Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 1 Jan 2018

Before I could respond to Mahathir’s supposed apology, he had already “de-apologised”! All the excited crypto-Mahathiristas who had hailed this mother of hollow apologies were quickly left disappointed…

Before his de-apology, Mahathir’s supposed apology was executed in the manner of the ritual ‘maaf, zahir & batin’ that Malays express during Hari Raya Puasa. Anyway, we subsequently heard from the horse’s mouth that his apology was expected of Malay custom and that he was not saying sorry for any mistakes made during his 22-year rule. Any autocrat, any kleptocrat could easily do the same. If Najib does the same ritualistic apology tomorrow without even mentioning 1MDB, will he also be forgiven by the crypto-Mahathiristas?

But the suffering he imposed on individuals, families, communities and Malaysian taxpayers in general is precisely what Malaysians want him to apologise for…

So far, it has only been lawyer Aziz Bari from Pakatan Harapan who has rightly clarified that even if Mahathir apologises, it does not mean that he is absolved from prosecution for past wrongdoings. Indeed, in terms of human rights, democracy and justice, miscreant autocrats and kleptocrats cannot get away with impunity. Impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”. It refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations, rule of law flouters and the corrupt to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress.

Mahathir must prove he is a born-again democrat

Before Mahathir embarks on the GE14 campaign trail, he needs to demonstrate his credibility as a truly ‘born-again’ democrat. Otherwise, the trumpeted reforms he professes in GE14 will have no credibility at all. If he has indeed undergone a democratic transformation rather than merely wanting Najib out so that his son can rise up the political ladder, it is vital that he engages in a process of reconciliation and seeks clarity about the democratic space Malaysians are seeking. Thus,  Mahathir needs to tell us how his thinking has changed from the time he was PM and now and what that means for democracy. First of all, does he even accept that there were terrible violations of human rights and financial scandals during his term in office?

Does he, for example, acknowledge that grave injustices were committed during Operation Lalang? Does he acknowledge that harm was done via the incarceration without trial, of key contributors who served the community in multiple ways? Does he acknowledge the hardships and psychological damage experienced by the detainees’ families? Does he acknowledge that many lives were destroyed even though some robotic politicians treated their detentions as “chilling out” time away from political work?

Does he acknowledge the lasting damage he was responsible for with our democratic institutions, such as the Judiciary, and which affects all Malaysians, to the present day.  Najib has merely inherited Mahathir’s handiwork and then made the concentration of Executive powers even more fool proof!

If these PH politicians know anything about accountability and justice, they will know that the Malaysian people still want to ensure that former politicians get their just desserts and repay their dues to the rakyat. Is Mahathir willing to come to the table and be held to account?

Apologise to the many, not the few!

Let us not forget that some of our elite did rather well under Mahathir – some got favoured contracts including legal contracts, others gained from Mahathir’s privatisation policies in all areas including private higher education; politicians who were not physically tortured under Operation Lalang actually earned a badge of honour from their ISA detention which boosted their political careers. They might even want to thank Mahathir for his reign. As one of these PH leaders has recently confessed to being a crypto-Mahathirista while condemning Mahathir for decades: “Under Mahathir, we could hold our heads high, now under Najib…”

No, Mahathir may not owe these elite any apologies. He owes an apology not only to all the victims of Operation Lalang but also to the former Lord President and the Supreme Court judges that he sacked in 1988 and to the Malaysian rakyat for all the financial scandals since the seventies and eighties that have cost the rakyat billions of ringgit! Mahathir can be seen as the Father of Crony Capitalism in Malaysia. According to the social scientist Barry Wain, Mahathir squandered close to RM100 billion during his reign as Prime Minister. The leader of the Opposition knows of these scandals more than anyone else in this country – during the Eighties, he called Mahathir’s privatisation of our national assets, “piratisation”!

This is not to mention the billions lost through the Proton fiasco and its costs to the environment and the failure of a public transport system in the country. And don’t forget the RM5 billion arms deal that Mahathir signed with Margaret Thatcher in 1988 also led to allegations of “commissions” paid to UMNO which led to the “Arms for Aid” and “Buy British Last” furore in 1994.

Actually, if I had to say what was the worst thing that Mahathir did during his term in office, I would say it was the forced displacement of 10,000 indigenous peoples from 15 different ethnic communities from their Bakun ancestral lands. It was a wicked thing to do at a time when the Bakun dam project had been suspended as a result of the financial crisis in 1998. Then there were the hundreds of plantation communities and urban settlers displaced through Mahathir’s privatisation policies. These have been thoroughly documented through the years in SUARAM’s publications including our annual Human Rights Reports.

GE14 is about real reforms, not opportunism

Opportunism in its crudest form can be seen when politicians target an individual and not the political regime and political economic system that oppresses, divides and exploits the people. This so-called “Save Malaysia” campaign to only expel Najib but maintain rule of the same racist and exploitative dominant party is nothing short of pure opportunism. Does Mahathir’s “Pribumi” party intend to cleanse Malaysia from the racism and racial discrimination that we have suffered from since 1971?

Reforms that do not target the neoliberal economic policies that were set in fast motion by Mahathir in the early Eighties are not serious reforms. Taxes on the rakyat will continue and income disparities will continue to widen while the working class will continue to bear the burden of so-called development.

Najib has merely made more extreme the structures created by Mahathir to entrench the powers of the Executive, emasculate the democratic institutions and provide the means for private enrichment of the elite in this country. Mahathir’s legacy lives on in the racist and racial discriminatory policies that were entrenched during the early Eighties and further strengthened by Najib until today.