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Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad predicts that the next general election will be all about race because Malaysia has become more racist than before. However, the 86-year strongman widely blamed for pioneering the current brand of nearly apartheid politics did not say why such a situation had come about.
“In this country, we are very racist, even more than before. The next election is going to be about race. Who gives what, who gets what based on race. When the government is weak, it caters to demands which are not going to be good for the country in the long run,” said Mahathir, who still wields great influence in Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling Umno party.
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In typical fashion, Mahathir indirectly blamed his predecessor Abdullah Badawi. Although, he did not mention names, Mahathir made it clear that Umno and the BN coalition it leads had no choice but to cater to the different ethnic groups following the 2008 general election, in which the BN had sunk to its worst electoral performance clawing only a simple majority.
Mahathir also repeated his views that Najib was a weak leader, unable to overcome the problems inherited from the Badawi administration.
“The current government is inherited from the previous administration which didn’t do so well. As a result, we have a weak government. The old leader was replaced with a new leader who is trying hard but it is not easy. He is being pressure from all sides. If he concedes to one group, other groups are unhappy. In the end the minority prevails,” said Mahathir.
But who was the Father of Racism?
Opposition leaders shot down his views and laid the blame squarely at Mahathir door.
"The world has changed. Mahathir's way of thinking is that you must exercise your will on the people. If you fail, you are weak, if you succeed you are great. So to him, a dictator-type is what Malaysia needs and it is dictator-type qualities that make a good leader. The fact that society evolves with time is not even on his consciousness. How can he rule today - he is completely out-moded and only wants to preserve power for his own interests," PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
Indeed, Mahathir ruked with a fist of iron for 22 years from 1981 to 2003. His era spawned what has been called 'Mahathirism' - a political surrealism where only what Mahathir wanted was right and what he said was true. There were no anchors and everything could be shifted so as to ensure that he came out on top of every situation - even if he was blatantly wrong.
Corruption became endemic and cronyism a trademark of his economic policies. Nevertheless, due largely to the huge wealth his family and cronies amassed during his long rule, Mahathir wields a powerful hand in Umno and only his open support for Najib has enabled the younger man to hang onto his post.
The 13th general election has been deferred many times and many Malaysians now believe that it will only be called next year, close to the end of the BN's 5-year mandate which expires on 27 April 2013. Elections will have to be called within 2 months.
And despite the rosy predictions from the Umno-controlled press for a smooth BN victory, pundits say Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Rakyat have more than 50% chance of taking the federal government.