President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and former presidents should feel ashamed by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who needed just one year to realize his commitment to addressing the entrenched corruption and abuse of power that have brought his predecessor and former man Najib Razak to trial.
We may not trust Mahathir’s latest promise to hand over his prime ministerial post to his ally and former aide-cum-archrival, Anwar Ibrahim, in May next year. But who can deny Mahathir’s ability to walk the talk and keep the anticorruption promises that his Pakatan Harapan coalition made during last year’s electoral campaigns?
Our national leaders, President Jokowi, as well as former presidents Megawati Soekarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, can barely match Mahathir, despite the fact that their campaign promises were “trivial” compared to the senior Malaysian politician’s.
Just three months after he was sworn in as the seventh prime minister of Malaysia (he also held the premiership for 22 years from 1981 to 2003), Mahathir dared to personally meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Mahathir raised his objection to the multibillion dollar East Coast rail link project that was financed and conducted by China, arguing it was overpriced. Mahathir turned a so-called mission impossible into a mission possible.
Mahathir’s office claimed after the negotiation that the megaproject cost Malaysia 44 billion ringgit (US$10.7 billion) or 21.5 billion ringgit less than the original budget of 65.5 billion ringgit.
“We were able to renegotiate the terms of contract. It is quite obvious that the contract was overpriced,” Mahathir told Bloomberg TV last week.
During the interview, the prime minister, who will turn 94 on July 10, also disclosed the progress of his battle against global investment bank Goldman Sachs. Mahathir demanded the United States bank return $7 billion from the 1MDB scandal, which involved Najib. Bloomberg reported that Malaysia had regained about $500 million from the total claim.
Mahathir has rejected the bank’s $241 million offer to compensate Malaysia for its role in the financial scandal, calling it “peanuts” compared to the “huge killing” the bank made.
Mahathir’s achievement in the anticorruption front stands head and shoulders above the efforts of our former presidents — BJ Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati and Yudhoyono — and current President Jokowi in recovering state assets Soeharto amassed during his dictatorship.
Since Soeharto fell from grace in May 1998, there has been no progress in the asset recovery attempt. No post-Soeharto president could even seize Soeharto’s foundations, which the court declared had profited from ill-gotten money.
Soon after replacing his former mentor Soeharto, Habibie sent then-attorney general Andi Ghalib to Switzerland. Time magazine at that time reported that the wealth of Soeharto and his six children amounted to billions of dollars, including alleged deposits in Swiss banks. Ghalib not only returned home empty-handed, but a corruption watchdog revealed the suspicious wealth of the attorney general himself.
And what about Megawati, who served from 2001 to 2004? The country’s fifth president left Soeharto untouched despite what he had done to her and her father, founding president Sukarno.
Soeharto was also linked to a bloody attempt to unseat her as chief of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) — which later became the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) — on July 27, 1996.
During Yudhoyono’s 10-year term from 2004 to 2014, the anticorruption force came under attack. In July 2010, Yudhoyono tearfully vowed to bring to court the person who stabbed Tama S. Langkun, an activist of the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW). The case remains unresolved.
Jokowi is no different. His term has been plagued by the police’s failure to arrest perpetrators of an acid attack in 2017 that half-blinded Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan.
To be honest, Mahathir’s “greed” to hold on to power and to use all necessary means to control his political foes in the past was only comparable to Soeharto. However, we do hope that no Indonesian leaders will follow in those footsteps.
Bloomberg news agency quoted Mahathir as promising to hand over his prime ministerial post to Anwar next year. Anwar reportedly remains suspicious over the sincerity of Mahathir to comply with his own pledge to serve as Malaysian prime minister for two years only.
Anwar could not forget how Mahathir broke the same promise in the 1990s and sent him to prison for corruption and sodomy charges.
A wise man once said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
We often hear our politicians make many pledges to lure voters, but when they get elected they forget — if not deny — their own promises. Mahathir has fulfilled one of his commitments. Let us see if he will realize the rest.