The high cost of political friendship, from Guli-Guli to gula-gula

3 friends_origA threesome never works. Someone in the trio will get jealous and the relationship will turn sour, very quickly.

The former cartoonist, Lim Kok Wing, or ‘Guli-Guli’ in the New Straits Times, has now upset former PM Mahathir Mohamad. On May 23, Najib Abdul Razak offered Lim the ‘gula-gula’ (candy), by placing him in charge of a nationwide campaign to rebuild his dented image. Lim took up the appointment with gusto, and in a private chat, warned Mahathir to stop attacking Najib.

That was mistake number one. No one tells Mahathir what to do, especially as Mahathir had been Lim’s mentor and was instrumental in his rapid rise from an NST cartoonist to the head of a global education empire which stretched from London to Lesotho, and Kuala Lumpur to Cambodia.

Mistake number two occurred on Friday, the day Mahathir whined because he had been stopped from speaking at the dialogue on 1MDB called ‘Nothing to Hide’ at the Putra World Trade Centre.

On his blog,, Mahathir lamented an ex-friend, whom he claimed had warned him to stop his attacks on Najib. This was the same friend who, on previous occasions, had visited his office to urge him to do something about Najib’s government’s policies and performance. In Mahathir’s mind, this was a friend turned foe.

Mistake number three was also revealed last Friday. Soon after Mahathir’s blog post about the ex-friend appeared, the ‘ex-friend’, whom many had already suspected was Lim Kok Wing, responded to Mahathir’s moan and said that he had only “the greatest respect and admiration” for Mahathir.

If Lim respected Mahathir, he should not have accepted Najib’s appointment to cover up the mess caused by 1MDB. Lim should have advised Najib to come clean about 1MDB and get to the truth. Most Malaysians have been trying to unearth the truth about 1MDB for several years.

Mistake number four was Lim’s acceptance of the role of Najib’s latest publicity strategist. His action makes one wonder why Lim compromised his own reputation. Is there any truth in the allegation that his brand name is becoming less popular? Is Najib offering Lim a lifeline? As evidence of the alleged drop in popularity, people point out that adverts for Lim’s university are not as prominent and plentiful as before.

In 1987, Mahathir’s public spat with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (Ku Li), and the formation of Ku Li’s Semangat 46, in 1988, dented Mahathir’s reputation. A general election was due, and to rebuild his image, Mahathir chose Lim to be his propagandist. Lim’s cartoons, which championed BN’s campaign during that election, adorned billboards nationwide. BN won that general election.

Soon after that, Lim received the contract to provide advertising for the Sukma Games  – another feather in his cap. Then Mahathir recommended him to design and promote Mandela’s electoral bid in 1994. Another winner.

Lim was on a winning streak and decided to set up his ‘creative ideas’ university. Adverts for his university showed a successful education hub, which would enrol students from all over the world.

Slowly, allegations of Africans, principally from Nigeria, using the university as a front for vice activities and drug dealing emerged. Girls did not feel safe, and parents were worried. Moreover, parents alleged that if they had to choose between a college twinned with a renowned university, or Lim Kok Wing, they would prefer the former.

Has Lim’s brand name been hurt by the economic downturn and bad publicity? Will the lifeline, which Najib offered, ensure him a few more years survival? Was this the ‘gula-gula’?

Najib lost his chance to rein in former PM Mahathir in 2012. His failure to arrest Mahathir has only emboldened Mahathir, who has increased the frequency and ferocity of his attacks on Najib.

If Najib had read my article ‘Najib could be our SuperHero’ published on June 30, 2012, he could have created his own political tsunami and earnt the respect of the rakyat.

The rakyat would be grateful, and might have forgiven Najib for some, if not all of his sins, all the pain suffered during Mahathir’s rule. The four decades of racism, and division caused by religion, would finally have been aired and given a public hearing.

If the allegations about money buying loyalty are true, Najib will be in trouble when the money runs out, as it will eventually. Someone in Najib’s position knows that friendship has a price.

It is ironic that the book of cartoons by Lim, called ‘Guli-Guli Limkokwing 1981-1987: Pearls of Wisdom, Collectors’ Edition’ has a cartoon which says, “Gotta make a living somehow, right doc?” Even Mahathir has found the high cost of ‘political friendship’ rather galling.

Published in Malaysiakini 8 June 2015

(Photo credits Malaysiakini)

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