Reasons behind Mahathir's apology: Sin Chew Daily

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad talking to the media during a visit to Jakarta on July 25, 2016.
Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad talking to the media during a visit to Jakarta on July 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Aug 30, the paper says the former prime minister's apology is guided by his motive to achieve his goals

All of a sudden, former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad apologised for his past deed of amending the Constitution to curtail the powers of the Malay royalty, which is pretty rare.

That happened some 22 years ago when on several occasions, the then PM tried to amend the Constitution to erode the powers of the royalty, the most important of which being the abolition of the rulers' immunity to criminal prosecution and the right of the King to approve or reject a bill.

Mahathir was then well backed by popular support and his action was generally perceived as something "correct".

But why has he made a massive turnaround more than two decades later, calling what he did so rightly a mistake?

To understand this we need to understand Mahathir's pragmatist approach to things.

The former PM is known for his "mechanical rationality" attitude towards things.

When he is contemplating an issue, he will normally set aside his personal feelings and focus wholly on his objectives and interests in making emotionless mechanical calculations, choosing what is best to achieve his targets.

Simply put, his actions have been closely tied to his objectives and interests.

He was almost unseated by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah during their infighting within Umno. Ku Li later formed Semangat 46 to take on Mahathir.

However, when Mahathir was firmly in command later, he allowed Ku Li to return to Umno, his "mechanical rationality" at play.

That was because allowing Ku Li to dissolve Semangat 46 and return to Umno best suited his interests.

Such a mindset of "mechanical rationality" was once again manifested recently, when he decided to bury the hatchet and stand alongside his former arch-rival Anwar Ibrahim in order to fight incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak.

After Anwar broke ranks with Mahathir in the late 1990s, he took to the street and kicked off the "Reformasi" era, posing a severe challenge to the existence of the Mahathir administration.

It is therefore not hard to imagine the sour relationship between the two.

However, whenever such a need arises, Mahathir's rationality will tell him to lay down his personal grudges and mechanically execute the plan which will produce the most favourable outcome.

Thanks to such "mechanical rationality" unfettered by his own emotions, Mahathir has been able to execute a lot of things that best conform to his interests and goals, conquering the Malaysian politics for decades. Unfortunately, such an attitude has robbed him of a respectable statesman's spirit and principles.

The much belated apology has also been a product of this "mechanical rationality". Apparently the apology was conveniently made to bring down the Najib administration. Although such an apology established upon his battle with his own past only serves to highlight his contradictory self which is nothing he should take pride in, the action was nevertheless given a go having computed and confirmed its effectiveness to bruise his rival.

So, this whole thing actually works behind a very simple logic. It doesn't matter whether he admits his mistakes or apologises. The important thing is why this apology has been tendered after all these years.

* Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.