Malaysiakini : As things turned out, PKR, DAP and Amanah proved spectacularly
unsuccessful in controlling Mahathir. He outmanoeuvred them at every
turn. He pitted them against each other. He played upon internal
rivalries that would have made even Machiavelli envious. – Dennis Ignatius (Paradise Lost - Mahathir & The End Of Hope)
| Do not go into this book, thinking that this is merely an exercise in
Mahathir bashing. While the machinations of Dr Mahathir Mahathir are
meticulously documented, this is also a book about the failings of
oppositional political operatives in this country.
here is that Mahathir has never been able to make the kinds of political
plays he has, if it was not for willing acolytes – either in BN or
Pakatan Harapan – who falsely assumed they could ride his coattails and
remain in power.
Ignatius did, in his other book "Diplomatically Speaking", he draws not
only on personal experience with the personalities involved, but also
on sources, gained over decades of loyal service.
He is an
insider explaining the arcane workings of the racial and religious
politics of the establishment, to outsiders, his countrymen, who do not
really know how deep the rabbit hole goes.
For instance, having
served under Mahathir and having numerous interactions with former prime
minister Najib Abdul Razak, Ignatius makes a clear distinction between
The former a meticulous note-taker, coldly intelligent,
shrewd and always waiting for the intended or unintended slight and the
latter, a scion of the establishment, easy-going, comfortable around
power, a polished diplomat, unfailingly courteous, unlike the pompous
and arrogant minister Ignatius was used to dealing with.
why, Mahathir, could first systematically neuter institutions and
personalities who would constrain him over his long watch and sire
creatures who would believe that his blueprint was the only way to
This is also why someone, like a disgraced former
prime minister, could emerge as a power broker in Umno, enjoying
And forget about Mahathir knowing the Malay
mind. Mahathir knows the non-Malay mind probably better than he does
the Malay mind. At the very least he knew the non-Malay political
Ignatius writes of how, after decades of
demonising the opposition, especially the DAP, which he always used as a
proxy for the Chinese community, Mahathir welcomed them into the fold.
speech, at the Chinese Assembly Hall, resulted in teary eyes. His
embracing of the DAP was like “manna from heaven” after decades of
brilliance of this book is that all of this happens early on in the
book. These snapshots of how the opposition fell under the charm of
Mahathir, should have been a warning sign. It is as if Mahathir had
inherited a political tabula rasa.
After these first few chapters,
Ignatius dives into the history behind the feel-good moments leading up
to the election. Interspersed between the breakdown of Harapan, he
delves into the failings of the Umno state under Mahathir.
we get front row seats to the Sheraton Move but this is more than just a
collection of how Harapan failed. This book is about why Harapan
He is uncompromising on the players involved, including a
young and ambitious Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar’s fate, as Ignatius notes for
"disloyalty", was an almost unhinged vengeance on the protégé.
one memorable passage, Ignatius notes that in conversations with
Mahathir when the old maverick was on a diplomatic tour in South America
during the tumultuous times before Anwar was kicked out of Umno,
Mahathir, overcome with emotion, could not even speak about the betrayal
of his protege.
As Ignatius writes, what was Anwar’s crime that
he deserved the treatment that he received from the Umno state, that
persists till this day.
While he acknowledges Anwar’s reformist
credentials, and how he shaped the oppositional political
narratives, Ignatius also acknowledges the shrewd way Anwar was embraced
by Mahathir and his acolytes because of his Islamic bona fides.
of course was during the times of his ongoing war with the populist
PAS, which in those days, had the remnants of left-wing politics in its
Islamic ideology, unlike the Saudi influenced toxicity that it has
Keep in mind recent Saudi revelations and acknowledgement that they purposely exported this brand of Islamism.
this not only played a part in the Islamisation process of institutions
but also the state security apparatus. This is an important thread
because, as Ignatius writes in his opinion (and one I share), is that
the most serious threat to our secular, constitutional democracy is
Do not, as Ignatius reminds us, buy into the majority card often played by the ketuanan
types. Being in a majority in a democracy does not mean that democratic
ideas, values and protections are thrown out the window.
If you as a majority do that, you are not a democratic state but a fascist state. Do attempt to define that as “democracy”.
rise of the Divine Bureaucracy (a term used by Professor Maznah Mohamad
of the National University of Singapore) Jakim, which Mahathir enabled
but discovered too late that he could not control, includes its
tendrils into the state security apparatus.
commissars (as Ignatius rightly puts it) to enforce doctrine amongst
enlisted men, include Kagat (Armed Forces religious corps) and Baka
(Police religious and counselling division).
Ignatius reminds us
that Mahathir appointed Brigadier-General Abdul Hamid Zainal Abidin as
head of Jakim, (he was the first director of Kagat) and that
Major-General Jamil Khir Baharom, the former minister of Islamic
affairs, once served as a director of Kagat.
Does anyone else see
a problem and pattern here? What we are talking about is how religion
is the connective tissue between various institutions of this country.
are not simply talking about religion "everywhere". What we are talking
about is how religion defines the response to threats to national
security and the various supposedly independent divisions tasked to
So, is it any surprise when the affable and faux
reformist Mujahid Yusof Rawa took over and attempted to reform Jakim, he
ended up increasing its budget with the help of all those supposedly
secular political operatives because, to do otherwise, would spook the
Now, keep in mind, the book is filled with
such historical facts that were forgotten, when Harapan gave the mantle
of leadership to Mahathir. A move supported by Ignatius and even
How could we forget such things, especially since
Ignatius points out that even on the campaign stump, Mahathir never
embraced the reformist agenda?
Hence this book reminds us that we are all complicit in our paradise lost. We are all enablers in the failed Malaysia Baru.
Tawfik Ismail describes Mahathir as the Machiavellian bomoh.
It is as good a term as any, but I think of him more as the dark uncle
of literature. The archetype, who seduces people from altruistic or
righteous paths with quick solutions using warped logic and playing on
You have no idea how entrenched concepts like
realpolitik and pragmatism are in political operatives and indeed a
certain section of the voting demographic, with the belief of the goal
of ultimate good. The dark uncle always puts forward the benefits of such concepts but never the consequences.