Sunday, October 7, 2007

Joceline Tan quoted me

Primero The Star political columnist Joceline Tan quoted me on her Sunday Star "Insight" column. She called me up middle of the week and we talked over the phone about issues that implicated former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, arising from the recent much talked about 'VK Lingam handphone conversation video', released by Anwar Ibrahim two Fridays ago.

Joceline will always remember me as a 'die hard supporter of Dr. Mahathir'. It all begin in June 2002 when I attended the UMNO Annual Assembly at PWTC and she stopped me in the corridor and jotted down what I thought about UMNO Presidential Speech that morning. I told her, if I had known better, Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad seemed suspiciously very apologetic to the Malays for his failure to change them. Its more like he wants "to go". True enough, at the Ucapan Penggulungan Presiden UMNO, he dropped the bombshell and announced for his abrupt retirement as Prime Minister and UMNO President.

Of course, he was made to withdraw from his intention, not until 16 months later, 31 October 2007. And today, politics is still very much alive with him as he wanted to continue to do (or undo), certain things his way, "Perjuangan belum selesai".

A sense of deja vu

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is making steady progress after his second surgery in three weeks even as the past is catching up with him.

DATUK Mokhzani Mahathir is looking his usual dapper self again now that his hair has grown back.

The motor tycoon had surprised even his family when he shaved his head last month, a personal vow he had made if his father made it through his heart bypass.

For a couple of weeks, he looked like he had also given up shaving. That was in early September when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad underwent a coronary bypass at the National Heart Institute (IJN).

Things have yet to return to full normalcy for the Mahathir family but it is getting there, slowly but surely.

He has not been permitted visitors except for close family members and, according to his other son Datuk Mirzan, even his grandchildren have not been allowed to visit.

But this week, he was well enough to see Jiro Suzuki, his Japanese business partner in the upmarket bakery, The Loaf, that opened its second outlet in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Suzuki, a former banker, had found Dr Mahathir alert, inquisitive about the operations of the new shop and even the quality of the cookies.

And, in yet another sign that he is recovering, he asked for his favourite croissant and chilli focaccia from the shop.

Next week, he may even get a visit from his Indonesian namesake, an 11-year-old boy orphaned during an earthquake in Sumatra two years ago. The boy’s father, an admirer of the Malaysian statesman, had named him Mahathir Mohamad Domo and he is a sort of foster son to Dr Mahathir and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.

The former Premier is making steady progress after his second surgery two weeks ago to remove infected tissues. That was a stressful spell for the family and, for that matter, many Malaysians anxious for news on his health.

Two major operations in less than three weeks at the age of 82 – there was every reason to fret.

There was even a couple of rounds of rumours after his second surgery that he was suffering dire complications and even that he had breathed his last.

It was very unnerving for the family but sometimes rumours like that are not spawned out of ill-will. It is just that when stories are repeated, they tend to mutate along the way.

And there is such intense, even obsessive, interest in whatever the man does.

Just as it has not been easy for Dr Mahathir to get used to being in the backseat after 22 years at the top, Malaysians are still rather addicted to news about him.

There is still immense curiosity about what he is eating every day at the hospital.

The public interest in his diet is quite logical because the kind of food he consumes is a good gauge of how well he is doing.

But after reading reports that Dr Mahathir had enjoyed some “dadeh” last week, one Kedah politician claimed his diet shows that you can take the man out of Kedah but you cannnot take the Kedah out of him.

Apparently, this “dadeh” thing is quite unique to the north. Made from buffalo milk, which the Kedahans claim is creamier and tastier, it is softer than jelly but firmer than yogurt.

Datin Paduka Marina's blog posting about her father's moods and what it took to coax a smile out of him was something that only a favourite daughter could come up with.

Dr Mahathir may be IJN's most famous heart patient but he is clearly far from being a model patient.

For someone who used to be in total control of so many things and people, it must be terribly frustrating to be confined to a hospital bed, being told to do this and that.

“The two operations would have broken the spirit of a lesser man but he is not a lesser man,” said former Utusan Malaysia editor-in-chief Datuk Johan Jaffar who has closely followed Dr Mahathir’s progress.

Johan had maintained a good relationship with Dr Mahathir although he was pressured to leave Utusan Malaysia just months before Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the government.

He went to IJN a few days after Dr Mahathir's second surgery. He did not get to see him but met Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and a few other family members.

But when he visited Dr Mahathir in IJN last year after the first of his three heart attacks, the former editor found him in fighting form.

“He said I was one of the few friends who had come to see him,” said Johan.

Johan, who loves a good laugh, proceeded to boldly tease the VIP patient: “That's because you don't have many friends left in the media. Some you put in prison, the others you have made their lives miserable.”

The elder man was not particularly amused but the two have quite a bit in common and went on to chat for more than an hour.

Strange coincidence

But even as the Malaysian icon continues to recover in hospital, many could not help but note the coincidences in his eventful and remarkable life.

Dr Mahathir underwent his first coronary bypass in January, 1989, about a year after the judicial crisis sparked off by the impeachment of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas.

This time around, his bypass surgery preceded the uproar over the video of a well-known lawyer allegedly brokering judicial appointments over the phone with a senior judge.

The legal fraternity has seized upon the video as proof of their misgivings over judicial issues and have called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry while the government has set up a panel to look into the authenticity of the video.

The past, as some said, was catching up with him.

The judicial crisis happened during his first decade as Prime Minister and his own controversial role has been well documented in the book, May Day for Justice.

Dr Mahathir, said a corporate lawyer, has never had an easy relationship with the legal fraternity nor has he ever really felt comfortable with the judges or the legal system.

“His view is that he has been elected by the people, that he faces them once every five years, so how dare people try to take him to court. He does not seem to accept that his decisions as Prime Minister can be challenged in court,” said the lawyer.

Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, then still the top editor at Utusan Malaysia, had a similar experience.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Dr Mahathir had asked: “Who voted you to speak on behalf of the people?”

Zainuddin's reply was equally feisty: “People vote for us every day when they buy our newspaper but politicians are voted in only once every five years.”

Dr Mahathir has always subscribed to the idea that since he had the electoral mandate he also had the greater locus standi.

“Those who think Tun would have ducked this issue of the video had better think again. Had he been well, he would have called a press conference to tell the world what he thought about the whole thing,” said die-hard Mahathir supporter Zakhir Mohamed.

He would have confronted the latest episode in typical Mahathir style – head-on.

“Given his track record, I see him coming out strongly.

“He would take his stand, he wouldn't skirt the issue, he would defend his decisions even if it means defending the indefensible,” said the corporate lawyer.

But any confrontation will have to wait for now.

His family's priority is that he regains his health and it is doubtful if he is even aware of the renewed focus on the judiciary.

“His will to live is very strong. He has done great things as well as terrible things but I believe he really wants to defend his legacy,” said Johan.Happy times: Dr Mahathir looking in the pink of health when he and Dr Siti Hasmah attended the Langkawi Dialogue in August.Mokhzani: Shaved his head after his father's operation


Zawi said...

Congratulations for being quoted by Joceline Tan of The Star. You now stand as tall as Johan Jaafar.
Anyway since Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah know you in person, that's a higher accolade than just being quoted by Joceline Tan. I would also congratulate you for that.

Zakhir's Zoo said...


I think Joceline Tan's description of me is actually detrimental to my position.

That sort of statement will not go well with KJ's boys.

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