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The Rakyat Post
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CHICAGO, July 29, 2015:
History should judge former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as being himself the author of a long national decline that has culminated in this latest crisis, wrote University of Chicago political science associate professor Dan Slater.
In a piece published in the EastAsiaForum today, Slater wrote that Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is right about one thing. “The current mess in Malaysian politics is the making of his greatest nemesis, Dr Mahathir, who led the Southeast Asian nation with an iron fist from 1981–2003.”
Slater wrote that Mahathir has not produced this mess by criticising (Najib’s) leadership, but by paving Najib’s path to power in the fashion he did during his decades in office.
“Dr Mahathir may believe that he can end the crisis by bringing Najib down… But this road toward ruin commenced with Dr Mahathir, not Najib.”
In outlining the events that led to the current crisis, Slater wrote: “Dr Mahathir was holding a winning hand when he became prime minister in 1981.
“Then came the debt. Obsessed with following in the footsteps of Asia’s technological leaders, Mahathir began borrowing heavily to fund his ‘Look East’, state-led heavy-industrialisation programme.
“Privatisation was part of his growth package, but the beneficiaries were businessmen of loyalty more than talent.
“When the global economy went into recession in the mid-1980s, patronage started drying up. Umno split, largely in reaction to Dr Mahathir’s strong-armed style of rule.
“Dr Mahathir’s two most talented rivals, Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah) and Tun Musa Hitam, bolted from Umno despite their deep personal ties to the party, mostly to get away from Dr Mahathir himself.
“Dr Mahathir responded by launching a police operation under the pretext of racial tensions, imprisoning and intimidating political rivals, and cementing his autocratic control.
“Hence by the late 1980s, all of the defining features of Malaysia’s current crisis under Najib’s leadership were already evident under Dr Mahathir.
“Ethnic tensions had been reopened to political manipulation. The economy was worrisomely indebted. Umno was shedding some of its most capable leaders. This was the beginning of Malaysia’s sad national decline, under Dr Mahathir’s watch and at his own hand.”
These seeds were to play out towards the current crisis because of what Dr Mahathir did next, wrote Slater.
“Fast-forward a decade and all of these syndromes would recur in even nastier forms. The Asian financial crisis of 1997–98 punished Malaysia for the unsustainable dollar-denominated debts it had accumulated under Dr Mahathir’s single-minded push for breakneck growth.
“Dr Mahathir blamed everybody but himself for the crash. Dr Mahathir didn’t pull Malaysia out of its crisis with economic reform or adjustment, but with more and more borrowing and spending.
“Hence even before the turn of the millennium, Malaysia was hurtling down the very trajectory of decline we are witnessing in the current crisis.”
Slater also noted that Najib has taken a page out of Dr Mahathir’s playbook, when the latter was publicly criticised by then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
“In consummate Dr Mahathir style, Najib has now even sacked his deputy Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin for questioning Najib’s repression of the media in response to the 1MDB scandal.
“In sum, Dr Mahathir has nobody to blame more than himself.”