In his new blockbuster memoir, former Attorney General Tommy Thomas blames Mahathir for the collapse of Pakatan Harapan and the subsequent rise of Muhyiddin Yassin, whom he characterises as both unqualified and unscrupulous.
You may not know the word kakistocracy, which has its origins in 17th century English literature, but by the time you finish reading My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, the memoir by Malaysia’s former Attorney General Tommy Thomas, you’ll be well-familiarised with the term.
As an insider privy to the internal machinations of the Pakatan Harapan government, which had stunned Malaysia and the world with its historic 2018 electoral victory, the well-regarded and highly respected Thomas had a front row seat for the remarkable collapse of the PH coalition less than two years after they were swept into power. Thomas makes the case that the blame for PH’s implosion and disintegration lays squarely at the feet of one man: former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Given Thomas’s apparent respect for Tun Mahathir, faulting him for his actions which led one of the more ignominious events in Malaysia’s political history brought him no joy:
“I have found these paragraphs difficult to write. It pains me to be critical of the Prime Minister who had appointed me, and stood by me over 20 months despite massive attacks from the majority race. But posterity will judge harshly the three decisions that Tun Dr. Mahathir took on Monday, 24th February 2020.”
Difficult though Thomas may have found it, he nevertheless took aim at Mahathir’s ill-advised resignation on February 24, 2020 in particular, calling it a “monumental betrayal” and saying, “Seldom in our nation’s history have so many millions of voters been let down by the actions of one man.”
Calling Mahathir’s actions “bizarre” and “irrational,” Thomas said there were three successive decisions made by the former PM that led to the collapse of the elected PH government. First, the resignation itself, which Thomas characterises as “indefensible” Though the king implored Mahathir to reconsider, he insisted. But then, his second inscrutable decision came: Despite the king’s desire to rightly appoint the deputy PM as an interim PM, Mahathir demanded that he himself be placed in that caretaker’s role. As Thomas writes:
“At this point of time, it would have been constitutional for the Agong to appoint the Deputy Prime Minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, as the acting Prime Minister to allow the governing PH coalition to elect its new candidate for the office of Prime Minister… The resignation was confined to that office, not the entire government.
“The Agong proceeded to act constitutionally by wanting to appoint Wan Azizah as Acting or Interim Prime Minister. Tun Dr. Mahathir put forward his own name. This is probably without precedent in modern politics.”
Mahathir’s hubris and bizarre decision-making continued with the final act of his three-act sabotage play, as Thomas recounted. Once in the interim PM role, Mahathir sacked the entire Cabinet:
“Three practical consequences followed Tun’s insistence that the Cabinet must be dismissed, which the Agong constitutionally had to accept. First, the country was without an executive government for about three weeks. Second, ministers of the state and their deputies totalling about 50 were suddenly without a job. They reported to work on Monday morning in the usual way. They were dismissed at the end of the day. Third, it made Tun terribly vulnerable because, by his own actions, he was left alone in government. All his support had vanished in minutes. A third inexplicable and indefensible decision.”
Mahathir’s shocking resignation and subsequent actions quickly led to the collapse of the PH government and, as Thomas explained, briefly threw Malaysia into uncharted waters, a rudderless ship without a captain. In time, the king appointed Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to the PM post, despite him not having received a single vote from MPs when canvassed by the king, and a new coalition was formed from the parliamentary minority.
In a matter of days, Mahathir’s scheme had unravelled completely, and he suddenly found himself on the outside looking in. And as the worst global health calamity in a century was beginning to unfold, an unelected government assumed control in Putrajaya, to the dismay of millions of Malaysians.
There is much more in the book about Mahathir’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering and plans for a “unity government” in the wake of his resignation, but for all his political savvy gained over decades in Malaysian politics, the former AG says the two-time PM made a number of critical misjudgments in his “arrogant plan.”
And that, Thomas asserts, has led to disastrous consequences for the country. He writes that Perikatan Nasional, a new government formed “by a coalition of Malay-centric parties that proudly proclaim their race and religion,” had brought a multi-racial, multicultural Malaysia to the brink of ruin.
But if in the pages of his memoir, Thomas blasted Mahathir for his actions that led to the country’s current sorry state, the harshest and most damning criticism was reserved for his successor, Muhyiddin Yassin.
Thomas compared Muhyiddin to former US president Donald Trump – by no means a compliment – saying they represented a rise to power by men who lacked both credibility and principle.
And this is where the aforementioned term comes in. A kakistocracy is basically the political manifestation of the lowest common denominator, literally meaning, “government by the worst people,” or the political rise of the least qualified, least competent, and least scrupulous.
Thomas explained that the kakistocracy both here and in America served a political agenda – namely the shameless pursuit of hate-driven politics, and here he drew the first of several parallels between Trump and Muhyiddin, citing Trump’s “America First” policy and the Malay-Muslim agenda of Muhyiddin’s PN government.
He also noted that Trump often displayed “dictatorial conduct” during his term in office, frequently disregarding conventions, trampling long-practiced political norms, and even flouting laws. Malaysia’s opposition parties, Thomas asserts, along with other critics, have used similar terms to criticise Muhyiddin after his government declared a state of emergency that many rubbished as a thinly veiled instrument to hold onto power.
The explosive memoir, which was released on January 30, sold out almost instantly and a second printing was hastily ordered, with copies of that printing due to hit bookstores in the coming days. My Story: Justice in the Wilderness by Tommy Thomas is also available on Amazon.
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