Is Merdeka Day the time for deep reflection on what independence means or is it just another public holiday for most people?
The precious freedoms spawned by Merdeka are in danger of being lost because of evident corruption in corporate governance that has not been adequately investigated and resolved.
The 1MDB imbroglio is like a festering cancer on the nation. The call by our Malay Rulers for an expeditious outcome was not as the country had expected, when all is brushed under the carpet and key investigators gratuitously replaced.
I recall the Merdeka prime minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, lament out loud his disappointment with then-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had turned the nation into a ‘dictatorship’. This compulsive ‘Look East’ leader governed like a mediaeval ‘shogun’ with obsequious cronies as ‘daimyos’. He was untouchable and still appears so.
Mahathir had governed against the ideals of Merdeka, quenched its liberating spirit and dampened its future for freedom. The Tunku vented much of his fury on Mahathir in his regular column ‘As I See It’ in The Star, then known as ‘The People’s Paper’ in the early 1980s, a void now filled by Malaysiakini. Disappointing leaders seem a quirk of local politics and their tainted history repeats itself.
The Tunku was critical of Mahathir’s use of the Internal Security Act during Operation Lallang in 1987 and his resort to leftover draconian British laws to stifle political dissent. Sadly, the Tunku passed away while Mahathir was still in power but was spared the pain of seeing more repressive acts in the “failed tenure” of the “authoritarian, belligerent and contemptuous” Mahathir, as Musa Hitam described in his book.
In the Tunku’s eyes, Mahathir was the ‘Malay Dilemma’, but not what Mahathir wrote in his book. The Tunku feared the country’s leaders might become our worst enemies, without proper legal checks and balances. And now we have Mahathir lamenting on PM Najib Abdul Razak’s failures. History repeats itself.
Merdeka – the won freedom – had to be fought for again.
Dramatically, in 1998, the country saw a public ‘Reformasi’ backlash against Mahathir’s ‘neo-colonialism’ in mass street demonstrations. Mahathir may need to do a new book and title it ‘The Real Malay Dilemma’ and it has nothing to do with the faults of the British or others.
Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Reformasi, paid the price of what many foreign governments, including the United States, believe was a political conspiracy to jail him on “trumped-up charges” of corruption and sodomy.
They complained, but sadly, did nothing more. Justice was refused, and like the bruised victim, resides with Anwar in prison. The country struggles on with a fractured judiciary, despite revelations of ‘judge fixing’ in a subsequent royal commission.
Capitalising on Dr M’s chequered legacy
Mahathir in a gesture of conciliation and self-redemption ought to appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to pardon Anwar, so that the tainted slate of Malaysia’s justice system may be cleansed. The novice democrat may earn his credentials as a reformist leader this way and be the country’s first tiger to change his stripes.
Today the government has capitalised on Mahathir’s chequered legacy and made new incursions into the people’s freedom. Leaders who deride Mahathir’s past but emulate him are hypocritical. The new National Security Council Act, however, will make Mahathir pale in comparison as a ‘dictator’ if the all-empowering law is activated. If the Mahathir years were ‘turbulent times’, Malaysia now faces even more ‘perilous times’.
The leader has the power to act without accountability and the police will enjoy impunity under the Act. Frightening indeed!
This is not a pro-Merdeka ethos, nor a liberating defensive exercise. This is a dictator’s law. And it’s all official, even without the royal assent.