Malaysian Politics under Mahathir
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Ever since he became Prime Minister of Malaysia in July 1981 at the age of 56, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has exercised an extraordinary dominating influence over his country’s public life. An economic modernizer without fear of registering a scepticism of democracy and human rights, he has bent the politics of Malaysia to his will and in the process has successfully subordinated the constitutional monarchy, the judiciary and the predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) which he has led continuously despite a major
challenge in 1987 which was only narrowly defeated. His sustained political dominance was demonstrated in the way in which he removed his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, from national and party office in 1998. Indeed, in so doing, he effectively rewrote the rules of Malaysian politics.
Dr. Mahathir is exceptional as a Malay leader in contrast to his three predecessors as Prime Minister. He is not only authoritarian but also highly combative and confrontational and adept at open invective. Such behaviour is out of keeping with Malay cultural style and indeed with the notion of “Asian values” which Dr. Mahathir has espoused. It may be that his medical training as well as his personality has been a factor in shaping a political style that brooks no opposition to his diagnoses and prescriptions. His sense of rectitude in telling Malaysians that they should swallow the equivalent of so many pills a day in their own interest conjures up the image of medical infallibility translated to politics.

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Malaysian Politics under Mahathir Document Transcript

  • 1. Malaysian politics under Mahathir Economic success and authoritarian government have been the hallmarks of Mahathir Mohamad’s administration. Since Mahathir became prime minister in 1981, the Malaysian economy has grown dramatically and Mahathir has remained firmly in control of the political scene throughout. Malaysian politics have been decisively shaped by Mahathir and this book provides a balanced and detailed account of his character, ideas, and temperament. The social and political scene in Malaysia is examined, as are the Prime Minister’s successes such as the careful management of ethnic tensions between Malays and Chinese, the program of modernization and industrialization, and his emergence as a champion of Third World causes. Mahathir’s faults are also honestly examined, including his preference for grandiose projects and his failure to check corruption. The abrupt dismissal from office, arrest and trial of Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir’s deputy, in late 1998, and their implications, are assessed. The recent economic crisis in Asia has had a major impact on certain Southeast Asian states including Malaysia. Malaysian Politics under Mahathir considers these recent developments and their implications for Malaysia’s, and Mahathir’s, future. R.S.Milne is Emeritus Professor and has held professorships at the University of British Columbia, Singapore University, London University and Victoria University, New Zealand. Diane K.Mauzy is Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Both have published widely on Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
  • 2. Politics in Asia series Edited by Michael Leifer London School of Economics ASEAN and the Security of South-East Asia Michael Leifer Political Change in Southeast Asia Trimming the Banyan Tree Michael R.J.Vatikiotis China’s Policy Towards Territorial Disputes Chi-kin Lo Hong Kong China’s Challenge Michael Yahuda India and Southeast Asia Indian Perceptions and Policies Mohammed Ayoob Korea versus Korea A Case of Contested Legitimacy B.K.Gills Gorbachev and Southeast Asia Leszek Buszynski Indonesian Politics under Suharto Order, Development and Pressure for Change Michael R.J.Vatikiotis The State and Ethnic Politics in Southeast Asia David Brown The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore Michael Hill and Lian Kwen Fee Politics in Indonesia Democracy, Islam and the Ideology of Tolerance Douglas E.Ramage Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore Beng-Huat Chua The Challenge of Democracy in Nepal Louise Brown Religious Identity in Foreign Policy Islam, Malaysian Foreign Policy and the Mahathir Administration Shanti Nair Taiwan and Chinese Nationalism National Identity and Status in International Society Christopher Hughes Managing Political Change in Singapore The Elected Presidency Kevin Y.L.Tan and Lam Peng Er Islam in Malaysian Foreign Policy Shanti Nair Political Change in Thailand Democracy and Participation Kevin Hewison The Politics of NGOs in South-East Asia Participation and protest in the Philippines Gerard Clarke Malaysian Politics Under Mahathir R.S.Milne and Diane K.Mauzy Japan’s Asia Policy Wolf Mendl Indonesia and China The Politics of a Troubled Relationship Rizal Sukma The International Politics of Asia-Pacific 1945–1995 Michael Yahuda Arming the two Koreas State, Capital and Military Power Taik-Young Hamm
  • 3. Malaysian Politics under Mahathir R.S.Milne and Diane K.Mauzy London and New York
  • 4. To Portia and Alexa, whose quantum leaps have helped us to extend the bounds of knowledge
  • 5. Contents Foreword Acknowledgements List of acronyms Malaysian proper names and titles Key dates Map 1 Southeast Asia Map 2 Malaysia ix xi xii xv xvi xviii xix Introduction: leadership in Malaysia 1 1 Malaysia: how Mahathir came to power 8 2 Mahathir’s assertion of executive power 29 3 The economy and development 50 4 Containing ethnic discontent 80 5 Human rights 103 6 Foreign policy 122 7 The succession to Mahathir: Anwar Ibrahim 144 8 Mahathir as Prime Minister 159 Postscript 187 Notes Further reading Index 189 210 217
  • 6. Foreword Ever since he became Prime Minister of Malaysia in July 1981 at the age of 56, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has exercised an extraordinary dominating influence over his country’s public life. An economic modernizer without fear of registering a scepticism of democracy and human rights, he has bent the politics of Malaysia to his will and in the process has successfully subordinated the constitutional monarchy, the judiciary and the predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) which he has led continuously despite a major challenge in 1987 which was only narrowly defeated. His sustained political dominance was demonstrated in the way in which he removed his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, from national and party office in 1998. Indeed, in so doing, he effectively rewrote the rules of Malaysian politics. Dr. Mahathir is exceptional as a Malay leader in contrast to his three predecessors as Prime Minister. He is not only authoritarian but also highly combative and confrontational and adept at open invective. Such behaviour is out of keeping with Malay cultural style and indeed with the notion of “Asian values” which Dr. Mahathir has espoused. It may be that his medical training as well as his personality has been a factor in shaping a political style that brooks no opposition to his diagnoses and prescriptions. His sense of rectitude in telling Malaysians that they should swallow the equivalent of so many pills a day in their own interest conjures up the image of medical infallibility translated to politics. In locating Dr. Mahathir at the centre of their impressive study of Malaysia’s politics, Professors Stephen Milne and Diane Mauzy have acknowledged a fact of life which will not go away. They bring to this study considerable first-hand experience of Malaysia’s politics and its personalities and the text is informed by a deep understanding of its complexities. The role and political conduct of Dr. Mahathir is treated in a sober and balanced manner with credit given where it is due, while his early chequered political career is taken into full account. His accomplishments in economic modernization and his tolerant management of ethnic and religious matters as well as achievements in foreign policy are accorded full acknowledgement. Matching sober treatment is provided of his idiosyncracies and love of power. Indeed, it is pointed out that for him “power is a necessary food”. In this context, the authors discuss political succession and his chequered
  • 7. x Foreword relationship with his one-time political heir presumptive, Anwar Ibrahim. In addition, the shortcomings of governance in Malaysia under his rule are also addressed, including the rise in the incidence of corruption. Correspondingly, the reader is provided with an insight into his fixations, including a so-called edifice complex and characteristic angry xenophobic response to the onset of economic crisis from the second half of 1997. One depiction of Dr. Mahathir in this volume is as “innovative, eccentric and iconoclastic”. The fact of the matter is that Malaysia’s politics have never been the same since he assumed office and power nearly two decades ago. Professors Milne and Mauzy have captured the essence of the man and of the political context which he has shaped and conditioned in a scholarly and highly readable way. As such, they provide a unique insight into a distinctive political era in Malaysia. Michael Leifer September 1998
  • 8. Acknowledgments We have too many intellectual debts, to politicians, academics, diplomats, journalists, and other friends, incurred over more than thirty-five years of research in Malaya/Malaysia, to attempt to acknowledge them here. Many will be apparent from the references. However, some academics with whom we have had discussions since this book was underway merit our special thanks: Harold Crouch; Jomo, K.S.; Johan Saravanamuttu; Zakaria Haji Ahmad; and also, in Canada, Richard Stubbs and Frank Langdon. Also, we would like to thank M.G.G.Pillai for organizing, and listing us on, the <sangkancil@malaysia.net> Internet list, which has been very helpful and informative. Libraries which were particularly helpful were: the library of The New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur; the libraries of the Australian National University of Canberra; and the library of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, especially the Librarian, Ch’ng Kim See. We are also grateful to Nancy Mina of the Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, for typing the manuscript on the computer, and for her diligence and patience in deciphering a myriad of inked-in alterations. The Consulate of Malaysia in Vancouver, Canada kindly permitted us to consult its holdings of Malaysian newspapers. Diane K.Mauzy would also like to thank the University of British Columbia for an HSS Small Grant that has helped to defray some of the research costs. Concerning publication, we are especially grateful to Michael Leifer and Victoria Smith, not only for their guidance and understanding, but for having divined, in the first place, that we were willing and ready to write our book on Mahathir. Kate Hopgood, the Desk Editor, was delightful, and refreshingly nonbureaucratic, to work with. Some of the material used in the book has been adapted from R.S.Milne, “The Mellowing of Mahathir?”, in Bruce Matthews (ed.), Le recueil, intitulé identities, territoire et environnement en Asie du Sud-Est/Identities, Territory and Environment in Southeast Asia, Québec City, Documents Du GÉRAC #13, Université, Laval, forthcoming in 1999.
  • 9. Acronyms 2MP ABIM ACA AFTA AMM APEC ARF ASA ASEAN ASEM BMF CHOGM DAC DAP EAEC EAEG EPF EPU EU FELDA FLDA FIMA FUNCINPEC GATT HAKAM HICOM ICA IKIM ILO IMF IMP Second Malaysia Plan Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia—Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement Anti-Corruption Agency ASEAN Free Trade Area ASEAN Ministerial Meeting Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ASEAN Regional Forum Association of Southeast Asia Association of Southeast Asian Nations Asia-Europe Meeting Bumiputra Malaysia Finance Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Declaration of ASEAN Concord Democratic Action Party East Asia Economic Caucus East Asia Economic Group Employees Provident Fund Economic Planning Unit European Union Federal Land Development Authority see FELDA Food Industries of Malaysia Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant Neutre, Pacifique et Coopératif General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade National Human Rights Society Heavy Industry Corporation of Malaysia Industrial Coordination Act 1975 Institute of Islamic Understanding International Labor Organization International Monetary Fund Independence of Malaya Party
  • 10. Acronyms INA IRG ISA ISIS JUST MAF MARA MCA MCP MIC MPAJA MPHB MSC MTUC NAFTA NAM NCC NDP NEAC NECC NEP NGO NIE NOG OIC OPP2 PAC PAP PAS PBDS PBS Perkim PMC PPP RIDA SNAP SUPP TAC UDA UEM UMNO UN UNESCO xiii Indian National Army Islamic Republic Group Internal Security Act Institute of Strategic and International Studies Just World Trust Malaysian Armed Forces Majlis Amanah Rakyat Malayan/Malaysian Chinese Association Malayan Communist Party Malayan/Malaysian Indian Congress Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army Multi-Purpose Holdings Berhad Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysian Trade Union Congress New Zealand and Australia Free Trade Agreement Non-Aligned Movement National Consultative Council National Development Policy National Economic Action Council National Economic Consultative Council New Economic Policy Non-governmental organization Newly industrializing economy National Operations Council Organization of Islamic Conference Second Outline Perspective Plan Political action committee People’s Action Party Partai Islam Se-Malaysia Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak—Party of the Dayak Peoples of Sarawak Parti Bersatu Sabah (United Sabah Party) Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Post-Ministerial Conference People’s Progressive Party Rural and Industrial Development Authority Sarawak National Party Sarawak United People’s Party Treaty of Amity and Cooperation Urban Development Authority United Engineers (Malaysia) United Malays National Organization United Nations United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
  • 11. xiv Acronyms UNTAC WTO ZOPFAN United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia World Trade Organization Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality
  • 12. Malaysian proper names and titles Malays are not referred to principally by their patronymics. Rather, they are referred to by their given name(s), and their fathers’ names are attached at the end after “bin” (for males) or “binte” (for females). Some Malays drop the use of “bin/binte, e.g., the third Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn, son of Dato Onn bin Jaafar. When there are two given names and the first is “Abdul,” either the person is referred to by both given names (e.g., Abdul Rahman), or the “Abdul” is dropped (e.g., the second Prime Minister, Tun Razak—otherwise known as Tun Abdul Razak bin Dato Hussein). Similarly, if the first of two given names is “Mohamed” (or one of its variations), it is sometimes dropped. Malaysia’s Chinese generally have three names, and the usage is simple and consistent. The family name comes first and is followed by two given names. For example, in the name “Lim Kit Siang,” “Lim” is the family name; friends would call him “Kit Siang”. The only exception for Chinese names occurs when a person uses a Christian first name, then the family name appears last, as for the Chinese politician, Michael Chen, who would otherwise by known as Chen Wing Sum. Some descendants of royalty have the title of “Tunku” or “Tengku” (Prince) which is spelled differently in different states. The word “Haji” or the feminine “Hajiah” in a name indicates that the person has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Non-hereditary titles may be conferred by a ruler or governor at the state level, or by the Agung at the federal level. In most cases the nomination would come from the appropriate minister. The most usual state title is “Dato” or “Datuk,” the latter is now becoming the more frequent spelling. Longer forms are “Datuk Seri” or “Datuk Amar.” The feminine form is “Datin,” although a woman who acquires the title in her own right, and not by marriage, is a “Datuk.” At federal level the corresponding title is “Tan Sri.” A higher federal rank, rarely conferred, is “Tun.” Men without a title are referred to as “Encik” (Mr.). The feminine equivalent is “Che.”
  • 13. Key dates Background The first British territory acquired on the Malayan peninsula was the island of Penang, leased to the British East India Company by the Sultan of Kedah in 1786. Early in the Twentieth Century, the British government controlled all Malaya. It exercised the greatest control in the three “Straits Settlements,” Penang, Malacca and Singapore. In four “federated states” its rule was less direct, and in five “unfederated states” it was even less direct. Some important dates concerning Malaysia, and Mahathir, in the last halfcentury or so, are given below: 1925 1942–5 1946 1946 1946–8 1948 1948–60 1948 1949 1951 1953 1953 1955 1957 1957 1963 1963 1964 1965 Mahathir Mohamad born in Alor Setar, Kedah. His father, halfIndian, half-Malay, was a school principal. His mother was Malay Japanese invasion and occupation of Malaya United Malays National Organization (UMNO) formed Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) formed Malayan Union formed then abrogated Federation of Malaya Agreement on Malaya’s constitutional future Communist rebellion (the “Emergency”) Partai Islam, later Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), founded Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) formed Independence of Malaya Party formed The Alliance Party formed Mahathir awarded a medical degree by the University of Malaya, Singapore General election decisively won by the Alliance Malaya becomes independent, with a new Constitution. Tunku Abdul Rahman becomes the first Prime Minister Mahathir starts a new medical practice in Alor Setar Malaysia formed “Confrontation” by Indonesia against Malaysia Mahathir elected to Parliament Singapore separated from Malaysia