In an interview, the 92-year-old founder of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) told The Malaysian Insight: “My dilemma is that I’m old, I’m 90-plus and I don’t have much time. But all things take time… But for as long as I am alive, I will be a thorn in the flesh of other people. I don’t care.”
The former Umno president said he had been encouraged by the good turnout at political rallies, believing that they were an indication of a restive spirit among voters towards the Najib administration. He noted that even in Umno strongholds, he had been welcomed warmly.
But he hopes that this fear would dissipate once they are in the voting booth.
In 1970, Dr Mahathir wrote the book, the Malay Dilemma. It was a controversial book for its time and the main assumption was that the Malays were subjugated in their own land and needed a form of affirmative action to correct the economic imbalance.
Today’s generation of Malays face a different dilemma, he said.
“They know that the party which was supposed to look after them has become a liability, but they can’t get rid of this party because they have elected a person who has been able to bend the laws, to disregard the laws, and make sure of personal loyalties to him. So much so, he can get away with a lot of things.”
Below are excerpts of the interview:
Q: How different is this battle against Najib from the ones against Tunku and Pak Lah?
Dr Mahathir: This man (Najib) has got full control over Umno. They will not go against him. He has the inspector-general of police and the attorney-general working for him and protecting him.
He is, in fact, a dictator. Tunku was not a dictator. He was popularly elected and he stepped down when he felt that he was not popular any more. Abdullah realised that he was not very popular with Umno itself and he decided on his own to step down.
But Najib, he will never step down.
Q: Some people say you are to blame for weakening some of the institutions and centralising powers within the prime minister’s office. What do you say to that?
Dr Mahathir: Lots of things were said about me and my administration, which were cooked up by people who want me out of the way. They have to demonise me, otherwise, I will be there all the time, supported by the people.
So they must paint a bad picture of me, to make me seem like a dictator and all that. If I am a dictator, then a lot of people will probably end up inside (prison), but I allowed them to go through courts. They had demonstrations against me every week.
Because that is the way of democracy and I never sued anybody. They called me all sorts of names but I never sued them. In politics, of course, people will call you nasty names. That is normal.
Q: A survey sighted by TMI says that your popularity among Malay voters is wavering because you are working with DAP now.
Dr Mahathir: Well we have fixed a mindset for these people who are now in Umno and told them that DAP is a Chinese party and they are the devil. It is difficult to erase that impression.
So when I was seen with (Lim) Kit Siang, they thought I was with the devil, but that devil was created by me in order to win the elections.
If you tell people that Kit Siang is a good man and all that, then he will win and we cannot allow him to win. We had to call him a devil and he is a Chinese chauvinist and all kinds of things, but actually he is not.
Between MCA and DAP, MCA sings their songs in Chinese, conducts their meetings in Chinese, but DAP conducts their meeting in the national language and they sing their song in the national language.
So DAP is more Malaysian than MCA. MCA now, as you know, has got relations with the communist party of China, not DAP.
Q: BN is saying that you are doing this so that Mukhriz (Mahathir) will become PM one day.
Dr Mahathir: If I wanted to do things for my son, I could have made him deputy prime minister when I was prime minister. But I don’t even allow my son to join the party.
My son Mokhzani was appointed by Hishammuddin (Hussein) as a treasurer of the Youth, not because of me, because he appears to know something about accounts.
My son Mirzan is nowhere to be seen in the party or anywhere, and my daughter Marina was against me during my time as prime minister.
But you see Najib, the wedding of his daughter consumed millions of dollars.
So you see he favours his children, so did Abdullah Badawi. I have never favoured my children.
Q: But your son Mukhriz is now holding one of the top positions in Bersatu?
Dr Mahathir: Mukhriz built up his reputation in Kedah and he won back Kedah from PAS. It was his leadership. And it was not because of me.
After I stepped down, if I stopped him from becoming a leader it is not fair to him. I am not trying to preserve my good reputation at his expense, I did that when I was prime minister, but I can’t do that now.
I am still trying to preserve my image of not going for nepotism and all that. If Mukhriz succeeds, it is by his hard work.
Q: If the opposition is not successful in replacing BN in the next election, what will Dr Mahathir do?
Dr Mahathir: I will accept that I would die and leave all these things to other people. That is the normal thing to happen. You are old and you die. I’m sure lots of people are wishing that I am dead now.
But for as long as I am alive, I will be a thorn in the flesh of other people, I don’t care. – April 8, 2017.