Reading the Malaysian papers these days – itself an act that can at best be described as anti-intelligent – we sometimes wonder if a time machine’s been invented and we’re back in the 90s. As ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad makes a comeback in the headlines, we can only sigh over the double-despair of being administered by the lackluster Abdullah Badawi while having to endure the tireless ranting of the ex-Premier. There is now a small and growing cult of supporters dedicated to the preservation of the memories of Mahathir’s Malaysia, then a country renewed by ambition and confidence, armed with the zeal to stick it to the colonial masters and climb the stage of global recognition. This was the era when attention-seeking was a patriotic duty, and so we built the world’s third-longest bridge, the tallest towers, the third-tallest telecommunications structure, the biggest ketupat, the most number of lemang consumed in one day…the list goes on.
But we also remember that much of this development was built on the back of unhindered corruption, rampant cronyism and a sycophantic political culture which treats dissent, even constructive criticism, as if it were a plague that needs to be rid of at all costs. That culture of subservience that Mahathir Mohamad so craftily cultivated may have meant a relatively easy time for him as Prime Minister, but it has left us with a generation of slavish, unthinking leaders unaccustomed to debate and criticism from the people whose vote brought them to office in the first place. These politicians, whose greatest contribution is saying “yes” on cue, are as useful to the democratic process as a rubber stamp. While we acknowledge the ex-Premier’s deeds to this country and admire his intellectual rigor, his present ranting do not actually benefit anybody, and only serves to further diminish his reputation as one of Asia’s great statesmen.