Our lessons in Mahathir’s victory

Khawaza Main Uddin | Update:

Mahathir Mohamad, former Malaysian prime minister and opposition candidate for Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) reacts during a news conference after general election, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 10 May, 2018. Photo: ReutersThe intelligentsia once again failed to predict the victory, quietly ensured by the people of Malaysia. It happened in the West recently and in Bangladesh, we hardly have had success in forecasting election results.

However, something that stands true has been valid in the latest case of Malaysia where pollsters could not see the popular wave coming to a 92-year-old ‘young’ man’s way.

What mattered more can perhaps be considered as ‘whispering’ as Malaysians voted for a so-called shock win for Mahathir Mohammad-led Alliance of Hope or Pakatan Harapan (PH).

In Bangladesh, rumour would be proven as more powerful than political discourse, if we look at results of any fair elections in about three decades.

The ruling party, Barisan Nasional which governed Malaysia for six decades, also looked invincible even hours before the unofficial results of 9 May 2018 general elections came in. The once unthinkable also becomes a reality in life!

Any curious observer would wait to see what happens in Bangladesh, had there been an election of Malaysia’s standard, vehemently criticised for gerrymandering.

A widely admired statesman in Bangladesh and many other similar countries is Mahathir Mohammad, now 92. His decision to contest elections denying state power and any opportunistic stand to stay on safer side, risking his own prestige and reputation, braving old age, and showing courage to admit mistakes and join hands with a former foe, Anwar Ibrahim, raised eyebrows of people of conventional thinking.

Can those in our country who talk about replication of Malaysia’s iron-man-like leadership model, make such a show? Let’s not forget, he had deserted his own party, BN, when he felt that its leadership was on wrong path.

The western media bracketed Mahathir Mohammad as a dictator, as he himself did sarcastically, but elsewhere he is regarded as a legend and undoubtedly the architect of modern Malaysia. A popular Mahathir neither rigged ballot nor acted against the interest of his people. Should we compare unpopular, illegitimate leaders with the stature of Mahathir?

After stepping down voluntarily in 2003, he has rejoined politics, for sure, not to make a Guinness Book record of becoming the oldest head of the government in the world. He wanted to accomplish the unfinished tasks and also address newer problems and the electorate confirmed that Malaysia needs his leadership.

He made his pledges clear in the manifesto and unless the word Malaysia is put in each paragraph, it’s difficult to reject if some of the programmes are for Bangladesh.

His PH has pledged to restore the dignity of national institutions, faith in the judiciary, reform the Anti-Corruption Commission, and abolish draconian laws.

Mahathir might have felt despite the economic development of his country, it is time to raise wages. Our industrial workers including those in readymade garments would admire such a pledge if it is really offered before elections.

Malaysia’s earlier strive for economic take-off included attracting foreign direct investment but Mahathir’s new pledge is to “relook the awarding of mega projects to foreign countries”. Are we sure we will not regret the contracts we are giving the foreigners without ensuring national interests and making them public?

A Western media outlet still dismissed Mahathir’s victory claim at the very moment when unofficial results indicated who was going to be the winner and the loser. Within hours, it was found that the opposition PH won 113 seats as against BN’s 79 in Malaysia’s 222-member parliament.

That kind of attitude towards the ground reality showed certain conviction created among all pro-establishment thinkers and players at home and abroad.

The most crucial factor in democratic politics that remains missing - more often than not - is the power of the people. The change makers in Malaysia are the majority Malaysians, not the media or not the foreigners. Mahathir Mohammad had been able to read the heartbeat of the silent majority.

Time will say how our politicians treat the electorate and how the people as the owners of the republic react to the situation.

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