The observed of all observers


ON WEDNESDAY, the birthday wishes for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who turned 94, came thick and fast.

All mediums — be they social media platforms and the conventional ones — kicked off the celebratory messages from midnight and it didn’t stop until today, and is expected to go on until the weekend, at least, if not later.

It is obvious that the affection for him and regards for his contributions to the nation are by cross-section of the society. Of course there are detractors and haters, but by and large, these voices are drowned by the admirers.

Since the accolades alongside the birthday wishes have yet to subside, it’s probably a good time to propose that a movie is made of Dr Mahathir’s success in ousting the previous kleptocratic regime.

Its title should probably read: “The Elderly Man Who Can’t Break a Glass but Brought a Government to His Knees.”

Before anyone starts questioning the lengthy title and that it is inappropriate, they should realise that it is styled after a 1995 movie starring Hugh Grant called “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain.”

The next question is why such a title.

It captures the essence of how Dr Mahathir was then condescendingly depicted by his opponents and how he rose against all odds and did something nobody thought he would be capable of pulling off.

A recap of what transpired during those years, apart from providing the material for a movie plot, would also provide the context to all that is unravelling today.

One of his critics then, when told that Dr Mahathir was chosen to lead the then Opposition Pakatan Harapan, responded by saying that “baling gelas pun tak pecah” (he’s not even capable to throw a glass and break it — hence, the proposed title for the movie).

That was one of the many disdains that were thrown at Dr Mahathir. A favourite among the self-righteous Malay Muslim detractors was that at his age, he should not get himself involved in the worldly affairs of politics and should be spending his time in mosques praying and preparing himself for the life hereafter.

Some are too outright uncouth and boorish to be repeated. Suffice to say that most of his detractors used his advanced age to dismiss his efforts to end the Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s rule.

But they did not seem to realise that Dr Mahathir is not someone who believes in retirement as others understand it to be.

Even before he decided to take up the cudgel against Najib, he was still at the office on average of six to eight hours daily. When he decided to go on the campaign trail, he continued working the usual hours in the office and added more hours for his political ceramah, which was almost a nightly affair apart from the long drives across the breadth of the peninsula.

Today, the time he put in as the prime minister is beyond normal and that is probably his way of telling the self-righteous detractors that there is no retirement in Islam and that working is an ibadah, a religious ritual, as much as praying and other religious obligations.

Despite proving himself capable of taking on the best and worst of political enemies, his detractors are today saying that he is driven because he’s hoping to enrich himself and his cronies apart from wanting to ensure his son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz, gets into the mainstream and have a chance to the Prime Ministership later.

The part about wanting the son in the running for the premier post is probably churned based on the fact that Najib’s father was Tun Razak Hussein, the second prime minister. His successor, Tun Hussein Onn was Najib’s uncle whose father was Datuk Onn Jaafar, the founder of Umno.

Prior to that, Najib’s cousin Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was also high in the Umno hierarchy, very much in the running for the top post and by convention, the Prime Ministership as well.

But such assumption is quite lame because Dr Mahathir did not allow his sons to hold any top party posts when he was the Umno president and prime minister the first time around, and now that he is part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition where all component parties are equal, the possibilities of him putting his son in the top echelon of the succession is quite difficult.

If his son Mukhriz does end up in the equation for the Prime Ministership, it would have been with the support of all components and not the will of Dr Mahathir.

As for pursuing riches, it is also quite far-fetched as the path he took to end up as the current prime minister obviously negates it.

Lest people forget, when he started taking on Najib, it was never about him becoming the prime minister. He was pushing it through Umno, urging

Najib to step down and failing that, urging members to put an end to his scandalous rule.

Imagine if the party members and leaders had heeded his warning that the scandal was too filthy to defend and they forced Najib out of office, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the then deputy prime minister and deputy president of Umno, would have assumed the post.

Dr Mahathir would have probably then returned to his office at the foundations and continue writing his blogs and part two of his autobiography, and give lectures abroad whenever invited.

That was what he did when he helped oust Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the fifth prime minister. Having succeeded in that task, he extended his support to Abdullah’s successor until Najib decided to perform the 1MDB Houdini-like act.

Dr Mahathir took a similar approach when dealing with Najib and 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) — warned him of his wrongdoings, asked him to correct it and when Najib had gone too deep, urged him to step down.

Instead, Najib sacked those who protested against him, attempted to besmirch Dr Mahathir and his legacy, and even tried to persecute and incarcerate him.

He took them on, all and sundry, and when all civil and legal avenues failed to stop Najib, Dr Mahathir opted for the political solution — formed Bersatu and the rest is history.

At 94, Dr Mahathir clocks in at 8am and leaves at 6pm, almost with clockwork precision. Like him or hate him, don’t ever underestimate him, lest at your own peril.

For isn’t he the glass of fashion and the mould of form?

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.