s prepared to be called a racist for wanting to help the Malays.

In February, he expressed fear that Anwar Ibrahim’s government might change electoral boundaries and reduce the number of Malay-majority constituencies. “And if there are fewer Malay-majority areas, there is a chance for others to exert influence on the government,” he told a press conference.

The “others” and “foreigners” that he was referring to are Malaysian citizens of Chinese, Indian and other non-Malay descent.

But then, wasn’t this the man who, in January 2013, called for a royal commission of inquiry to investigate the granting of citizenship to one million “foreign immigrants” in the Federation of Malaya, before Malaysia gained independence?

How can a man who served two stints as prime minister and who courted Malaysians of all races during elections continue to consider non-Malay citizens as “others” or “foreigners”?

Mahathir is not just an educated man but an intelligent one. So, for him to adopt this line of argument must mean he’s playing politics.

His warning that the current government would change the electoral boundaries probably arises from his knowledge of what happened during his time in power in earlier years.

Every politically-aware Malaysian knows or suspects that previous Umno-led governments won in elections partly, if not largely, because of gerrymandering or malapportionment of electoral boundaries.

In 2014, for instance, a study by the Electoral Integrity Project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University concluded that the Barisan Nasional coalition’s victory in the 13th general election of 2013 was largely due to gerrymandering or the malapportionment of electoral boundaries.

In 2013, former Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman was quoted in the media as saying that three redelineation exercises done during his time had ensured that the Malays remained in power.

Is Mahathir afraid that the current government may correct the unethical and undemocratic electoral boundary delineations of the past, including those done during his first stint as prime minister?

But then, the next redelineation exercise for Peninsular Malaysia is not due until 2026, so why is he raising the issue in 2023?

Is he trying to paint a negative picture of the current government so that if the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission were to go after him or his children, he can cry foul?

The MACC has already charged former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin with corruption and is reported to be investigating Mahathir’s close ally Daim Zainuddin, who was finance minister under Mahathir.

One has to remember that even in August 2017, then Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein and then Umno Supreme Council member Nazri Aziz had called for an investigation into the wealth of Mahathir and his family.

Mahathir is aware that he’s not exactly a favourite of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim whom he sacked as deputy prime minister and deputy Umno president in 1998.

Is it possible that the crafty politician is preparing the grounds for his defence? Part of such preparations would entail raising suspicion about the motives of the government and getting as many people as possible on your side. What better way to do it in Malaysia than appeal to race or religion?

There’s also the possibility that he hopes, by giving such a warning, that the government would put on hold any idea it may have about correcting electoral borders.

Then again Mahathir has always been vocal and has never shied away from making his views known even if his remarks were to cause shock or raise tensions within or without the country.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong in Mahathir fighting for the rights of his community, but arguments should be based on facts and sound reasoning. However, not all of Mahathir’s arguments appeal to reason.

Being forthright is an admirable trait but Mahathir sometimes goes overboard.

For instance, take this claim that he made on March 9: “Multiracialism in Malaysia means everything goes to the most capable, the most financially strong and (the people) with the most wide business network, the best trained and experienced. Only non-Malays qualify. Malays get nothing from multiracialism.”

First, he seems to imply that the Malays are not very capable. This is untrue. All my Malay friends are – or were (those who’ve retired) – effective and competent in their respective fields, and I’m sure many other Malays are too.

Many businesses today are owned by Malays, and major industries such as the banking and plantation industries are largely controlled by Malays. The corporate sector has many Malay suits, even if most of them are government-linked.

Although a good number of Malays are still poor, if you were to step into any four- or five-star hotel or go to classy restaurants and upmarket fashion outlets today, you would find that a high proportion, even a majority, of the patrons are Malay.

At the very least, living in a multiracial nation helps everyone – including Malays – increase their knowledge of other cultures and languages, participate in each other’s festivals, taste a variety of food, and learn a host of useful things such as tolerance and life skills.

The fact is, Malays have generally done pretty well in multiracial Malaysia. To say they get nothing is, therefore, untrue.

If there are still poor Malays today, the correct conclusion to arrive at is that Mahathir failed to uplift their lot despite being in full control of government and the then ruling Barisan Nasional for 22 years during his first stint as prime minister. It shows he also failed to rectify this in his 22-month second stint.

His critics would say he was more concerned about turning selected Malays into billionaires and millionaires than in raising the standard of living of ordinary Malays.

To be fair, it has to be noted that Mahathir has consistently pushed for Malays to be more hardworking and productive and to compete with the non-Malays. He has frequently called on the community to adopt a new mindset so that they can drop the crutch provided by the government’s affirmative action policy favouring the Malays.

Mahathir also said recently that the “Malays are now left behind after giving way to the foreigners”.

In this he is but echoing what some “ketuanan Melayu” types have been saying: that the Malays are under threat.

How can Malay dominance be under threat when all government institutions are headed by Malays? The majority of Cabinet members are Malay, the majority of parliamentarians are Malay and the overwhelming majority of policemen and soldiers are Malay. Also, about 90% of civil servants are Malay, so how can the non-Malays be a threat to the Malays? It just does not make sense to say the Malays have been left behind.

Although I disagree with Mahathir’s remarks or positions, I will defend his right to voice his opinion. I will also say that he has every right to fight for his community.

What I hope for is that as an elder politician and leader he will talk about how all Malaysians – regardless of race or religion – can work together to build a better, harmonious nation. He would leave behind a good legacy if he were to work towards fostering greater unity among Malaysians

Source : FMT

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