TO quote horror novelist Stephen King: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”
The political goings-on since the beginning of the year that culminated with the formation of an unelected government in the midst of a killer pandemic, could well be off the pages of one of King’s disturbing novels.
At the center of this horror story is an oracle whom everyone gravitates to, like a killer clown in the sewers who lures children with candy and then devours them.
One is certainly not equating Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the IT villain, but one must marvel that at 95, he is still regarded by many as a ‘King’ maker (pun and reference unintended, although in Dr Mahathir’s mind, he is the King). A unifier and divider at the same time.
That the likes of DAP and Parti Amanah Negara are still looking at him to form a new coalition to oust the Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin-led Perikatan Nasional government calls into question the judgment of some of these political leaders.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, however, seems to be the wiser one who subscribes to King’s philosophy and seems to be distancing himself from Dr Mahathir.
His absence at Dr Mahathir’s May 18 press conference with other Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders, and staking his claim as the leader of the Opposition, to many is an indication of Anwar finally having learnt his lesson.
Anwar, after all, was the one who got burnt the most by his former mentor.
If Dr Mahathir had stuck to the leadership handover agreement, the “Sheraton Move” may never had happened and the Pakatan government could have just focused on fulfilling its election pledges, fixing the economy, and battling Covid-19 – for which then Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad had already been putting measures in place.
In any case, with 114 of the 222 MPs in Parliament whose support Dr Mahathir now claims to enjoy, many parties and political leaders are considering allegiance towards him, and to make him Prime Minister for the third time!
DAP and Amanah hope third time’s the charm. Unfortunately for the DAP, Dr Mahathir has demonstrated that his preference for administering Malaysia is via a single race dominated political leadership – not a leadership that incorporates the best of our diversity even if this route would be more effective in alleviating the lot of poor Malays whom Dr Mahathir has been championing for 70 years.
However, the prospects of new powers and a shift of the political spectrum is too tempting to ignore by those seeking to realign with Dr Mahathir.
A promise of deputy premiership to Parti Warisan Sabah that seems to hold the decisive vote, for instance, could see Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal as Deputy Prime Minister and probably due to Dr Mahathir’s age and health, becoming the first Prime Minister from East Malaysia in the next few years.
A mouth-watering scenario indeed. But as the saying goes, when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Which is why it is probably best that Dr Mahathir, who has been ousted as chairman of his own party, now play the role of elder statesman and look at ways to unite a polarised nation.
But this may be too much to ask of a man who was largely responsible for this polarisation to begin with.
So, perhaps those who aspire to lead should first exercise sound judgment, or the very least, stop using this old man as a crutch to move forward politically.
Dr Mahathir has been the boon and bane of Malaysia throughout his checkered political life. We have benefited from his leadership which made us an economic powerhouse, his return to politics two years ago helped to some measure achieve justice and restitution to the billion-ringgit kleptocracy that was 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
But economic disparity among the races, poorer Malays, the suppression of basic and democratic rights and freedoms, and institutional corruption also mark his legacy. Several of those leaders seeking his return now were at the wrong end of his leadership in the 1980s and 1990s and have paid a personal price.
It is time for the nation with a new generation of Malaysians to move beyond Dr Mahathir and for politicians to learn that they cannot take him at his word.
We should take a leaf out of this “Look East” policy and apply the Konmari method introduced by the “Queen of Declutter”, Marie Kondo. She advises us to “thank” the items that have served us which we now wish to put away as they do not spark joy anymore.
She specifically advises tidying up sentimental items last as they would be the most difficult to discard.
With that, we thank Dr Mahathir for his services to this nation, but we also tell him he does not spark joy anymore and this country needs to learn to move on without him, especially when proof of his mortality is looming.
Terence Fernandez is an award-winning journalist and communications consultant.