Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who made a comeback as Prime Minister after a previous stint of 22 years, is in a hurry to restore genuine democracy to Malaysia after leading the opposition to a historic election victory this month. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mahathir said he hopes to complete as much as he can in the little time that he has. “I want to ensure that the country becomes once again democratic,” Tun Dr Mahathir told the Financial Times. “At the same time, we have to reduce the capacity for abuse by the prime minister.” he added.
“Soon I’ll be 93. I will try to accomplish as much as possible in the short time given to me,” he was quoted as saying. “When I was in power, I was no authoritarian. The fact is that people say I did something wrong. I do not agree with them.” said the Prime Minister, dismissing his pre-election public apology for previous errors as politeness. Still, he has apologised in the past for promoting Mr Najib, which he has described as the “biggest mistake” of his life. Mahathir headed BN and Umno from 1981 to 2003 and served as prime minister during the same period. However, in 2016, at age 91, Mahathir came out of retirement to lead Pakatan Harapan to defeat his former party, Barisan Nasional in the May 9 General Election ending BN’s 61-year hold on power since independence. Amidst concerns about his health and advanced age, the nonagenarian has promised to hand power to PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim in “two to three years” time.
Tun Dr Mahathir had groomed Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as his successor in the 1990s. But after the pair fell out in 1998, Mahathir, during his first stint as prime minister, sacked Anwar after accusing him of sodomy. Anwar, then deputy prime minister, was subsequently jailed. Mahathir, in the interview, reiterated his commitment to hand over power to Anwar this time but said the latter had to be patient. “I think he is quite a different man now. I think he realises that things do not just go the way you want it to go. So he will have to be a bit more patient.” said the newly elected PM. Anwar has also stressed that he will not rush Mahathir and will in the meantime spend his time on the lecture circuit. Known for his championing the Malay majority in the past, Mr Mahathir now heads a more diverse government, including the first ethnically Chinese finance minister for more than 44 years.
Although some political analysts have argued that the victory of Pakatan Harapan shown a break from the racially driven politics of the past, Mr Mahathir said splits between the main ethnic groups — Malays, Chinese and Indians — still run deep at the ground level. “At the top level there’s less racism in this government but at the ground level, the racial feeling is still very strong.” he was quoted as saying. Mahathir, who was a leading critic of the west in the past, will reverberate beyond Malaysia, as he renews working relationships with old friends such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the same time, he will also have to deal with newer leaders of the world superpowers — US president Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping. While Mr Najib sought a close relationship with Mr Trump, Mahathir said he had no plans to meet the US president for now. He was quoted as saying “I don’t know how to work with a person who changes his mind overnight. For example, he wants to meet the president of North Korea, then he doesn’t want to meet, and now he’s saying maybe it’s going to happen”.
As for Beijing, Mr Mahathir said he had always supported the rise of China in the past.