22 March 2009

Sunday Star: No stop-gab measures for Dr M

I generally enjoy reading on/seeing interviews of Tun Dr Mahathir, a real statesman indeed.

The Star Online > Nation
Sunday March 22, 2009

No stop-gab measures for Dr M


Former Umno president and ex-premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had a hand in choosing both the outgoing and incoming Umno presidents and he is now endorsing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for the party’s No. 2 post.

THERE is something about Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mohamad’s office on top of Petronas’ Tower One.

The decor is an ultra modern contrast of glass, steel and leather, and of course there is the man himself, seated behind a curved, glass desk.

Nice view: Dr Mahthir showing a view from his office on the 86th floor of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur recently. When the former premier talks, everyone listens, but his doctor now wants him to stop talking, literally, that is.
The city seems chaotic especially when one is stuck in the notorious traffic congestions but the view is awesome from the 86th-floor penthouse of the former premier who is now adviser to Petronas.

But he is evidently not one for gazing into the horizon because he sits with his back to the view. He prefers sitting facing the wide entrance to his room beyond which is a spacious sitting area and an even more expansive meeting room.

It is all polished wood and tanned leather, luxurious and very masculine, with a cigar club sort of ambience.

Even the air-conditioning has a good scent. So this is what oil money looks and smells like.

Apart from a nagging cough, Dr Mahathir is looking well after a vacation in Argentina, where he spent most of his time horse-riding.

For a while after his heart surgery, his clothes had looked two sizes too big. But he has put on some healthy weight again and, really, no one looks more charismatic in a nehru suit than him.

“My doctor said I should stop talking,” he quipped.


“No, literally, to stop talking. But that is my stock in trade. The only thing I know is talk,” he said with a cheeky grin.

He is of course being ironical because he knows very well that he is no ordinary speaker.

When Dr Mahathir talks, everyone listens, regardless of whether they love or loathe him. His opinions still matter for many Malaysians.

Yet, he has been rather restrained about the imminent hand-over of power despite having played such a strategic and peerless role in it.

In 1999, after the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, he had picked Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak as his deputy.

Then in 2004, just weeks after handing over the premiership to Abdullah, he pointed out that Najib was the most suitable man to be the deputy prime minister.

It was a seemingly off-the-cuff remark at that time, but those who had been around him long enough knew that it was not a casual opinion. Moreover, Abdullah could hardly refuse after being handed the coveted post on a silver platter.

His public battle with Abdullah barely two years after Abdullah’s massive 2004 electoral mandate marked the start of the slide in Abdullah’s public image. It culminated in the electoral losses suffered by the Barisan Nasional and that set into motion the process of a change at Umno’s top leadership.

In that sense, the outgoing and incoming Umno presidents were of Dr Mahathir’s making. And as everyone knows, Dr Mahathir also played his hand at trying to push Abdullah out after the general election. He spoke at public forums, he gave interviews, he tried to pitch candidates against Abdullah and, in a final act of frustration, he resigned from Umno.

He was the most powerful president that Umno had ever known, but without the powers of the post he could no longer force his hand the way he used to and it was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who lit the spark that led to the early transition.

Muhyiddin won admirers as well as enemies for that but he might want to take consolation in the fact that Dr Mahathir is among his fans.

The former premier has made no bones about his endorsement for Muhyiddin as the next deputy president and deputy prime minister.

He appeared at a dinner with Muhyiddin and Najib and, during the last Hari Raya, he even went to Muhyiddin’s open house for the very first time.

“Yes, I am supporting him. I believe he can do the job,” he said.

Supporters of the other deputy president contender, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, are as angry about this as they are over the perceived preference of Najib for Muhyiddin.

They say the choice should be left to the delegates. Besides, as they have quite disingenuously pointed out, Dr Mahathir’s choices for the country’s No. 2 have failed more often than it has succeeded.

Even Dr Mahathir admitted it: “I am not good at choosing leaders.”

Of his four deputy PMs, only one, namely Abdullah, succeeded him. Even then, Abdullah had come under fire and lasted a little more than a term.

“We cannot read the hearts of the people. When I was the PM I did not want the family to be involved, I did not even allow mine to contest in elections, I thought that would be an example. The moment he (Abdullah) became PM, he gave a role to his family. I cannot foresee these things, I am only human,” he said.

And the animosity between them is unlikely to end any time soon.

Abdullah and his family deeply resent Dr Mahathir’s role in the former’s political exit and Dr Mahathir on his part in reserving comment on the power transition until it takes place.

He has also been coy about whether he will attend the opening of the general assembly. The last time he attended the opening after retiring was in 2004.

“I haven’t decided. I have been invited, but I’m not an Umno member you know. Besides, the opening is only the president’s speech.”

And is he confident about Najib, the man he had picked five years ago?

“Maybe, if there is nobody above him and if he gathers sufficient courage to act on his own. As far as ability is concerned, I know he has that because I had worked with him. I had given him jobs and he has done his work properly. His experience and qualifications are there; the political will remains to be proven,” he said.

“We don’t expect geniuses or fantastic people to lead country. Ordinary people can also lead the country as long as they don’t do wrong things. To develop the country is not difficult but when you do things to stop development and give priority to cronies and family, that is wrong.

“I was also accused of giving to my cronies but this was not true. These people came up because they have abilities. I like to help people with abilities. If I give things to people with no ability, they will squander it.”

Dr Mahathir campaigned against the culture of money politics in his final years as party president but had failed quite miserably.

The party had missed the first chance by not going out hard enough on those who used money during the nominations stage last November, he said.

“If they (the delegates) now endorse people who are known to be corrupt then they can kiss another opportunity goodbye. When Najib forms his Cabinet, if he chooses people who are known to be corrupt, then they are going to be out in the next round,” Dr Mahathir said.

And these are the stern warnings given by the statesman as the country enters another juncture of its political history.

Till later, live long & prosper.

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