[UPDATED] Q&A with Dr.M: Politicians and Humility, myth or non-existent?

Reflections after a chance Q&A session with Dr. Mahathir – on his support for Perkasa, the 1988 Judicial Crisis, and other inconsistencies between what he claims now and what has been allowed to happen (if he was not complicit to) during his tenure as Prime Minister.

Politicians and humility: ne’er the twain shall meet?

DUBAI May 6, 2010

It was the usual daily grind for me until at about 4.30p.m. when I was informed that Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was to deliver a speech at 7.00p.m. at The Dubai World Trade Center Convention Tower, at a talk hosted by the Dubai School of Government.

I rushed to the venue right after work and manages to duck into the same lift with Tun. The audience included students from a university in Egypt who watched and heard Tun through a live web-cast. Tun’s speech was an interesting one that began by briefly covering Malaysia’s history and went on to discuss some of the past and contemporary challenges the government faced in developing the country.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there would be a Q&A session. My hastily scribbled notes formed much of the basis of what I said to Tun.

What follows is a rough transcript of the interaction, and having been written up as soon as I returned home from the event it has a fair degree of contemporaneity. Given the very short time I had to prepare, I hope readers will forgive me for any errors or inaccuracies on my part.

Dr M Dubai

Q&A with Dr. M

Q: Assalamualaikum, Tun. I am proud to say that I am a Malaysian. My name is Umran.

In discussing Malaysia’s history earlier you spoke of an “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” population. I would also refer to your recent support of a Malay rights group known as Perkasa which has been characterised by some as obsessed with race and even borderline racist.

I would submit that the challenges faced by Malaysia today are very different to the problems faced 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The challenges Malaysia is presented with include globalisation, increased competition from our neighbours and the well-known “brain drain.” I would further submit that what is needed is a more unified Malaysia, to borrow a term we need a “Bangsa Malaysia,” a term that was made famous by none other than yourself, Tun.

What is needed then is to focus not on our differences but on our commonalities; to do so is not to ignore our history but to face today’s reality. In order for Malaysia to continue to flourish and thrive in the years ahead we need all Malaysians, irrespective of their ethnic background to feel that they have an equal stake in Malaysia, that they all have a place under the Malaysian sun.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter, Tun. Thank you.

A: Tun’s reply focused on how he agreed about the need for greater interaction between the races and that one way of doing this was having a unified school system, i.e. an indirect reference to his concept of visions schools, but that this idea had been rejected time and again by ethnic interest groups (quite true from my limited knowledge and he has been consistent on this issue).

The compere was about to move on but I quickly interjected despite his protestations,

Q: But Sir, how do you reconcile what you have just said with your support for Perkasa, a group that has been viewed as race obsessed and borderline racist by many?

A: Tun’s counter was that some Malays feel vulnerable as they feel that UMNO is no longer looking out for their interests and that these sentiments caused them to form and/or support Perkasa. He added that there were UMNO members in Perkasa as well and that during his time and that of his predecessors no such movements existed.

The compere then swiftly moved on to the next question.

Reflections: Perkasa, Red Herrings, and the 1998 Judicial Crisis

Having had a few days now to reflect, here are my thoughts.

In my view, while what Tun said regarding the impetus for the formation of Perkasa may be correct, I don’t believe it is helpful for Tun to have thrown his weight behind what is clearly a divisive movement. While I would agree that the sentiments which underlie such a movement should be addressed rather than ignored, I don’t believe it was helpful for Tun to have publicly supported such a movement in the manner he did as it has merely caused Perkasa to harden its stance rather than to adopt a more conciliatory and diplomatic tone. I believe the latter approach would ultimately be more conducive to fostering better relations between all races in Malaysia.

On a separate note, an educationist I know that has many years of involvement with education institutions in Malaysia had this to say regarding “vision schools“:

His reference to vision schools (sekolah wawasan) appears to be a convenient red herring. There was never a serious attempt to design and implement an education system that would truly foster a feeling of national unity among the younger generation.

The “vision school” was really a plan to locate schools of different cultural streams in propinquity to one another, and sharing the same football padang. The padang would tend, I think, to sharpen ethnic rivalry, rather than foster national cohesion.

A truly serious move would have been to have students from all races attend the same school, and infused with the same national ethos and learning environment. When I was in secondary school (V.I. in the early 1950′s) we were more “Malayans” then, than school children today are “Malaysians.” We were all more “Victorians” than Malays, Chinese or Indians – fluent in English (and some Latin hammered into us). I am, frankly, astonished and worried by the polarisation among school children in Malaysia today. And they will be the adult citizenry tomorrow!

The event on 6th May was the second occasion I attended a talk by Tun in which I was able to put a question to him. The earlier occasion was in London in 2008 at BPP Law School where he was before a much tougher crowd – Malaysian students. My question on that occasion centered around the then Prime Minster Abdullah Badawi’s initiative to make the Anti Corruption Agency answerable to a Parliamentary committee and why a similar initiative was not made during Tun Dr. M’s time as Prime Minister and his indirect answer was what one would expect of a seasoned and adept politician.

However, there remains one question that I have wanted to ask Tun for years and it is this:

Why did he take steps towards or permit the removal of the Lord President of Malaysia’s Supreme Court in 1988 and why did he subsequently take steps towards or permit an amendment to Malaysia’s Federal Constitution, i.e. Article 121(1), which caused the judiciary to derive its authority from Parliament where before it derived it from the Federal Constitution; this in effect made the judiciary subservient to Parliament.

If indeed he was not complicit in those events, then why did he not take steps to correct those wrongs during his many years of power?

Following on from this, bearing in mind that the doctrine of the Separation of Powers is crucial to a functioning democracy, was he (a) simply ignorant of or (b) not bothered by the implications of Article 121(1)?

At one point during Q&A session in Dubai, Tun was asked if he regretted any of his actions whilst in power. His answer was tantamount to a flat “no”. I must admit I was rather disappointed by his answer. As much as I admire Tun’s many achievements and accomplishments for our country, if there is one type of person I cannot put my faith in it is a person that displays unrestrained hubris.

In the meantime, my search for a Malaysian politician without hubris, in other words a politician I feel I can put my faith in, continues.

LB: The writer has been living and working in Dubai for the past year.

See Also:

Surat Terbuka Kepada Dr.M: “Kaki Dalam Kasut” by Bong Chan Siong

Che Det: Mahathir’s Man in the Mirror by Kwan Will Sen

Related Internet Links:

1988 Malaysian Constitutional Crisis – Wikipedia


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Umran Kadir is a lawyer who now lives in the UK.

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8 Responses to [UPDATED] Q&A with Dr.M: Politicians and Humility, myth or non-existent?

  1. andrew

    Blaming the vernacular schools for the racial poloarization is a red herring. Consider the national schools today. Do the children of the various races really mix? If not, what makes you think that they will really mix if the vernacular schools are abolish?

    In my school days in the 1950's and 1960's, there were already Chinese and Tamil Schools. In those days, I have plenty of Malay school friends who will visit my home and even have meals with my family. They do not feel offended when pork was served. They just do not take them. Consider today. Most Malays do not even want to step into a Chinese restaurant even when we assure them that there are no pork dishes. In my college days, it was compulsory for a Malay and a non Malay to share a room in a residential college. A few years ago, this practice was suggested by the authorities but it was the Malay students union who shot down the idea. So what is the cause of the races not mixing as freely today as before? The answer is simple. Religion and not the vernacular schools.

    Why do I send all my children to a Chinese school? The answer is simple. They are better run and disciplined and the teachers are more dedicated. In a Chinese school, my children learnt 3 languages and today they are more employable. I have no regrets sending them to a Chinese school and advise them to send their grandchildren to the Chinese schools.

    BTW, is the teaching of Chinese and Tamil guaranteed in the Constitution?

  2. Malaysian of chinese origins here. I believe the mistake was made long ago by the alliance at the point of merdeka… education should have been streamlined and everyone should have been 'malaysianized' at that point… if that has been done, 2-3 generations later like today, everyone is malaysian, we can see examples of thailand and indonesia… so, what were they thinking of then? Preserving the control of the elite over commoners, just like the BN today or national integration? A question for the historians to figure out. I believe eventually there will be a class war, the commoners unite against the corrupted elite when the nation has been bled dry and the commoners can no longer put food on the table… unfortunately, so long as there's wealth to be bled, the elites will continue to play their game… we still have to wait… hopefully, the country is not too damaged by the time the inevitable happens…

  3. Mikey

    Su Qiu is the HK film actress, right?

    Only in Malaysia where when the minorities were labeled as communists and racists, they are appealing for equal treatment.

  4. Danny Lo

    To classify suqiu as a racist organization is ignorant at best. Suqiu is made of two chinese words, su, and qiu. Su means to tell and qiu means to beg. It was the most humble form of request the Chinese Organization could muster when they submitted the appeal (What the word, suqiu really means) to Tun Dr Mahathir.

    The 17 points appeals are too long for me to deliberate here, but what suqiu asking for was just equal treatment.

    I guess, only in Malaysia where when the minorities were appealing for equal treatment, they are labeled as communists and racists.

  5. Umran

    Lawyer Too: I would agree that there are many other divisive which are focused on issues of concern only to specific segments of non-Malay communities in Malaysia. Yet, the more pertinent question is this: apart from PERKASA, how many of these organisations (Malay-based or otherwise) can claim to have the backing of a former Prime Minister?

    rocky: Apart from humility, to my mind it takes a very particular kind of courage for a public personality to admit to mistakes. At the end of the day we are all human and if a person can demonstrate that they had the best of intentions, I believe that we Malaysians are a forgiving lot.

    citizen: You raise interesting questions, though I hope for the sake of our country that your premonitions regarding a class war prove to be wrong. I note you began your comment with the statement that you are Malaysian Chinese – please don't interpret what I say next as a criticism as it is not intended as such but your declaration made me sad as it reminded me of the reality we live in today. It caused me to ponder over whether the day will ever come that we will ever see ourselves as one people and one nation, a day when our ethnic and religious backgrounds will generally be considered irrelevant to our individual positions on the political and social issues afflicting our country.

  6. rocky

    In Dr.M’s mind admitting weakness is a no no. he never likes to admit mistakes thus his answer will always be a no. he only sees mistakes in other eg. he blamed pak lah for money politics when in actual fact money politics started during his watch of UMNO thus he is Bapak Money politics.

  7. citizen

    Malaysian of chinese origins here. I believe the mistake was made long ago by the alliance at the point of merdeka… education should have been streamlined and everyone should have been ‘malaysianized’ at that point… if that has been done, 2-3 generations later like today, everyone is malaysian, we can see examples of thailand and indonesia… so, what were they thinking of then? Preserving the control of the elite over commoners, just like the BN today or national integration? A question for the historians to figure out. I believe eventually there will be a class war, the commoners unite against the corrupted elite when the nation has been bled dry and the commoners can no longer put food on the table… unfortunately, so long as there’s wealth to be bled, the elites will continue to play their game… we still have to wait… hopefully, the country is not too damaged by the time the inevitable happens…

  8. Laywer too

    Umran,

    Perkasa is not the only divisive movement. Try Suqiu, Dong Zong and many other chinese associations.

    These organisations are qequally guilty of racial issues and oneupmanship.

    Vision school was a flop because these racist associations do not support it.

    We should have more schools like the school you went in the 50s. But can all those chinese orgs accept that? They will time and time again project and promote chinese agenda.

    Umran needs to broaden his scope of criticism. Please concentrate on other factors, not just PERKASA.