The surprising thing about young fools is how many survive to become old fools – Doug Larsen, US newspaper columnist 

The older he gets, the better he thinks he was. 

It would be ludicrous for anyone to suggest as much but, at 97, Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems convinced that he remains Malaysia’s future.

On Thursday, the former premier announced a new Malay-Muslim coalition, the Gerakan Tanah Air, or GTA, which “is… a bid to change the government.”

His motives were clearer the day earlier. Then, he said the new coalition was necessary “if we want to save our country, our nation, our religion.” 

Dr Mahathir should be clear. Who, or what, is threatening the country and Islam? 

Indeed, the question of any threat to the Malays or Islam must be aimed at the Malays themselves because they control all the levers of government and, by virtue of that, well-nigh everything else if they had a mind to.  

The monarchy is exclusively Malay while the civil service, the armed forces and the police are overwhelmingly Malay. Even the majority of elected legislators are Malay with a good many in opposition, which only illustrates democracy at work. Even the courts are Malay-dominated.

So, what’s Doc talking about?

I also find it seriously depressing to hear the same, tired rhetoric 65 years after independence. Can’t he come up with better cliches? 

Has he stopped to consider that his statements might be considered indifferent at best, and insulting at worst, to a large number of Malaysians? 

It  presupposes that the country is of, by and for the Malays. Full stop. It appears that, to his mind, the remaining 36%, or 11.5  million people don’t, or should not,  matter. 

Actually, like many Malaysians, I know that the nation faces at least two serious threats. 

They are, however, not vague or irresolute. These are the real and palpable threats of dishonesty and corruption that will destroy Malaysia if not checked. 

We find it fashionable, no, convenient to dismiss Singapore, to denigrate its achievements because, well, it’s “small.”   

But why is there so little corruption there, a fact acknowledged by international bodies?   Because, there, the law is strictly enforced and everyone knows it. Would-be criminals know retribution will follow and that’s been key.

In Malaysia, unfortunately, tolerance of corruption has been widespread for a long time, but it felt like – or we liked to think it was – small potatoes. Now, like fissures spreading out from an earthquake, mini-1MDBs seem to be breaking out.

The latest is the Littoral Combat Vessel disaster where we learn that the government has spent RM6 billion on naval vessels for the country’s defence needs but has “nothing to show for it” despite eight years having passed. 

We’re told that both the Ministry of Defence and private firm Boustead had “ignored” the Navy’s views on the matter. 

That no one’s screaming with indignation or baying for blood only reinforces the notion that we are corruption-tolerant or, at least, resigned to it. 

The other threat is the creeping use of religion and race to justify crime. When it is said it’s OK to vote for a corrupt person because he is of a certain religion, danger is truly everywhere, and we should head for the hills.  

Now if the old man could tilt against said threats and not at windmills, I’ll begin listening.



It was Benjamin Franklin who warned us against the “young doctor and the old barber.”

Old Ben was a kindly old codger given to pottering about in thunderstorms to fly kites so he can be forgiven for failing to remember “the very old politician” as another potential threat.

I mean, consider Dr Mahathir. I know he’s gone to hospital for a check-up but that shouldn’t make him a sacred cow immune from critical assessment. I mean, the guy is 96 and you’d think would have moved on from his bigoted rantings in, say, 1969, when, in an infamous letter to the Tunku, he stated he only had “a few drops of Pakistani blood” in his veins.

But no, his recent lament that the Chinese penchant for eating with chopsticks was yet another example of the difficulty of forging a united Malaysian nation is a case in point.

Mahathir fretted that people in the country identify themselves as ‘Chinese Malaysian’ and ‘Indian Malaysian’, saying, “Because of that (strong sense of racial identity), they cannot be assimilated.”

Imagine if the same thought had haunted Yap Ah Loy, the same way it haunts Dr M for his prejudices are long standing.

The would-be founder might have given up the ghost, returned to China and forgotten all about discovering Kuala Lumpur.

What poppycock!

My wife is a Eurasian and her roots in Malaysia are deep, I-mean-really-God-knows-how-far-back-deep but you must wonder if the former physician might find her less than patriotic because she wouldn’t dream of eating noodles without chopsticks.

Much later in our marriage, she told me that she found it strange that none of the homes of my extended family ever stocked chopsticks.

Back then, it probably never occurred to us. For the record, many do have them now.

Dr M seems to take pride in his bigotry, even when he’s being casually racist in public. I remember watching BBC where he was being interviewed after he came back as Malaysian premier in 2018.

Zainab Badawi’s obvious admiration for him began vanishing after he refused to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists.

Finally, his pettiness got the better of him when he insisted that you could tell the Jews apart because they were “hook-nosed.”

And the genteel, plum-toned Ms Badawi actually cringed!

The former premier seems to forget that race and religion define the Malaysian ethos today largely because of him and his United Malays National Organisation. For whatever reason, differentiation – perhaps to better implement affirmative action policies – was seen as the best way forward.

And so, rather than classify all Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans as simply Malaysian, successive generations have been classified, compartmentalised, branded and organised along cleavages of race, religion and, in my wife’s case, an indefinite pronoun.

For the record, she’s classified as an “other” which is remarkable as it implies that Rebecca is neither of “us” vintage nor of “them” extraction.

Much of the blame for this has to be laid at the former doctor’s door as he was premier for the longest time and he could have done something about it. Indeed, he could have done something about a lot of things – corruption, education, the civil service, racism, to name a few. But he didn’t.

And the strangest irony of all is that Dr M seriously thought, and still thinks, he is the best. Indeed, when asked once who might best be suited to succeed him, he answered only half in jest: “A clone of mine.”

It could be the ultimate Maha-paradox. He’s always believed he was the greatest thing since sliced bread…

….when we’ve known he’s actually been toast for a long time now.



Utility, thought Dr M, is when you barely have enough; luxury is when you have enough; opulence is when you have more than enough; and ridiculous is when you are heaped with more, despite already racking up much more than enough.

That appeared to explain the continuing good fortune of Fearless Leader. The former premier was convicted of Very Grand Theft for which the Malaysian government now appeared to want to reward him.

To paraphrase the Bard, the slings and arrows of Fearless’ continuing good fortune were, verily, outrageous.

Dr M was in Parliament to discuss this very matter and he thought it was good to be back. Actually, most people knew, at 96, it was good to be anywhere.

Life had handed the physician lemons and he thought it best to squirt them in someone’s eye. That’s what he did in Parliament last week, lambasting the government for its incredible generosity towards a man accused of looting more than RM18 billion from the country he was elected to lead.

Think about that for a minute! The sum – US$4.5 billion – is the amount the US Justice Department estimates was siphoned off from 1MDB. It’s mind-boggling, the sort of thing Bernie Madoff might have contemplated if he were on steroids; a heist that a Great Train Robber might regard with awe.

Dr M was incensed that Fearless had requested a “privilege” from the government in the form of a 2.8-acre residential property worth RM100 million in one of Kuala Lumpur’s swankiest neighbourhoods.

The government had, apparently, agreed, which was what had infuriated the old man.

It was Charlie Brown who got it right, “Somehow I never quite know what’s going on,” he reflected sadly in a strip I read years ago.

That’s what many of us want to know. Here we have a convicted person, the First Felon if you like, going around with security and a motorcycle escort, campaigning in an election to loud cheers, being allowed to travel overseas.

And now he’s asked for a RM100 million house as an “entitlement” and no one thinks it’s strange, weird, or, even remotely, grotesque?

Only a 96-year-old man and the rest of the opposition?

Even the self-confessed holier-than-thou types, the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, normally so quick to judge or condemn, has been strangely reticent on this subject. Indeed, they haven’t uttered a peep on the matter.

It’s never worried about other people’s money: it’s other people’s fun that keeps them up nights. Because, as sure as night follows day, it’s probably immoral.

I suppose that’s life. The average person strives, he tries to do what’s right, he stays on the right track and still gets hit by a train. And he answers like Norm in Cheers when Coach asks: “How’s the world treating you?”

Norm: “Like a baby treats a diaper.”

This is a world where John Lennon gets murdered, the same world that sees new Barry Manilow releasers each year.

Fearless knew the secret of life. The trick to getting ahead was to get a good lawyer, good book be damned.



We have good news and bad news.

OK, it’s mostly bad news but there is a solitary ray of very good news that might ultimately prove our salvation.

It is this: Malaysia now can boast one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, second only to Canada on a similar-size basis and double that of Australia.

If so, we might just jab our way out of our current predicament given enough luck, nerve and a continued lockdown.

The initial signs are there. Out of Thursday’s tally of over 13,000 cases, fully 96% were asymptomatic or mild. That seems to indicate that the vaccinations are blunting the severity of the disease.

Even so, it does not get us off the hook. So long as the numbers keep climbing sharply, even a 5% rate of severity will continue to choke our health services.

That’s where luck and the lockdown come in.

We all know what the bad news is, but outside the reeling economy and the rising unemployment, other concerns are surfacing including a resurging Dr Mahathir.

OK, let me rephrase that with a question: What are the odds that Pejuang will throw its supports behind the Prime Minister, currently embattled by Umno’s withdrawal of support?

The only reason I ask is that the Home Ministry has suddenly been gracious enough to allow Pejuang’s registration as a “legitimate” political party while resolutely continuing to ignore Muda, a party of young, political aspirants, that has similarly sought registration.

Given that we are talking about Malaysia where there is always a political quid against someone else’s quo, there is ample reason to believe something is afoot.

Add to that Dr Mahathir‘s airy, and apropos of nothing, comment that he would quit Pejuang if offered the headship of the National Recovery Council, and we are left to ponder, once again, the Machiavellian machinations of Malaysia’s Mahathir.

In short, the man wants back.

You’d think he’s old enough to know better, having just turned 96. I mean, this is a guy who baby-sat Maharaja Lela, for God’s sake, and he still thinks he’s indispensable.

He once accused the Malays of being “easily forgetful.” In truth, most Malaysians aren’t. We remember all too well his odious assault on the judiciary and his dumbing down of the civil service. Then there were his deeply flawed ideas that cost the nation dear: the national car, the push for heavy industrialisation. None of these “Think Big” projects were successful but you wouldn’t know that, listening to him.

According to the late Barry Wain, who authored a critical book on the man, he once told Dr Mahathir that he’d estimated that the former physician had engineered over RM50 billion in wealth destruction during his tenure. Barry said that Dr Mahathir simply retorted that he’d “created more wealth than he destroyed.”

That might very well be true but it also speaks volumes about the country’s inherent wealth generating capacity, its industrious population and its resource-rich nature.

Immediately after the 2018 general election, a group of us were celebrating PH’s improbable victory when we were joined by another, an elderly arbitrator, a man who not only remembered British colonial rule but started his career during the period. Surveying our good cheer, he asked one question, clearly directed at the incoming Prime Minister: “Can a leopard change his spots?”

Apparently not.



The website Lexico defines “power crazed” as a person having an “extremely strong desire for power, or irrational on account of having had power.”

Sound familiar?

When it comes to opinions on how Malaysia might presently be governed, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 95, has more opinions than a Rudy Giuliani on steroids.

Malaysians found out yesterday that the physician tried his luck yet again, suggesting to the King that the best way forward for the country was a 1969-style National Operations Council (NOC) to run the show.

The NOC was a small council led by Abdul Razak Hussein, then a deputy premier, that led the country in autocratic fashion in the wake of racial riots after a general election in 1969. Essentially, it worked as a dictatorship, albeit in “benevolent” fashion.

And why does the good doctor feel compelled to float such a drastic proposal in the first place? Well, apparently, his team in Pejuang – a breakaway party with 5 MPs – have “some ideas” about the economy and controlling the current pandemic but cannot get them implemented as they aren’t in government.

Asked if he had suggested to the King a possible candidate that might lead the NOC, Dr Mahathir said that there was no specific person named but he did “offer his services”.

It was not unlike the old saying about cattle horns: “A point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.”

Here’s my translation of the physician’s message: he has some ideas, no one’s listening so it’s a good time for him to return as Paramount Leader who will Brook No Dissent.

For that is what an NOC essentially implies.

This is the same politician who was against any extension of the Emergency. Now he proposes a new, and stronger, Emergency with fizz, bang and wallop.

This was the same politician who wanted Parliament to reconvene and allow the citizenry its voice. Not any more, not if he can come back as a new-look Tun Razak!

And, finally, this is the same fellow who resignedly told Bernama only two months ago that he “was too old to become Prime Minister again.”

“If I were younger, I could become Prime Minister again, but I am 95 now and I can still function and hope to advise people on what they should do … I feel I shouldn’t be the prime minister for the third time,” he said.

Our hearts bleed but you won’t hear us disagree.

Dr Mahathir talks about “giving advice” but even that harmlessly-benign-Mr. Rogers-stuff has its sinister downside: Abdullah Badawi was hounded out of office because he “did not take” the doctor’s advice and chose his own way instead.

That is the problem with Dr Mahathir right there. He thinks he has all the answers but we, Malaysians, over 24 years and a bit, know that he does not.

Good leaders leave the stage when the applause is loudest. For Dr Mahathir that moment came a long time ago, in 2003.

It’s all but gone now: you can’t reheat a souffle.