(This post was originally published at The Malaysian Insider)
I was reminded of the witticism on politicians that “we hang the petty thieves but elect the great ones to office” when I read Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s claim in his blog that the Chinese (and Indians) are the real masters of the country.
Specifically, he wrote that “Because they (the Malays) are willing to share their country with other races, the race from the older civilisation of more than 4,000 years and who are more successful, as such today whatever they have now is also being taken away from them”.
As election day approaches, this line of argument is being rehashed. We can expect more of this race baiting by Dr Mahathir and his kind in Umno and PEMUDA when they are addressing Malay voters.
Of course, this rehashing will take on new permutations such as “the PKR and PAS are selling out the rights of the Malays” or “the DAP is really the dayang master pulling the strings of the Pakatan coalition”.
What is important is not to get angry or remain silent but to refute it with facts, figures and arguments.
For Dr Mahathir to accuse the Chinese of being the real masters of the country is really the height of political idiocy. If we want to go by racial perception, it would appear to everyone that Malays dominate in every sphere of life in the country.
They form the majority in Parliament, judiciary, army and police, the MACC and all other important political bodies. In the socio-economic and educational sphere, they control all the major banks except for Public Bank, the GLCs, Petronas, public universities, civil service, etc.
Any Chinese or orang putih wanting to do business has to kowtow to the Malays for licences and permits. Moreover, Malay businesses control some of the monopolies such as water, electricity, toll roads, etc. where it is so easy for them to make more profits by just increasing the price.
Even the richest and most powerful Chinese and Indians such as Robert Kuok, Ananda Krishna, Tony Fernandez, Vincent Tan and others are completely at the mercy of the Malays if they want to do business in Malaysia.
But let’s not go by simplistic perception. The indisputable fact is that the real masters of the country are the Umno-led Barisan Nasional, which has ruled Malays and Malaysia for over 55 years.
During that period, Dr Mahathir as prime minister was the undisputed number one man. He changed the country’s constitution and laws; sent his political opponents into prison or oblivion; singlehandedly undermined the judiciary; and put the clock and our time back to ensure that we would all wake up an hour earlier.
He even took on the most sacrosanct of Malay institutions ― the Sultanate ― by reducing the authority of Malay rulers.
Dr Mahathir also controlled and manipulated the country’s purse strings. His financial leadership of the country have left an indelible black mark on the country’s economic and financial fortunes.
First, he made the key decisions on economic white elephants and scandals such as Proton, Bakun Dam, Putrajaya, and Perwaja. The last resulted in a loss of RM2.6 billion.
Dr Mahathir himself has admitted publicly in 2002 in a dialogue with Malaysians in London that the loss could have been as much as RM10 billion due to possible misappropriation of funds.
The mother of all financial scandals took place during Dr Mahathir’s time. This was the forex losses incurred by Bank Negara’s speculative currency trading which cost us over RM50 billion.
The second outcome was the plague of privatization he inflicted on the country. A devoted fan of Margaret Thatcher, Dr Mahathir pursued privatization of telecommunications, utilities, airlines and other public sectors and services with a vengeance.
But he lacked the British premier’s caution and acumen and closed both eyes to the leakages and abuses that accompanied the privatization programme.
Dr Mahathir can be considered to be the godfather of the class of capitalist cronies that has cornered much of the country’s wealth and who, together with Umno/Barisan, are the undisputed masters of the wealth of Malaysia. These big time tycoons comprise of many Chinese but they are a multiracial cast and include an increasing number of Malay businessmen.
Today, Dr Mahathir blames the Chinese for working hard and enjoying the fruits of their labour. He is envious of the Chinese middle and upper classes living in high end housing estates and owning the lion’s share of urban property.
He himself lives in a gated community and is reputed to own numerous properties but he laments for the many Malays living in squatter houses.
But who has been responsible for this situation?
Dr Mahathir needs to look at himself in the mirror. He has squandered our petro dollars on his projects of superficial grandeur and his love of cronies, many of whom he has helped with expensive bailouts. He could have solved the plight of hundreds of thousands of squatters by using treasury funds on them instead of his pet projects.
If he had invested the money wisely in skill acquisition for the young Malays and in public housing and urban infrastructure for all Malaysians, especially needy and deserving Malays, the racial economic divide will surely not be so conspicuous.
Dr Mahathir still does not want to go away from the centre stage. He wants to remain in it because he knows that the BN has to maintain power if he is not to be made answerable for the racial, political and economic mess that he was responsible for and left behind as his main legacy.
The extent of his desperation can be seen in his speeches aimed at shoring up Malay support by claiming that the Chinese are the real masters of Malaysia.
But as the Malaysian saying goes, his talk has no walk!