Dr M keeps going at age of 88

The former prime minister is still very active on the domestic stage despite having retired 10 years ago.

Free Malaysia Today

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is still active and continues to work although already having retired almost 10 years as prime minister of Malaysia.

Although his age is almost reaching 88 (he was born on July 10, 1925), the former prime minister goes to his office each working day while on weekends, delivers talks when invited to do so.

He also actively writes, in his Che Det blog besides contributing articles to The News Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia.

In an interview with Bernama journalists Abdul Aziz Harun, Massita Ahmad, Zairulliati Mali and Prem Kumar Panjamorthy at his office here recently, Mahathir shared his thoughts and hopes on the importance of unity among the races in Malaysia, the upcoming general election, economic matters and the future of national automobile maker Proton, of which he is the adviser.

Below is the full transcript of the interview:

Question: You appears to be very healthy. How are you keeping up because after 10 years of retiring, you are still very active?

Mahathir: Generally, I can still move, can talk, even go horse riding, but of course when old there are times to a certain extent, fatigue and illness like cough set in, it’s all normal. But about doing work, I do my work as normal. I go to the office on working days and even on weekends. I am invited to give talks, so I work full time. Thank God I still can.

Question:There are some people who, upon retirement, retire completely but you are still active. Do you still have targets yet to be achieved?

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.

Question:Any other activities besides politics?

I read a lot of books, I write this and that, I have a blog, I also write articles for (The New) Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia, and I get many letters from abroad which I try to reply. In addition, many people come to see me from within and outside the country and as far as I can, I try to meet them. These are my activities. I also try to exercise a bit, do the treadmill, sometimes lift dumbbells, go horse riding, walking, these are normal for me.

Question: In every (general) election, the situation for the contesting parties is ‘do or die’. In the next election, is it the same?

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 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 were 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 Tun Razak has taken steps to correct the situation and has somewhat succeeded.

Question: Voters under the age of 40 are young voters. How was the scenario before this? Because there are some who say 40% of the voters now are aged under 40. Before this how was the young voters’ support for the government?

Before, young people went through the early days (of the country) to now. For example, the young people first went through the time when there was not much development in Malaysia, in fact we were considered a backwater country then. Then 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. Before, no. Now this
is considered normal. And when we consider something as commonplace we do not really appreciate it. We only appreciate it when we get something we never could.

But they were born at a time when our nation was already advanced and for them this was something normal. So they do not appreciate it and instead 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. Although it is true and real but not effective because they are obsessed with the belief that a change in government will make a difference in their lives. This is the reason why the situation is different from the past.

Question: 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?

There is some success but not enough because of situation of the party, according to the people’s perception, is not so good.

Question: Perhaps there is much to be done by (Datuk Seri) Najib?

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.

Question: 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?

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.

Question: But Datuk Seri Najib needs time?

Yes, I believe he needs time.

Question: Quite drastic demands from the non-Malays, how do you see him to be able to balance these demands with those within the party and also from outside parties?

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.

Question: Perhaps this is a touchpoint that needs to be addressed by Datuk Seri Najib, striving for greater unity?

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.

Question: 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.

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.

Question: What about unity in Umno, because before it seems that the BN fared badly in the last general election due to internal weaknesses rather than the strength of the opposition?

I think the situation has eased a bit. Before, of course if not chosen as a candidate, the person replaced would make sure the candidate selected will lose. But I see now this has cooled down a bit. They have made pledges that they will not sabotage, but we have to wait until the election to know whether they will hold to their promises or not.

Question: Tun’s advice to them?

They should remember that if this practice of sabotaging continues, even if they are the candidates they will also lose, they will also be sabotaged as well. The important thing is not their winning, it is important the party wins. For the party to win, the party’s candidates must be given victory. Whether we like the candidate or not that is other question, if we don’t let him win, the party will lose. If the party loses, our position will obviously come under threat.

Question: What is your message to the Chinese voters?

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 shared, not Umno took all for Umno or MCA took all for them, but we were willing to share.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.

Question: In Kedah, how do you see BN’s chances?

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.

Question: So now arises the question of who will become the Kedah Menteri Besar?

Who will become the MB, that is not important. What is important is winning. If we do not win no one can become the MB. If we continue to sabotage, the party will lose which means there will be no MB. Can become the opposition leader, now we already have an opposition leader in Kedah. If you want him to remain as opposition leader, then go ahead and sabotage.

Question: Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister is said to have met you in Langkawi for finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in southern Thailand. Did the meeting really take place?

I met with the governor (of southern Thailand) but I did not discuss specifically regarding this matter. We (my delegation) learnt that their government wants peace in southern Thailand but it will not be easy because the rebels there are split. Even if there are parties who agree to cease the insurgency, others might not agree. So while one party might sign an agreement (for peace), the others might do bombings and the like. This is the problem in southern Thailand. If there is only one body fighting for their cause and the decision is to made by that body, then we can end the insurgency, but so far, what I know is that they are split into factions and sometimes individuals act
on their own.

Question: But did representatives from the Thai government side also come to see Tun recently?