On Mahathir the brilliant, multi-talented leader who played racial games

PETALING JAYA: Brilliant, multi-talented, inquisitive were some of the adjectives a former Malaysian diplomat uses to describe Dr Mahathir Mohamad. But he also played racist games, writes Dennis Ignatius.

In the preface to his book Paradise Lost: Mahathir and the End of Hope, Ignatius said he spent much time with the then prime minister in the course of his long career in the foreign service.

“I met many world leaders and I can honestly say that Mahathir often stood head and shoulders above them all. As a foreign service officer, one could not ask for more in a leader.”

But Mahathir was a man of many sides, Ignatius said. The side that dismayed him the most was Mahathir’s race-based vision for Malaysia.

However, the turning point for Ignatius came with Mahathir’s “unacceptable” treatment of his then deputy Anwar Ibrahim.

On a personal level, Mahathir was kind, polite and soft spoken. He never once raised his voice or was rude.

Despite his formidable personality, he never bullied or intimidated those who worked with him, but saved such tactics for his political opponents, Ignatius wrote.

The many sides of Mahathir Mohamad, as seen by former diplomat Dennis Ignatius in a new book.

Ignatius said that Mahathir took his meetings seriously, unlike many of his ministers, and was always well prepared, focussed and paid attention to details. He also had an “inquisitive mind that was always ticking over.”

Mahathir’s racial side

Of Mahathir’s many sides, the one that dismayed him the most was Mahathir’s race-based vision for Malaysia.

During Mahathir’s second stint as the prime minister, he thought nothing more of pushing the Malay supremacy agenda.

And while there was nothing wrong in calling for Malay unity, Ignatius was not fond of the kind of unity Mahathir was pushing.

“Premised upon an exclusionary philosophy that sees non-Malays and non-Muslims as enemies to be confronted, controlled and contained. And that can’t be right.”

Mahathir’s vision, he added, consigned non-Malays to an inferior status in their own nation.

Almost everything Mahathir did seemed to be premised upon some racial consideration, Ignatius wrote.

Antipathy towards Anwar

However it was Mahathir’s “unacceptable” treatment of Anwar Ibrahim that became a turning point for Ignatius, despite the fact he was not so enthusiastic about the PKR president.

The treatment of Anwar, he said, brought a great deal of shame and disgrace to Malaysia.

Ignatius’s book, which will be launched on Sept 9, is now available for pre-order. It retails for RM60.

FMT

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