WHILE having some reservations about his past leadership, many Malaysians across six cities believe that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has changed and would not be the authoritarian he was during the 22 years he was in power, if he made it to the country’s top office again.
Many said the conditions in the country had changed and it would be difficult for the former prime minister to do things the way he did when he helmed the country.
Dr Mahathir jailed opposition members without trial on security grounds in 1987 and was seen as an authoritarian figure who trampled over human rights.
Now that he is chairman of the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition, many felt his current partners would keep him in check and ensure that he toes the party line.
Dr Mahathir and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail are Pakatan Harapan’s choice for the top two positions if the opposition wins the next general election.
The announcement drew derisive reaction from the Barisan Nasional and even from some sections in PH.
The Malaysian Insight talked to Malaysians across the country and here are some of the things they said about the PH decision.
* Kamaruizam Mohd Kamal said Dr Mahathir provided leadership and brought changes to the country during his time.
“The opposition now has a clear focus and people know what they are offering if we voted for them,” said the 46-year-old executive at an automotive firm.
“He brought great changes to the engineering sector and he encouraged people to study engineering and turned Malaysia into an industrialised country.”
* Market surveyor Chan Hon Pin felt that Dr Mahathir is now a “responsible man with a conscience”.
“At 92 years, he still has the strength and he can right the wrongs in the country, even if he is going to be in office for a short time, until Anwar Ibrahim takes over,” said the 60-year old.
* Jean Vaneisha Ravindran, 23 said there was little chance Dr Mahathir could be authoritarian like the way he was the last time, as he had pledged himself to the points outlined in the PH agreement.
She said Dr Mahathir is what the opposition needed to be unified and they will also keep him in check.
He could be blamed for Ops Lalang, for crippling the judiciary but the fact is, he has now pledged to right some of these wrongs, she said.
* Amirah Zaharin, 26 who is a wedding planner said she doesn’t mind Dr Mahathir being the next prime minister.
“He is 92 years old. He has said before he doesn’t want to enter politics, how many more years does he have left to rule the nation?”
She, too, does not feel that Dr Mahathir will go back to his old ways of dictatorship and being a “Mahafiraun”.
“I don’t agree that he is a Mahafiraun now. Maybe he is still forceful in making decisions, but they are decisions that have to be made and not based on whether it swings in his favour or not.
“Even if he goes back to his old ways, how many more years does a 92-year-old have? He’s not going to live forever.”
* Real estate agent Wilson Moorthy said there was no one else who has the stature to lead the opposition against Barisan Nasional in GE14.
The 50-year-old said Dr Mahathir had already admitted he was wrong for some of the things during his administration and apologised for his past mistakes.
“To harp on his past now is like flogging a dead horse, there are so many issues with the government and if people want change, this is the last chance, we just have to take it,” he said.
Wilson said it was fine to have Dr Mahathir as interim prime minister until PH de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim is released, granted a royal pardon and could stand for elections to become prime minister.
“In such a short time, there is no way Dr Mahathir could do some of the things he did in the past.”
* Writer and translator Hajjar Nurhayyu Zainal, 31, said the opposition is taking a risk in nominating Dr Mahathir as its candidate for prime minister.
She said some of the things Dr Mahathir did during his administration were no mere mistakes that could be forgiven just because he made a public apology.
She said PH was now making it seem all right for leaders to make mistakes because they only needed to apologise a few years later.
* Undergraduate Jefry Musa, 24, said the move was not one that fought for change and new values.
“Youth expect PH to bring new values. I don’t see how he can bring change.”
Jefry said it is unclear what agenda and reform Dr Mahathir would bring to correct the wrongs in the country.
Some of the wrongs, as pointed out by others, started during Dr Mahathir’s administration.
“He apologised. But was the apology over his past mistakes to correct the wrongs or for votes?”
Head of continuity at Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors Sdn Bhd Kamaruizam Mohd Kamal says the opposition now has a clear focus after naming Dr Mahathir Mohamad as PM candidate.
* Fadzli Farid, 31, said while Dr Mahathir’s age may be an issue for some, his pairing with Dr Wan Azizah is a better option for voters disgruntled with the current administration.
“The PH combination definitely attracts more support from me. Dr Mahathir has the ideas and Dr Wan Azizah can be the one who executes them,” he said.
* Businessmen Mohd Noramin Md Ariffin and Hafsham Mizan Mazlan said picking Dr Mahathir as its prime minister candidate showed that the opposition lacked capable candidates.
“Picking Dr Mahathir as prime minister is a backward step for PH in wanting to lead the country and at the same time, shows that there are no credible candidates among them.”
They said the pact could have taken its chances with a younger leader.
* Lawyer Bryan Chua said generally Sabahans had trust issues with the former prime minister.
He said Dr Mahathir has done some damage in Sabah, but understood that his nomination was done for a greater good.
“It is to oust the Barisan Nasional government. If Anwar, whom Dr Mahathir once put in jail can forgive him to achieve a greater victory, why not myself?
“Besides, how long can Dr Mahathir be the prime minister? He is already 92 years old. He will pass it to others in no time.”
Chua also believed that Dr Mahathir won’t have absolute power if he becomes prime minister and PH forms the federal government.
He said PH doesn’t practise the BN style of running the country, where only one dominant party has absolute power over others.
* Technician James Bahrin, 42, said he had lost all his trust in peninsular leaders.
“Be it Najib (Razak), Anwar or Dr Mahathir. There are all the same. Sabah has a lot of resources and the federal government is stealing them.
“Unless they are truly sincere, the political leaders should return the special rights of the state before talking about getting my vote.”
* Self-employed, Eric Bagang, 38, said Dr Mahathir doesn’t have much influence in Sabah unlike when he was prime minister.
“Many indigenous Sabahans blame him for Projek IC and giving Malaysian citizenships to migrants from Southern Philippines and Indonesia.
“This had changed the racial composition of Sabah. I believe Dr Mahathir was the mastermind behind this population engineering.
“Even right now being in PH, he had only little to say about Sabah,” said Bagang.
* Kuan Thai Meng, a 30-year-old public relations executive felt picking Dr Mahathir as interim prime minister only showed that PH has no other capable leaders.
“Moreover, I do believe Dr Mahathir’s past record as prime minister could go against him, especially if voters in Sarawak were to look at his stand on Sarawak rights under the Malaysia Agreement.
“But we in Sarawak are in a situation. Now we have to decide on the lesser of the two evils.”
He questioned why PH did not pick someone from Sarawak as prime minister or deputy prime minister.
“That could probably break BN’s fixed deposit.”
* Richard John said the first thing that came to mind is that Dr Mahathir would only be an interim prime minister.
“He’s an old man and age could be a factor, but there are many other capable PH leaders,” said the 59-year-old livestock farmer.
“I think Dr Mahathir wants to groom his son, Mukhriz, as a long-term successor.”
* Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru president Cobbold John said picking Dr Mahathir is simply to strengthen “Ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy).
“I’m not too concerned about Dr Mahathir getting rejected or if he can win the elections. I’m more focused on the post-election dilemma he has to face if he wins.
“The legal process to release Anwar Ibrahim, the jockeying for positions in the cabinet and other political appointments.”
Dr Mahathir and his new cabinet will also have to deal with unfinished business like the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, goods and services tax (GST), the ceiling price of petrol and the Malaysia Agreement 1963, he said.
* Accountant Josh John believes Dr Mahathir’s experience will help him.
“He has now seen his past mistakes. The prime ministers whom he groomed to lead the nation have all disappointed, not just him, but the nation.
“Though age is not in his favour, I pray that he would be able to rectify the current situation and put good policies in place this time around.
“In the absence of Anwar Ibrahim, he is the only one that appears to be able to unite the opposition into a formidable force to defeat BN.”
He believes that for Sarawakians, it is not a case of forgiving and forgetting.
“We will forgive and forget after he corrects the mistakes he made.”