The ex-prime minister spoke up for freedom of expression. He did. Don’t touch the dial.
Obviously, in line with his own political allies and goals but still the arguments stand even if the motive is suspect.
It is not forgotten that Mahathir shepherded the era of silence, control and block with a sprinkle of arrests throughout the 80s and 90s, and his successors tempered the process but did not end it. It was expected to diminish over time and be severed completely when a proper regime change occurs — a nation still waits for that.
What about the unity government, and its fortitude to bring a climate of freedom?
Unfortunately, despite its self-declared reformist credentials, it is in no rush to uphold Article 10 of our Federal Constitution, which covers freedoms to express, assemble and associate. Perhaps in spin but not in spirit.
Presently, it is more inclined to the machinations of the Sedition Act.
A reversal. More Mahathir than Mandela.
The government’s intention to bar all discussions on 3R — race, religion and royalty — is a huge slippery slope.
The latest being the arrest of Kedah menteri besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor and the sedition charges he faces now. The Kedah MB is a whole discussion on its own, a colourful character born to trigger all around him, to be with him or against him. This column won’t give him a vote or ask others to pass him one, but it won’t jail him for his misguided mouth.
The broader and more serious discussion is this policy switch, repeated daily by the Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil. How do they propose to do it?
This country's main policy and political debates, as explicitly subscribed to by all three major coalitions in and out of government — Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional (BN) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) — orbits around race, religion and royalty.
The column wishes they’d evolve out of base politics but all signs suggest not until a generational change of power — a logo change won’t suffice.
So, the country and its politicians are stuck with it, for now.
And Mahathir is the fulcrum point to the malaise.
Mahathir’s politics is about race, and by extension the politics of all those who came after him, now split to those three coalitions.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, his former deputy, at the apex of Pakatan, former Umno deputy-president — also ex-PM — Muhyiddin Yassin runs things at PN and Zahid Hamidi handles affairs and exits at Umno, and moonlights as BN president.
They never finish a week either to reassure the rakyat about race and religion or raise fears about it.
Therefore, a severe restriction on discussions, debates and expressions on 3Rs is an oxymoron. It is akin to barring politicians in the present terms of engagement, to not engage in the very things argued to ad infinitum.
Which leads to the first realisation, it is not that 3R is disallowed, it is that it is umpired by the present administration. So, all parties play this cricket game, but Pakatan-BN as the mega coalition in power determines what is on and not.
Which leaves PN in a rotten spot.
But it is filled with either Umno-rebels, who championed such measures before to their benefit, or PAS, which leverages democracy to reduce the voices of the masses where it can. The column’s lack of enthusiasm to feel for their predicament is palpable.
A case of having to swallow their own medicine.
Yet, it is wrong.
To compete with your foes and then to tie their hands up using enforcement agencies and courts, while you yourself are free to land body punches is just not boxing. Also not cricket. And other sports.
Pakatan’s stated defence for its contributions on 3R debates is that it self-regulates. While it carefully navigates the terrain of 3R, the PN folks are loose cannons who do race-religion as if on amphetamines, they allege.
Pakatan then politely points to the TikTok videos which dominated the last general election’s campaign, prepped by PN and its supporters.
They assert they are circumspect and their opponent a raging teenager.
It would be OK if it were true, but the lines among Pakatan, BN and PN have blurred in recent times. They all seem like hormone-fuelled teenagers at a night club these days.
The politics of fear
Around the world, developed or not, fear works. From numerous anti-immigrant parties in Europe, to America’s own slow march to bring back the wall-building proponent Donald Trump to the White House, fear is rampant.
Proponents reduce the argument to divisive issues close to the insecurities of the masses, and the tactic produces votes.
Malaysia is not exempt.
Pakatan does not get to avoid this pitfall by subverting the process. Buckling down as history has shown over and over, only emboldens opponents.
Mahathir remonstrates that a policy to shut out those discussions requires a parliamentary debate and approval. He is correct.
This is a country which arrests cartoonists for political satire.
Its custodians should be very careful if they want to codify further the closing of expression space with the excuse of saving the rakyat from worse.
The laws are in place so that the rakyat can save themselves and then thrive. The nanny-state argument went out of fashion a while back.
The column does not have to line up the arguments, because they have been Pakatan’s arguments in their long trudge to power. But now in power, amnesiac tendencies have kicked in.
They better remember who they are. There are few worse things than to lose respect for yourself.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.