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Mahathir: Father of all U-turns

“I admit many left or stopped supporting UMNO when I left. Now that I am back, and if they think that my struggle is good, they too must come back to UMNO.” – Mahathir Mohamad, April 2009


Forget the inflated scandals and the lofty promises. GE14 boils down to an astonishingly simple question: Can you trust a man who has U-turned so many times and so shamelessly it boggles the mind? For Pakatan leaders, the answer has been a resounding yes. Officially naming Mahathir as their candidate for prime minister, they’ve taken the final plunge, stamping out any remaining pretense of reformasi or even integrity.


Was it worth it? Will it be worth it? Mahathir didn’t need to try that hard – not even anything resembling a genuine apology was required. At his party’s AGM, the former dictator did apologize for his past mistakes, predictably without specifying what they were. Team Pakatan went absolutely wild, thinking (once again) that he had (once again) finally turned a new leaf. But only hours later, their paramount leader clarified that his apology was merely a Malay custom.


There’s fake news and then there are fake apologies. Who among us now isn’t tempted to rob a bank and then issue a “customary” apology afterwards? Learned judges may put us behind bars, but Pakatan politicians might just make us the prime minister. Crime doesn’t pay – unless you happen to subscribe to the right kind of politics.


Embarrassing cynicism aside, those now pinning their hopes on Mahathir are surely bound for bitter disappointment. Malaysia’s foremost egomaniac and schemer has proved to be anything but reliable or consistent. After all, how many times has he switched sides, backstabbed his allies, and sabotaged his successors? Oh, let us count the ways.


He appointed Anwar Ibrahim as his deputy only to jail him later. He then made Abdullah Badawi his new successor only to wage war on him afterwards, even quitting Umno in protest. Once Pak Lah left office, he happily rejoined the party, threw his full support behind Najib, and well, you know how the tale goes. Mahathir may claim that he’s terrible at picking successors, but this repeated pattern of behavior indicates that he’s the problem, not them.


As his would-be and actual successors painfully discovered, Mahathir has the incurable need to remain in complete control. Pak Lah said it best: “Mahathir is set in his ways. And he believes that his way is the only way. When I tried to do things differently, he believed that I was doing things wrongly. But that is Mahathir.” Either you bow to Mahathir’s demands and his particular vision of Malaysia, or he sticks a knife in you. There really isn’t a third option.


So, it’s laughable for Pakatan officials to suggest that, should Mahathir become PM again, they’ll keep him in check. They’ll certainly be in no position to do so. If Najib goes, Mahathir can simply return to Umno-BN, bringing along his party with him and triggering the collapse of the first (and last) Pakatan government. The numbers work in his favor – Pakatan foolishly allocated Pribumi the most number of seats in Peninsular Malaysia. The stage is set for Mahathir’s most spectacular U-turn yet.


Mahathir says he’ll never return to Umno, and this is also the conclusion reached by most Pakatan-leaning ‘analysts’. But why should it be so hard to imagine? Mahathir obviously shares far more common with Umno than he does with DAP and PKR. His new party is a virtually carbon copy of Umno, down to its core ideology (Malay nationalism), membership (based on race; also, the party is mostly made up of ex-Umno members), and structure. Consider what Mahathir said after he rejoined Umno in 2009: “Although I was out of Umno, my heart and soul were in Umno.”


Mahathir isn’t interested in defeating Umno – he’s only interested in defeating an Umno that’s not led by him. Pure and simple. So, what happens if Mahathir does go back to Umno? Does Pakatan have a backup plan in case that happens? And what does it entail? Calling a press conference and screaming “betrayal”? Having another yellow-themed rally and picnic in the city? Curling up into a small ball and crying? By then, nasi sudah menjadi bubur.


Again, Mahathir’s betrayal of Pakatan isn’t a far-fetched scenario. If Mahathir can U-turn about DAP being a racist party, he can certainly U-turn about not returning to Umno. What’s one more U-turn for a 93-year-old? He has nothing to lose. Question to Pakatan: If he can turn against Anwar, against Pak Lah, and against Najib, what makes you think he won’t turn against you?


Let’s be brutally honest: Those who argue that we shouldn’t harp on Mahathir’s past are only saying so because they don’t have good answers to those questions. When pressed, they get all sheepish and mutter some version of ‘If you don’t try [Pakatan], you don’t know.’ It’s a bit like a pitch by heroin peddlers: ‘Give it a shot! Who knows? You may like it!’ Well, call me unadventurous, but I don’t need to try heroin to know that it’s bad.


All we know about Mahathir points to the fact that he isn’t trustworthy in the least – not 20 years ago, not 10 years ago, and certainly not today. He spent his entire career destroying those who disagree with him, treating government like his personal plaything. Why should we allow him to do it one more time? Enough is enough.


If it takes Najib to break this cycle and put an end to this madness, then I’m all for it. We didn’t seek liberation from British rule to put ourselves at the permanent mercy of one man’s easily bruised ego, tempestuous mood swings, and yes, U-turns. As much as Mahathir would like to think otherwise, this is Malaysia, not ‘Mahathir-sia’. It’s time we take pride in that.



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