Today marks the 93rd birthday of Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’d like to share these insightful excerpts from an online interview that was conducted by our sister magazine, August Man prior to the events of the historical GE14.
On his former political party
August Man (AM): Tun, when you were the Prime Minister, did you ever envision that the opposition would actually at one point in time pose a real challenge to the Barisan Nasional (BN)-led government?
Mahathir: I’ve looked at the performances of other countries that gained independence after the war. What I realised was that most of the parties that had successfully fought for independence found themselves unable to manage an independent country. The Masyumi Party in Indonesia is no longer there. The Indian National Congress (Organisation) is also no longer in power. And then we have the All-India Muslim League in Pakistan, also no longer in power.
So, I used to ask myself when I was the Prime Minister, ‘How long can I last?’ ‘How long can UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) last?’ And I saw a trend which was very unhealthy; instead of focusing on what they can do for the country, everyone who joined UMNO during my time thought of what they could get for themselves. They became self-centred and very greedy. This is a sure sign that this (UMNO) is on a decline.
On his past
AM: At PPBM’s inaugural annual general meeting (AGM) last December, you made a public apology. What were you apologising for exactly?
Mahathir: People keep telling me that I was a dictator, and all kinds of things. I don’t believe I was a dictator. But people thought that I’ve done wrong. So OK, if you think that I’ve done wrong, I apologise.
AM: In hindsight, do you have any regrets during your 22 years as Prime Minister? Was there anything you think that you would change if you could go back in time?
Mahathir: I thought I did my best for the country. I was against corruption, I was against cronyism, I was against nepotism – I didn’t give any chance to my own children. I thought that I had set a good example. But when I stepped down, all those things were thrown out.
If there is anything I regret, it was that I was not strong enough to force a change in the thinking of the people. I had relied more on talking, speech-writing, persuading, even prayers. But those did not achieve the objectives I set myself for.
AM: Tun, you have mentioned that it was hard for you to work with your former adversaries. I want to go back to your memoirs, you mentioned that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was, and I quote, “unsuitable to succeed me as Prime Minister”. What are your thoughts now on putting Anwar as Prime Minister?
Mahathir: You don’t condemn people for life. If a person has reformed, you have to accept the person. If he (Anwar) had been badly treated before, then he should be given the right to make his comeback.
AM: Now, do you think he is capable of becoming Prime Minister?
Mahathir: He has the same ideas that I have, in regards to Najib. (Smiles)