Shouldering the burden of the nation

It is unfair on Dr Mahathir to continue to pick up the burden when others continue to fail


IT WAS almost chaos at Umno’s 56th General Assembly in 2002 when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) announced that he would resign as prime minister (PM).

The 2,000 delegates at the annual gathering were left shellshocked. The hundreds of Wanita Umno members who traditionally made the annual pilgrimage to the country’s capital and sat outside the main hall to watch the president’s winding- up speech on the large screen, were close to hysteria.

Many were in tears. A few running in shock. Others consoling each other. One lady, shoeless, looked like she had lost everything as she sat on the staircase, consoled by a friend. Inside the hall the delegates shouted, “Withdraw. Withdraw. Long Live Mahathir.”

News of Dr Mahatir’s sudden decision to leave the leadership rocked the country. That night, it felt that Malaysia had stopped.

On his last day in office, Dr Mahathir, with Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, met Putrajaya-based journalists for his final press conference and later chaired his last Cabinet meeting.

He was jovial, a man with the world’s burdens lifted. Later in the afternoon, he and Dr Siti Hasmah left the PM’s complex, which Dr Mahathir had literally created. The walk from the main door to the car traditionally would take less than three minutes on any other day. On that day, it took the couple about 20 minutes as many lined up to say their goodbyes to the couple. Hundreds, if not thousands, waited outside the gate of the majestic complex.

But stories of Dr Mahathir’s last day only became footnotes in tomorrow’s newspapers. Editors’ allegiance switched faster than a flick of a switch.

There is a sense of deja vu harking back to the eventful 56th Umno General Assembly, although less earth shattering. In recent weeks, there have been calls for Dr Mahathir to serve his full term as the PM.

A few leaders of the newly found love political couple — Umno and PAS — were reported to have met with Dr Mahathir in a secret meeting. One of the agendas was to ask Dr Mahathir to serve the full term.

When Dr Mahathir threw his hat into the ring to dispose of a kleptocrat government, many were unconvinced he could go the final mile. He was, after all, in his early 90s.

Even the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition during the start of its unexpected romance had doubts about Dr Mahathir’s age.

But the leaders of the different parties relented and accepted that Dr Mahathir was the B-29 Superfortress that would deliver the “Little Boy” and level the then corrupt government.

It was agreed then that he would pass the baton to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in two or three years. That was the open secret. And the PH government would discuss the succession issue between their own four walls.

But when Umno and PAS leaders come calling and resonating that Dr Mahathir should continue to the end, it stinks of hypocrisy and gutter politics.

Many remember the diatribes aimed at Dr Mahathir when he first stepped out from political wilderness. The leaders from Umno and PAS had a field day taking shots at his age. The gutter language levelled at Dr Mahathir broke all religious and morale beliefs that make us human.

At the peak of the tirade, one of these ulamas from the holier than thou party in a cynical Facebook posting suggested that Dr Mahathir should instead “prepare to visit his own grave” when Dr Mahathir wanted to visit the grave of revered and respected PAS leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. That was how ugly politics were back then.

While we may love or hate Dr Mahathir, or we openly ridicule him but quietly admire the man, who for more than 60 years dedicated his life to the country — for the right or wrong reasons — he is 94 years old.

How many 94-year-old men or women we know get into the office at 8am and leave at 5.30pm and later attend an evening function, read speeches and give press conferences? For some of us in our 50s, there are days we do not want to get out of the bed and face the world’s idiocies.

Dr Mahathir continues at the moment to be right as rain. But a full term will take him to 97. It begs the question how could a nation, which claims to have so many revered leaders and self-professed giants, continue to burden a 97-year-old man (if he goes full term).

Somehow, it is unfair on Dr Mahathir to continue to pick up the burden when others continue to fail.

Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the editor-in-chief at The Malaysian Reserve.