ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur
Updated: August 24, 2016 10:56 AM GMT
This file photo taken on April 4, 2009 shows Malaysia's current Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) with former premier Mahathir Mohamad (right). (Photo by AFP)
Malaysian athletes won more medals than they have ever won previously at the recent Rio Olympics, in the process uniting the country's citizens. At least for now, the nation was proud.
In tandem, another almost certainly divisive event occurred. Four days after the start of the world's biggest sporting extravaganza began with its message of tolerance, Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad — in power for 22 years until 2003 — helped launch a new race-based political party.
The new party is open only to "bumiputras," (literally "sons of the soil") a special category of citizens who make up the majority of the country's citizens and who are predominantly Malay and Muslim.
Now 91 years old, Mahathir is the pro tem chairperson of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, a new group he claims is necessary to build democracy and rule of law in the country, something he alleges current premier Najib Razak has abused.
Mahathir is disgusted by Najib's grip on the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which the nonagenarian led for more than two decades. Despite allegations of his own massive corruption, Mahathir is seeking to turn voters against his now scandal-tainted acolyte as a way of forcing him out of power.
Najib, is under fire over a multi-billion dollar graft scandal at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund and reports that around US$1 billion were deposited into his personal bank account. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
In a blog posting last week, Mahathir said only a new party with progressive thinking can save the country. The catch is, it has to be exclusive.
Race, he said, remains "essential for their (Malays) well-being" and is the reason his former party, UMNO is popular.
"If the new party is to compete with UMNO it must give the people in the rural constituencies and the unsophisticated urban constituencies the kind of comfort associated with UMNO's kind of racism," he explained.
Mahathir's move to rectify his mistakes with further injustice is an insult to all Malaysians, many of whom in the sizable Chinese and Indian communities hold him responsible for systematic rights abuses and racist policies during his years in power.
Yet his prescription of another dose of the same bitter medicine as the cure, has been met with incredulity.
According to The Star, Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago said: "Dr. Mahathir is the root cause of the rot that is affecting every Malaysian today … his 22 years in power was made possible by the use of draconian laws to jail dissidents and critics."
Academic James Chin sees Mahathir's new party as a ploy. He wrote in Asian Currents, the newsletter of the Asian Studies Association of Australia: "Malaysian political leaders since independence have been driven largely by politics of expediency and this will not change soon."
For the moment, Mahathir's old foes in the opposition have joined forces with him. They see it as the only way to defeat UMNO, the senior party in the Barisan National coalition that has ruled Malaysia since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957.
A medical doctor by training, Mahathir says he's studied the fate of the parties that fought for independence in other countries.
"Most of them have disappeared. They lost to new parties formed after independence because, invariably, they forgot the purpose for which the parties are formed and abused the power accorded to them for personal gains," he observed in June while on the campaign trail for the opposition.
"UMNO has lasted much longer. But under Najib, it forgot completely the purpose for which it was formed," he said, adding that Najib had brought shame to the country.
"If the people want to see this country being robbed by the PM, who has now passed a law that makes him stronger than even the 'Agong' (king)... If that's what the people want, they'll get what they deserve," he warned.
But Malaysians are keenly aware that Mahathir's brand of politics has been divisive and has resulted in what they see today — a people divided.
Just like they know that no remedy has been found for cancer, they are aware of the folly of believing in political announcements that prescribe more of the same for a better outcome.
The fact that Mahathir is still attempting to convince people that racial discrimination is necessary for a better Malaysia shows he has not learned the lessons of the past.
Malaysians have allowed themselves to be bullied before but it's more likely that the enthusiasm for the Malaysian team in Rio exhibited was a demonstration of what the people really feel — that they are more Malaysian than bumiputra, Malay or Chinese or Indian. The Olympics brought out that true feeling — sharing the pride of being a winner.
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