He was dubbed Father of Modernisation, a prime minister for 22 long years and an enduring statesman cum politician. Under his reign, Malaysia experienced rapid economic growth, both in the industrial and agricultural sectors.
Although he is no longer the No. 1 man, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (TDM for short), maintains a hectic schedule. It was indeed a delight to see the man in the flesh, accompanied by his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, giving his take on the affairs of the nation vis-a-vis the effectiveness of Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Mahathir was on a planned road show around the country, and Ipoh was his second stop.
The dialogue, held at Tower Regency Hotel, Ipoh on Saturday, May 16, apparently, was the only venue available to the former Umno president and prime minister. Stadiums and hotels, huge enough to take the accompanying crowd, had turned their backs to the savvy politician for a reason, of course.
Upon his arrival at the hotel ballroom, at around 4pm, Mahathir was greeted by a deafening cheer from the crowd estimated to be over 3000. The gathering had spilled into the hotel foyer and into the streets. They had been waiting for him since noon.
The session began with TDM thanking the crowd for their patience and willingness to hear him out. He started by explaining how the country achieved its independence on August 31, 1957, the formation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963 and the events that followed.
“The key to our independence was our ability to unite against one of the most powerful nations in the world at that time, Britain,” said Mahathir.
Malaya was colonised as early as 1511 first by the Portuguese and then the Dutch in 1641 and the British following the Pangkor Treaty of 1874. The people remained loyal to their colonisers although they were being mistreated.
It was only during the Japanese Occupation (1942 to 1945) when the locals saw the urgency to unite and fight for a common cause – independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman and his team worked tediously, although being hampered by a looming communist threat, to impress the British imperialists to grant the country its independence.
Mahathir emphasised the importance of unity, especially among the rakyat in combating their common enemies.
“Leaders have a role to play and they must be seen to be fair, credible and also empathetic. They should not betray the rakyat’s trust,” he reasoned.
“And since Malaysia is a democratic country, everyone has a right to speak up and to question their leaders when they do something wrong. The IMDB scandal is an example of a gross financial mismanagement by those in the corridors of power,” he remarked.
Tun Mahathir reminded leaders to stay true to their commitment in making Malaysia a First World nation by 2020. It was a vision which he had initiated when he was the prime minister. With less than five years remaining till 2020, TDM hoped everyone, the rakyat included, to work hard to fulfil this dream.
The dialogue ended with a question-and-answer session. Mahathir answered all questions posed in his customary manner – with a sheepish smile and look.
One question, which was raised by the son of the late Tun Ghaffar Baba, was who did Mahathir consider the most qualified person to take on the No. 1 job should Najib step down? He did not answer the question. Whether it was deliberate or otherwise, no one knows.
Judging from the mood of the crowd that day, it was obvious that the prevailing political situation in the country is not getting any better. It may have a negative impact on Malaysians, per se. Only time will tell.