Politicians have an aversion to retirement. One has only to think of Winston Churchill’s second term as prime minister or Mao Ze Dong’s last years. The exception to this generalization is Mr Mahathir Mohammad, the prime minister of Malaysia. A year ago Mr Mahathir Mohammad had announced that he would step down after one year and he has kept his word. It could not have been easy to give up the trappings of power that he had enjoyed for 22 years. Old soldiers, it is said never die, they only fade away. Nobody quite knows what happens to politicians who step down from power voluntarily. Some of them write their memoirs. But others, like Mr Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who relinquished office but continues to wield and enjoy enormous power and influence as senior minister. This is not quite retirement. Mr Mahathir Mohammad’s future decisions will indicate whether he is a genuine renouncer of power or an entrant through the backdoor. Be that as it may, the retirement of a prime minister who had held the reins of office for 22 years can only be described by the well worn cliché: end of an era. The epoch Mr Mahathir Mohammad leaves behind has been particularly significant for Malaysia. During the period, the country registered an average growth rate of eight per cent and in the last 15 years over 10 per cent. This has made Malaysia a major economic power in the region.
Mr Mahathir Mohammad has never been the West’s favourite. He preferred Japanese investment over western ones and often spurned western expert advice. During the east Asian crisis, against the grain of expert recommendations, he put in place currency controls. He was not the type to dance to somebody else’s tune. He spoke his mind. His parthian shot was aimed at the Jews and how they controlled the world. He was referring obviously to the disproportionately high influence that the Jews enjoy in the policy making of the United States of America, and also to the latter’s alliance with Israel. The former prime minister did not underestimate the horror of the Holocaust but he deplored the fact that yesterday’s oppressed had become today’s oppressor. It was an important and a courageous statement. In this context, it is worthwhile to remember that Mr Mahathir Mohammad was not above the use of oppression for gaining political ends. He imprisoned his deputy and his Bumiputra policy was the embodiment of nationalist chauvinism. But this cannot take away from what he did for his country. Modern Malaysia is his monument.