A tiger who’s changed his stripes: What drives the proposal for Dr M’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination

The petition was started by sisters (from left) Alexandria, Priscilla and Abigail. — Picture courtesy of the Abishegam sisters
The petition was started by sisters (from left) Alexandria, Priscilla and Abigail. — Picture courtesy of the Abishegam sisters

KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 —  An online petition for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize has received brickbats, chiefly from objections to the prime minister’s chequered past during his previous administration.

Speaking to Malay Mail, the team behind the effort said it acknowledged Dr Mahathir’s past record, but explained that his subsequent transformation in order to atone made the possibility of his nomination all the more compelling and relevant.

“We are well aware of Dr Mahathir’s wrongdoings In many ways, this petition is about changing the international dialogue about Malaysia,” said the team, in a recent email interview.

“What we want to bring to light is that it is more important to have a leader who can own up to what was clearly not right rather than someone who pretends to be a paragon of virtue.

“It is more powerful, more empowering to know that the worst transgressors can change because it means we can all change and work towards a more peaceful world,” it added.

Over the weekend, an online petition was started for the Pakatan Harapan chairman to be considered as a nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It has received just shy of 150,000 signatures at the time of writing.

When asked his thoughts about the petition, Dr Mahathir himself laughed at the notion.

“Nobel Prize for me? I’m not noble,” the 92-year-old said before leaving a press conference.

The petition was the brainchild of three sisters: eldest Priscilla Abishegam is a lawyer; Abigail, the second, is a research immunologist; while youngest Alexandria, works in the health, safety and environment sector.

In the petition, the sisters said Dr Mahathir had inspired millions of voters to replace the Barisan Nasional regime — which had ruled for six decades — in a peaceful and non-violent way.

And the petition itself is way of acknowledging the winds of change that is blowing across the country, they said.

“He has acknowledged his prejudices, specifically with regard to Anwar, and most importantly he has put ‘self’ aside and campaigned for the rule of law, democracy and transparency,” they said, referring to the jailing of Dr Mahathir’s nemesis-turned-ally Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“In effect he has stood against himself because he was the progenitor of many of the problems within the establishment. To stand against yourself is to recognise that there is something far greater than your individual pride and self-respect.”

Dr Mahathir previously served as a prime minister from 1981 to 2003, a period which some remembered for the country’s modernisation, but others could not forget the unsavoury iron grip he had over Malaysia.

He oversaw 1987’s Ops Lalang in which over 100 dissidents were arrested and four newspaper’s licences revoked. He was accused of participating in “Project IC” to give illegal immigrants identity cards. He also sacked Anwar, who was then jailed for corruption and sodomy.

The petition has also compared to Dr Mahathir to the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s jailed anti-apartheid activist and later its first black president — a sore comparison for some in the public, considering the imprisonment of Anwar.

“The comparison with Mandela is not about his journey or his struggle, which we recognise is very different from Dr Mahathir’s. The parallels we are drawing is that the both of them fought for change and went against the establishment, for the people.

“His attitude towards reconciliation, where comparisons can be drawn, shows they are both statesman and are willing to challenge the established order of the day, in Dr M’s case, a party that has been 60 years in power,” said the sisters.

The team also admitted that the petition seeks to replicate the success of a similar petition on the platform in 2012, which got nearly 300,000 signatures to nominate Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai for the prize.

It told Malay Mail it aims to collect as many as a million signatures, before approaching several parties for the nomination process that starts in September of each year.

The team also clarified that nominating Dr Mahathir for his role in the election this year was in no way denying the bigger role of voters, activism and other politicians who have toiled towards achieving the historic result.

“Many will concur that Dr Mahathir was the catalyst for the success of GE14; he galvanised the masses and provided the impetus.

“Sure, the movement for change would have continued without Dr Mahathir — but at a slower pace, not the win that it was,” the sisters said.

But ultimately, the result of the election is not the petition’s focus, they said.

“Instead, we hope to move the international conversation to focus on something positive for Malaysia — and a Nobel Peace Prize win will do this,” they said.

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