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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Thomas revelations bode ill for Dr M's legacy


The latest revelations by former attorney-general Tommy Thomas on the conduct of Dr Mahathir Mohamed in the finals days of the Pakatan Harapan government augur badly for the legacy of the former two-time premier.

But, as we already know and as the man himself has often maintained, Mahathir cares little for his legacy.

Maybe so, but what Thomas has disclosed in his book, My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, which is scheduled to be released today, ought to have put paid to Mahathir's new political outfit's (Pejuang) hopes of contesting GE15 under the logo of Amanah, a Pakatan Harapan component.

The Registrar of Societies on Jan 6 rejected the application for recognition by Pejuang, a new party initiated by Mahathir after he was expelled by Bersatu, the latter which he also founded in 2016 to fight Umno.

Pejuang's application for registration as an official party was filed in August last year.

If not approved by the time of GE15, Pejuang's incumbent MPs would have to contest as independents.

The party would prefer to contest under a known symbol and has suggested that perhaps Amanah would be amenable.

There are leaders in Amanah who view Mahathir as a credible leader but it would be difficult to countenance that position after what Thomas has revealed in his book.

Distress and dismay have risen among the leaders of Harapan and the legions which elected them, in proportion to what is seen as the growing incompetence and illegitimacy of the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) in the face of a raging Covid-19 pandemic.

In tandem with this negativity, there has arisen recrimination and regret over the way the Harapan government was ousted by PN.

Inevitably, the inclination to fix the blame for the ouster has devolved around a target.

Thomas' book and what it discloses about Mahathir's actions in the last week of February 2020 will place the former PM squarely in the crosshairs of those who see the 22-month tenure of Harapan as a time of diabolical frustration of a long-awaited opportunity for major reform to an ossified system.

Increasingly, critics see Mahathir's ambivalence about their reform agenda as the main cause of the Harapan government's unravelling.

Certainly, the PKR and DAP components of the current Harapan Plus opposition coalition would now be averse to extending Mahathir's lease on political life after reading Thomas' book.

Since Harapan's downfall, Mahathir has comported himself like he harbours hopes of a third stint as PM even as incumbent premier Muhyiddin Yassin hangs on to power by dint of a nebulous parliamentary majority.

That deportment will look tawdry in the wake of Thomas' book because his memoir portrays Mahathir as an amoral manipulator of fluid situations and shady operatives, the better to achieve his less-than-honourable aims.

Thomas' description of Mahathir's sequence of actions in the final days of the Harapan government fingers him as primarily responsible for the implosion of the Harapan administration.

Thomas is conflicted in assigning blame because of the gratitude he felt towards Mahathir for appointing him as AG in June 2018, and sticking to the choice despite an initial bout of jitters.

Thomas' appointment was historic in that it was the first time a private legal practitioner was named for the office.

Hitherto, the details of the drama that played out in the last few days of that fateful February month when Harapan fell are shrouded in mystery chiefly because its central players, like Azmin Ali and Muhyiddin, contrived to say little or nothing about it in public.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Senior Minister Azmin Ali

In contrast, Mahathir, another principal in the drama, has from time to time held forth on what had happened but his spiel was suspect because of its self-serving quality.

The public was left to puzzle over what had actually transpired at the Sheraton Hotel, the epicentre of the momentous events that led to the formation of a new government, which was installed between March 1 and 8.

So opaque were the events leading to the takeover by the PN government that pundits could not say for sure who did what when.

Now Thomas' book lifts the shroud, enough to apportion blame for it.

Not least of the criticisms of Mahathir's conduct is the opinion of Thomas that Mahathir's decision to force the resignation of the Harapan cabinet resulted in the cashiering of then health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad of Amanah.

From left: Ex-deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, ex-health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad and Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah

Dzulkefly, with his assistant Dr Lee Boon Chye of PKR, and the health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, had been doing a good job throughout the month of February in managing the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic when the chop came for Dzulkefly and Lee at the end of the same month.

In retrospect, the performance of Dzulkefly and Lee in their portfolio was the brightest spot of an overall Harapan governance that was warped by Mahathir's ambivalence and eventually betrayed by his duplicity.

Their performance mirrored Harapan's capacity for good governance.

Not all Haparan's appointees were comparably equipped but the duo's performance showed what Harapan is capable of.

In contrast, the PN government is a sink of mediocrity.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. - Mkini

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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