Oleh Muhammad Ashraf Sulaiman

Last week, ex-PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad called his successor Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin a dictator over the latter’s decision to impose Emergency rule in the country.

But as fate would have it, former Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas passed away over the weekend. Salleh was a towering figure in the legal world. His death has only served as a reminder of Dr Mahathir’s chequered past in issues relating to human rights, specifically judiciary independence.

In other words, the accusation that Dr Mahathir levelled at Muhyiddin is best directed at himself.

Back to the developments leading to the events that would come to define Salleh’s career. Then, fresh from Umno being declared illegal by the courts following his 1987 tussle with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in Umno, Salleh was unceremoniously sacked.

Human rights groups, including the Bar Council then had lamented about the subjugation of the judiciary – one of the three branches of government following Salleh’s removal. In one fell swoop, they felt that the judiciary had become submissive, at least as far as public perception was concerned.

And Dr Mahathir is now lecturing the world about Muhyiddin purportedly being a dictator? The irony cannot be more stark.

Has Dr Mahathir also forgotten how he used the Internal Security Act then to cement his hold of power? Under Ops Lalang, over a hundred leaders and activists were detained without trial. The right to a fair trial is a fundamental human right. But don’t talk about a fair trial, when there’s no trial to begin with for those detained. Isn’t that a hallmark of a dictator?

And wasn’t the government apparatus used to the hilt during his first tenure as PM? Weren’t there widespread concerns over how the then Anti-Corruption Agency and police force were perceived to be used for political means? Who could forget how balaclava-clad special operations force stormed into the house of sacked DPM Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on Sept 20 1998 to arrest him? If that could happen to a former DPM, what kind of safeguards do lesser mortals have?

Lest one assumes that Dr Mahathir’s dictatorial streak ended when he left office in 2003, one should be reminded that a leopard does not change its spots easily. Who could forget that during his second tenure as PM, he had wanted to form a unity government at the tail-end of his office in early 2020?

True to his proclivity to thrive during crises, the Machievellian two-time PM proposed a “unity government” as PH was showing signs of breaking up. If the proposal had materialised, he would be back as a dictator, politically free from Parliament oversight with BN and PH backing him. That is dictatorship, in all but name, doc.

Perhaps Dr Mahathir does not realise that the emergency imposed now differs from the ones declared in the past. The emergency we have now is to control the outbreak of Covid-19. No draconian laws will be introduced, unlike those which Dr Mahathir is familiar with.

The courts are still running, the rule of law is still in place. In fact, Muhyiddin has set up a bipartisan committee to handle the implementation of the emergency. In other words, the PM has reached out to his political foes, not lock them up, like Dr Mahathir used to.

I guess the only reason why Dr Mahathir sees Muhyiddin as a dictator is because that is the only lense the former sees the world with – as a dictator.

Muhammad Ashraf Sulaiman is BebasNews reader. He can be reached via [email protected].


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