Saturday, July 19, 2008

Balancing Views - Was Dr. M a dictator? written in 1998

(Writer invites Dr M & Musa to his house next Hari Raya)

As a concerned Malaysian, I wish to express my views on the speech delivered by our Prime Minister, YAB Dato’ Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad, aired over TV3 and RTM on Aug 23, 1988 before the by-election of Johor Bahru recently. This speech gave vent to our PM’s personal problems with his former deputy, YB Dato’ Musa Hitam.

Before I proceed, I wish to mention that :
· I am not a member of any political party in Malaysia, nor am I inclined towards those who are striving to revive UMNO (It is sufficient to say that none of them reflect my aspirations. However, I support matters of principle, no matter the political party, which I consider right or justified);

· I am indifferent towards our PM’s problem with his former deputy (and vice versa), for I am more concerned with the larger issues surrounding his speech; and

· I hope that all concerned Malaysians, including the PM and YB Dato’ Musa Hitam, would read this letter with concern, giving it due consideration and attention.


It puzzles me that the whole nation has been dragged into a situation, to be asked to sympathize with our PM’s personal problems with an old friend of his. It seems that the personal problem of our PM has assumed greater attention than the problems faced by the nation. One may wish to ask: “Why should this insignificant problem between two people deserve such importance as to be given extensive media coverage when challenges to the Judiciary, fundamental human rights, media freedom, etc. faced by the nation are simply ignored. The PM himself viewed the issue of the suspension of the Lord president and five other judges merely as a passing event. One gets the impression that he cares more for himself than the nation. Must these judges, as well as the ISA detainees, or the whole nation for that matter, be the PM’s old-time friends before his sensitivity is provoked.

I wish to call upon our PM to get his priorities right. The nation and the country must come first in any matter if the PM wants to deny any of the allegations, he should allow the nation to witness these allegations in full before rebutting them because one should not accept anything unless one can first verify it. (Quran 17:36)


The PM has gone to the extent of expressing his willingness to swear in the name of God on the Quran (in the mosque) to justify his sincerity in denying the allegation that he had not allowed YB Dato’ Musa Hitam and certain of his friends to visit him during Raya day. I strongly believe that such childish problems need not be resolved by such measures. The immediate need now is for both parties concerned to grow up. Nevertheless, I would not deny our PM his right to act according to his own judgement in this matter. But I would suggest that, since he is already prepared to swear the Quran, he could add a few more matters which I believe needs God’s immediate attention. Is he prepared to swear in the name of God on the Quran that :-
· On his part, he did not amend article 121(1) of the Constitution to curb the powers of the Judiciary and lessen the independence of the judges;
· The suspension of the Lord President and five other judges have no connection with the squabbles between UMNO Baru and those who are striving to revive UMNO Lama (with reference to the UMNO” appeal);
· He did not influence, directly or indirectly, the choice of the members of the tribunal who seemed to be more inclined towards his side;
· The amendments to the ISA recently have nothing to do with the on-going cases of habeas corpus appeals by opposition leaders such as Mr Lim Kit Siang and Mr Karpal Singh;
· As Home Minister, he did not fabricate the reasons behind the launching of Operation Lallang; and
· He had acted impartially in exercising his duties as the Home Minister in the above said operation.

I believe the PM would agree with me that the abovementioned matters are more worthy to be sweared on in the Name of God than his own personal problems. Yet, if the problem between YB Dato’ Musa Hitam and him reaches a deadlock, I would humbly invite both of them to my home to “bermaaf-maafan zahir dan batin” on the next coming Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.


If it is true that YB Dato’ Musa Hitam had accused the PM of being a dictator, I would disagree with him. It certainly takes more than what the PM had done to be classified as a dictator. Furthermore, if the conclusion was based primarily on how the PM conducts his meetings, I would term YB Dato’ Musa Hitam as plain foolish. However, to refute allegations of dictatorship using the same yardstick as the PM is equally foolish.

According to the Oxford dictionary, a dictator is a ruler with (often usurped) unrestricted authority, or a “person with supreme authority in any sphere”. Dictatorship, according to the Longman’s dictionary, is “total or absolute control; leadership, rule” or a “state or form of government where absolute power is concentrated in one person or a small clique”. Judging from the above descriptions regarding a dictator and dictatorship, we can conclude that our PM is not a dictator.

Be that as it may, we should not stop here. Life exists in a dynamic form and so does a political system. If we were to conduct a serious study of our political history, right from the time of Merdeka to the present day, it would reveal to us that our country has, slowly but surely, moved towards a more dictatorial state. For example, a careful analysis of the changes wrought to the electoral system, media freedom and fundamental rights would certainly prove this fact. In addition to this, ever since that October clampdown last year, this trend has gained significant momentum. In other words, it is more appropriate to term the current trend as one which is developing towards the creation of a dictator and a dictatorial system. Nevertheless, it is wrong for us to attribute the cause of this trend in total to our present PM. This trend had long existed and had been set into motion before YAB Dato’ Dr Mahathir. Our PM has simply added more vigour to this development.

Furthermore, one should discard the idea of putting the blame for all of our country’s pains on the PM. Some have proposed the idea that if the present PM is no longer in power, most of the problems of our country would surely fade away. For certain quarters, this is the result of their self interest. For others, it is the result of their inability, ignorance or unwillingness to probe, scrutinise and analyse the matter deeper. The PM’s leadership (rightly or wrongly) is not to be solely blamed. His comrades, adversaries, the general public and individuals like myself should share the blame too. The past, present and even future generations should share the blame if they do not cultivate the interest and take the initiative to act to correct wrong-doings. One would also expect Dato’ Dr Mahathir to bear the heaviest responsibility and to accept more blame than any other single person in the country.

One also cannot accept the arguments of the PM when he denied allegations that he wants to be a dictator. Firstly, nobody knows how long Dr Mahathir will continue as PM. Whether one wants to become a dictator or not is not as important as the fact that a trend towards a dictatorship is allowed to exist and grow. The PM may pass away, resign or even be outsted, but what about our future leaders? Does our PM not care if this present trend towards dictatorship that has been set may eventually bring about a worse trend and finally result in a line of dictators in the future? Does the PM only care about his present problems, failing to see the problems of the future? Leaders may come and go but a system that develops into a stronghold for some may last for decades or even centuries. There is no guarantee that if another person takes over the premiership, be he from UMNO Baru or from those who are striving to revive UMNO, he/she would reverse the oppressive laws passed by the present and past Governments, such as the ISA, OSA, etc.


According to the Prime Minister, YB Dato’ Musa Hitam is not happy with his policies regarding the assimilation of Islamic values. Putting YB Dato’ Musa Hitam’s opinion aside, what are these Islamic values the PM was referring to? Notwithstanding some form of Islamic’ bodies or institutions (like the Islamic university, Islamic bank, etc), I have strong reasons to believe that eversince YAB Dato’ Dr Mahathir became PM more assimilation of unIslamic values have taken place. Here, I wish to make some points to support my statement.


Accountability is a very important value in Islam.
The very theological basis of our existence in this life is to be accounted for in the next life (hereafter) (Quran 40:39 – 40, 67:2, 3:185, 101:6 – 9, etc). Thus, the government too is accountable for her deeds. Indeed, we must make sure that there are adequate ways to measure her accountability. For instance, the present Government had recently amended the standing orders in such a way that it will make it even harder for the opposition MPs to check on the Government’s conduct. Other forms of “checking” instruments too have suffered similar or worse constraints such as the media (Printing Press and Publication (Amendment) Acts, 1988, etc). Do these cases not indicate the inclination towards the assimilation of unIslamic values? They definitely do!


Independence of the Judiciary is the cornerstone in ensuring justice, equality and fairness in any court or law. Legal experts believe that the recent amendments to the Constitution in relation to the powers of the courts is a step towards a less independent Judiciary. This also means that the people will face greater deprivation of justice, equality and firness. As these values are part and parcel of Islam (Quran 5:8, 5:42, 55:9, 4:135, etc), we can conclude that the assimilation of unIslamic values has taken place.


How about the assimilation of self confidence and iman towards God, a much stressed value in Islam (Quran 47 : 35, 35 : 2 – 5), Our Constitution, through Article 11(4), allows the state government to control or restrict the propagation of any other religious doctrines or beliefs among Muslims. During the PM’s tenure, state governments have passed more restrictive laws to stop the propagation of non-Islamic religions among Muslims (for example, the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions (on Muslims) Enactment (1988)). Were we not placed in this world for a test? What and which greater test can a Muslim face if it is not towards his belief in the one true God (Quran 29:2, 3:186, 57:25, etc.)? Would not the restrictions on the propagation of other religions among Muslims make the present ‘Muslims’ half a Muslim? By allowing such laws to exist, the present Government is helping the assimilation of unIslamic values to grow. Besides, practising double standards is cursed by Islam. On the one hand the Constitution allows Mulims to propagate among non-Muslims in full, but on the other hand non-Muslims are not allowed by law to preach to muslims. But the Quran says “Woe unto those who give short measure : Those who, when they are to receive their due from (other) people, demand that it be given in full. But, when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe others, give less than what is due!” (Quran 83:1 – 3) Why is no initiative taken to correct this? On the contrary, more laws are passed to strengthen this practice of double standards. Is this not opposite to the assimilation of Islamic values?

Besides these points, there are other examples that can be quoted. For instance, the PM has urged the South African government to released Mr Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners in South Africa. He even reiterated principles of freedom, justice and equal rights, and yet falls short of practising them in his own government (I am not equating the South African government with the Malaysian one, but merely stressing the principles concerned). This is definitely the practice of an unIslamic value, for the Quran says “O You who have attain to faith, why do you say one thing and do the other? Most loathsome is it in the sight of God that you say what you do not do!” (Quran 61:2 – 3). To sum it all, though there may be a lot of talk about the assimilation of Islamic values, in actual facts the opposite is being practised.


A good leader, the Prime Minister said, “must be firm, able to stand by his words and does not get influenced easily “. I fully agree, but yet only to the point where he believes he is still right. If proven otherwise, a leader must be ready to acknowledge the fact that he is wrong and work for change. One should not be arrogant in insisting that he is right and not wish to change his attitude or conduct, no matter what happens. As the Quran states : “Walk not on earth with haughty self conceit: for, verily, thou canst never rend the earth asunder, nor canst thou ever grow as tall as the mountains!”

The Rocket
(Oct/Nov 1988)

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