In an interview at his office here recently, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad shared his thoughts and hopes on a wide range of issues. Here, he talks about the importance of unity among the races in Malaysia and the upcoming general election.
‘He does not have much time left, very soon there will be the general election, how much more can be done?’ questions the former prime minister.
There are some people who upon retirement retire completely but Tun is still active, does Tun have targets still to be achieved?
Tun M: Before, when I was a practising doctor I used to advise anyone who was retiring to continue to be active because once we retire and don’t do anything, we will be susceptible to fall sick.
This is what I observed. A lot of people on retiring withdraw from society, this is not healthy. That is why I took my own advice, that on retirement must remain active and my passion is still in the realm of politics, that’s why I am still active in politics. Because I want to take care of my health and I’m still interested in political developments in our country.
In every (general) election, the situation for the contesting parties is “do or die”. In the next election, is it the same?
Tun M: The situation is different. Cracks in our society in general have become so much deeper. In my time there was also division especially among the Malays, who belonged to different parties, but support for Umno was very strong and the general populace was more interested in supporting Umno than other parties.
Even when there were splits like when Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah) set up the Semangat 46 party, they were not able to draw many Umno members. Datuk Seri Anwar (Ibrahim) was a bit more successful but still could not defeat Umno. That is why the BN’s (Barisan Nasional’s) victory in 1999 was still very big although there were many Malays who thought that Anwar had been persecuted and thus withdrew their support (for Umno) but the Chinese were solidly behind the BN, we still got two-thirds (majority).
But later, we got an administration that did not focus on the people’s needs, but instead they more interested in enriching themselves and things like that. The leaders were also the same, leaders at all levels were also looking for opportunities from politics to line their own pockets. Because of this the people began to lose their trust (in the BN). But (Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Najib Razak has taken steps to correct the situation and has somewhat succeeded.
Voters under the age of 40 are young voters. How was the scenario before this? Because there some who say 40% of the voters now are aged under 40 years. Before this how was the young voters’ support for the government?
Tun M: Before, young people went through the early days (of the country) to now. They saw rapid changes taking place during their time and they appreciated the changes. But the youth now were born after the country had developed. For them, this is the country they know.
They did not experience the situation when the country was poor, when they did not have opportunities to work, did not get a chance to get a good education, did not get the chance to become professionals. Now this is considered normal. And when we consider something as commonplace we do not really appreciate it.
Instead they are exposed to influences from the West such as freedom and much more, and they feel they are not quite free. Still restricted in this and that. They see in the West everyone is free to do what they like, and this causes them to be dissatisfied.
They want more freedom and so on, so they want to see change happen. For them change will come only if the opposition wins in the general election. Because the opposition has promised to bring about change. But whatever is said by the BN, for instance, is not effective.
The approach adopted by Datuk Seri Najib may differ from before to reach out to the young people, is the approach working well so far?
Tun M: There is some success but not enough because the situation of the party, according to the people’s perception, is not so good.
Perhaps there is much to be done by Datuk Seri Najib?
Tun M: He does not have much time left, very soon there will be the general election, how much more can be done? Anytime (the general election), so we have to go down to the ground, see as many people as possible and so on, (it’s) difficult. So, it’s a problem. New problems will arise and to address these problems it will take time, and he now is running out of time. But I think he has done his best. He works very hard.
How was Tun’s own experience? With the election nearing, there appear to be many demands from within the party and outside the BN. They are just taking advantage of the election to make all sorts of demands?
Tun M: During my time the people will not know when the election will be called, so before they make any demands the election will be upon them. But if we wait till the last minute to dissolve Parliament, there is no longer the surprise element. So the closer the election the more the demands.
Quite drastic demands from the non-Malays, how does Tun see Najib being able to balance these demands with those within the party and also from outside parties?
Tun M: We are in a quandary. For instance, demands made by opposition parties that touch on the position of the Malays. If the Malays want to answer, if they don’t answer well, they will look like racists. They place more importance on race than a Malaysian race, so we find the Malays do not want to answer for fear of being accused (of various things). Thus they only feel angry.
They cannot fight back, they get angry but this is not so effective. This is a problem for the Malays and also a problem for other races because we see now there is greater polarisation compared to before.
Perhaps this is a touchpoint that needs to be addressed by Datuk Seri Najib, striving for greater unity?
Tun M: Yes, we have 1Malaysia and so on but it’s a slogan. We should get acceptance from all races, but I notice that the response is coming more from the Malays only.
So much more remains to be done for the non-Malays? When more is done for the non-Malays, demands from within the party (Umno) also peak.
Tun M: I think the demands of non-Malays’ve have been entertained a lot. But when they think they will be the kingmakers in the (upcoming) election, they will come up with all sorts of demands.
What is your message to the Chinese voters?
Tun M: Since we became independent in 1957, the cooperation among the Malays, Chinese and Indians through Umno-MCA-MIC-Gerakan had brought a lot of progress to our country. It made our country stable. Because these three races agreed to share power. Because we were willing to share (power) our country did not exhibit chaos and with that the country was able to be developed.
If today, every race wants everything that they demand, this will result in other races not feeling satisfied, hence the country’s stability will be affected and if it is affected, progress will not be achieved, the economy cannot grow and all of us cannot enjoy the benefits. All races should understand this especially the Chinese who do business. They cannot do business in a situation where racial riots are happening.
In Kedah, how do you see BN’s chances?
Tun M: We have never lost in Kedah until 2008. Usually we won two thirds (majority) in Kedah. But disappointment and dissatisfaction cropped up among a majority of the people of Kedah who are Malays. They were disappointed and they made a decision not to support the BN. They voted for opposition parties even though they said they “felt painful” to do so. But I found out that now they have faith again in the BN and I am confident that there is a big possibility that BN can win in Kedah.
Regarding the election… how about PAS?
Tun M: They can join Umno back but there must be adjustments. Like when they called three million Umno members as ‘kafir’ (infidels), ‘murtad’ (apostates), we cannot work with people who call us apostates. They must uphold Islamic teachings. That is not basic Islam teaching. In Islam you cannot simply call people ‘kafir”. In Islam you must be fair, fair means that you only hand down sentences after going through all evidence.
But (Datuk) Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat (PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar) says that all Umno members are ‘kafir’. We have three million Umno members. Is it that easy to be called ‘kafir’. Am I a ‘kafir’? Now there is book ‘Kafirkah Aku? (Am I a ‘kafir’). This is all politics. This is politics to win the election. So that all his supporters perceive me as a ‘kafir’.
How about Anwar’s (Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s) influence?
Tun M: Anwar just wants to become Prime Minister. He does not care. He will even sell his own soul. As long as he becomes Prime Minister. He forms Keadilan ‘fairness’ (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) not because of fairness, but because he wants to become Prime Minister. If he is the Prime Minister then only it is fair. Whatever it takes does not matter.