Report card on the 100 days of Mahathir 2018

August 21, 2018

Q: Mahathir plans to cancel many mega projects such as the ECRL, LRT3 and HSR that links Kuala Lumpur to Jurong East Singapore. How do you see this strategy panning out given that many of these mega projects have already been penned by the defeated BN government?

A: If you look at it only from a legal standpoint. Then its cut and dried. That’s to say Mahathir & Co is locked by agreements that the previous BN government entered into. Even if it happens to be a one sided lousy agreement. The new PH government is locked solid. That is the legal vantage prognosis.

But you and I both know the PH win is no ordinary win. It is perhaps one of the epic political stories that is comparable to the Ramayana and Mahabrata and possibly even the romance of the three kingdoms put together. This at least is how most people and the political elite in Asia see this historical development.

My point is Mahathir is not a run of the mill politician. He is widely perceived to be a symbol against repression and graft etc etc.

If you look at the Mahathir narrative is it the story of a retired swordsman who is forced to pick up his old sword and right the many wrongs and inequities despite the overwhelming odds. The Chinese are not stupid. They are not going to commit public relations hara kiri before the whole wide world by insisting on black letter law. Besides they happen to be great story tellers as well. So they are very sensitive of the propaganda value of Mahathir in relation to how their soft power policy might work in the rest of Asia.

In my assessment the Chinese will be very understanding and accomodating to Mahathir. In short they will give him what he wants, even if it means cancelling many of the keystone OBOR projects in Malaysia. Only understand why the Chinese are doing this. They are not doing all this because they believe for one moment the fairytsle that Mahathir is the savior of a ruined Malaysia. No. The only reason why they would consider a policy of appeasement is simply because in the long term, going with and not against Mahathir will supply China with the much needed moral and ethical currency to push ahead with bigger agendas thru out Asia. If they resist Mahathir & Co and insist on pure black letter law. The Chinese know only too well they would win the battles, but end up losing the war. So they are not stupid. So long as Mahathir is the blued eyed boy cum ambassador of the downtrodden, oppressed and cheated, he is likely to get what he wants.

Q: How do you think Singapore will respond to the cancellation of the HSR?

A: I am not so sure that its to Malaysia interest to cancel the HSR project. From my assessment the main beneficiaries of this project is Malaysia. Because the HSR will revivify many half dead zombie towns along the southern corridor leading to negeri sembilan and Kuala Lumpur. There are actually significantly more pluses for Malaysia than Singapore.

I think the primary bone of contention with the HSR is the price. And to understand why that might be the case one has to understand the PH mindset – they all believe BN are crooks. A corrolary of that requires them to buy into the believe the price for the HSR has been inflated beyond its actual cost, so that BN cronies can cream off the top or use it as a backdoor way of refinancing. To some degree PH is correct. Because if you look at the equivalent of the Kuala lumpur MRT. It is the general consensus that the whole project could have been done for far less and this would naturally lead one to ask – where did the rest of the money go?

So at one perspective. I believe PH has a valid point that deserves the courtesy of a second hearing.

As for how Singapore will respond. I have no comment.

Q: I would like to go back to a very interesting point that you highlighted that is the issue of moral and ethical currency. Why is this suddenly so important now to China? And how does this new metric feature in the geo political stance of China towards the rest of Asia?

A: Moral and ethical currency or authority has to be increasingly important to China as that is part and parcel of social evolution. As people become more educated and have more discreationary income to be classified as middle class. They are not just interested in bread and butter issues. This 101 Maslow. Eventually society will gravitate towards good governance, rule of law, transparency and accountability. I believe in the case of Malaysia this tipping point has already been breached. I would not go as far as to describe it in terms of an Arab spring or solidarity movement like what once transpired in soviet era Poland under lech Walesa. But what cannot be denied is China’s tried and tested geo economic policy of no strings attached soft loans which was such a successful formula in transforming the African continent must be adjusted to take stock of the new stream of consciousness that is sweeping thru the new Asia social landscape, where the guarantee of mere economic growth is simply not good enough any longer. In the past providing people had three square meals they dont mind shutting up. These days they also want the right to speak their mind along with have their elemental right to stand up in the public square and tell the world that if they dont hunch and stand up straight, they stand two inches taller.

Against this chastening backdrop of social and political change China cannot be seen to be a co-conspirator or collaborator of corrupt regimes and power crazy politicians. Neither can China use their old geo economic template that they once used to good effect in Africa which is now facing criticism from Western and African civil society over its controversial business practices, as well as China’s militant refusal to take equity in good governance and human rights. It is conceivable in the new Asia where the masses have attained a level of prosperity that makes it possible to sustain a vibrant intelligentsia along with active civil society, China would have to make adjustments to its soft power policy if she wants to be an effective influencer. Either that or she would have to consider bowing out from a prima inter pares role. Because this is what thinking people expect from leadership. They are not only tasked with creating ideal conditions where we can all bring back the bacon. But increasingly the voting public expects them to be moral and ethical and congruent to perserving their rights and freedoms.

Q: Mahathir seems to be leaning towards Japan. How do you see the Chinese responding to this shift in power?

A: I think this is an interesting question. When you use the term leaning. I assume what you really mean to say is he looks to Japan for financing and perhaps product, innovation and market opportunities. To some extent you are correct as Mahathir was the proponent of the look east policy. This was really how Proton came about. The general philosophy during the eighties was the Japanese would be able to infuse Malaysians with the requisite thoughtware. You know work ethic etc etc to be more industrious. Though how this alchemy would actually occur was never ever discussed. Could be brain transplant or cloning. But what was even less discussed is how much of an epic failure Proton turned out to be.

Besides the Japan of the eighties and present day is really the sad tale of two very distant and unrecognizabke cities. In my opinion all roads now lead to Beijing. Sooner or later Mahathir too will have to come to that realization. Whether he likes it or not, China is the pre-eminent superpower in the region. As for Japan it is in decline.

So even if he wants Japan to play a meaningful role in jump starting the Malaysian economy. I think he is likely to face strong domestic head winds. As many Malaysians despite their admiration and fondness for Mahathir do not regard his forays into heavy industry such as car making with the same happy memories. The name Proton has become a caricature for kampung hero. That is to say in local parlance of the vernacular it is used to describe a person who only thinks he is good, but that is because he has never been out of his frog in the well village.

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