The town-hall session was for youths to hear out Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, but what transpired may have reopened old wounds hurtful to his new friends in the Opposition.
THERE is a rather cute picture on Facebook showing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) checking out social media comments on a computer.
It came with the caption: “I read all the comments. Jangan risau, saya tak kecil hati (don’t worry, I am not thin-skinned).”
The former premier would not have survived 22 years at the top without being thick-skinned and especially now that he is wading into the cruel world of social media where everything and anything goes.
It is common knowledge that Dr Mahathir is not very adept at using computers and for the longest time ever, he would write his speeches with pen and paper.
But as he has noted in the posting: “Age is no barrier to learning about technology, I want to be young, too”.
Still, 92 years is a long way from being young as he must have found out during a town-hall session with millennials where he was bombarded with a variety of questions, from the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to his use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) against critics of his then government.
He was accompanied by DAP leader Lim Kit Siang and the DAP-inspired dialogue was meant to let the youth get up close with Dr Mahathir and hear him out.
The thing about Dr Mahathir is that he is not afraid to face his critics and to stand his ground.
Unfortunately, the other thing about Dr Mahathir is that he has accumulated too much baggage over his extended political career and a lot of what he has done has been quite hard to defend.
Staying in power for 22 years is not just about making people love you; it is also about making sure that those who do not love you are kept in check. And for that, he used to play the instruments of state like a violin.
It has become a pattern by now for him to shift the blame to others – be it Operation Lalang, the sodomy accusations against Anwar or the Memali massacre.
He blamed his then deputy Tun Musa Hitam for the 1985 Memali incident. As for the ISA dragnet of 1987, he said it was conducted by the police and he was powerless to object to the detention order.
During the town-hall meeting, he dropped another mini bombshell when he said it was Umno that decided Anwar was no longer fit to be in the party or to serve as the deputy prime minister.
The implication was that police investigations incriminated Anwar, the party made the decision and he went along with it, whereas everyone knows that he moved against Anwar only after he thought Anwar was planning to challenge him for the Umno leadership.
But apart from the blame game, his reply to a question about Anwar’s sacking revived all those nasty bits about Anwar doing things with other men and how he met the men who were “victims” of Anwar.
“Raking up old stories and reopening old wounds – it’s not going to help improve the ties between him and Anwar,” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.
Anwar is still very sensitive about any discussion of his sex life and the last time he had lashed out at Dr Mahathir over this was shortly before the two reconciled in a meeting in the Shah Alam court premises.
Dr Mahathir’s latest comments are bound to infuriate Anwar and his daughters, who are fiercely loyal to their father.
Moreover, there have been whispers on the PKR side that Anwar is not impressed with how Dr Mahathir has been running the show as Pakatan chairman.
But Anwar is a caged man and there is only so much he can do or say from behind bars.
Millennials are those born around the turn of the century and they are, by definition, aged between 17 and 34.
Half of them were born around the time Dr Mahathir became Prime Minister and they were young adults by the time he retired. This was the group that made up the audience at the town hall session.
Many millennials will be first-time voters in the next general election and the town-hall session was aimed at capturing this cohort of votes.
“I’m not sure why the organisers thought it would be a good idea to present him to millennials. I don’t believe it is going to get him more support. At most, it shows that he does not avoid confrontation and he is consistent that he has not done any wrong,” said Khaw.
It is quite possible that Dr Mahathir genuinely believes he is blameless. Leaders of that era went by the politics of conviction, which can be loosely translated as doing things their way. They did not have to deal with social media giving them instant reactions or the middle finger.
It has been more than a year since Dr Mahathir crossed over to Pakatan and, said Khaw, he has become a liability rather than a blessing.
The Opposition was desperately looking for a Malay political figure to fill the void left by Anwar and Dr Mahathir was their biggest catch.
“But Mahathir has made too many enemies in his time. He has offended so many interested parties, from the royal families to civil society groups and communities in Sabah. There are many old scores that have not been settled,” said Khaw.
For instance, the Sultan of Johor’s royal address in conjunction with his 59th birthday was a stern warning to those trying to divide and weaken the Malays. He did not name anyone or any party but the general conclusion was that the Sultan was hitting out at Dr Mahathir’s party.
Dr Mahathir made a good effort to woo millennials but he did not quite manage to wow them.
There is a rather poignant video of Dr Mahathir on pro-Parti Pribumi sites entitled, “Saya akan pergi tak lama lagi” (I won’t be around much longer), that tugs at the heartstrings. It is an emotional appeal for support in his bid to topple the Government before he meets his Maker.
Although Dr Mahathir is a good two generations older than his millennial audience, he is no quitter. He will fight till the end.