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AR: Anjali Rao
Hello, I am Anjali Rao in Putrajaya, Malaysia. This is Talk Asia!
My guest today is the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr. Mahathir ruled his country for 22 years, taking it on as a tropical backwater and transforming it into one of Asia's most industrialized nations.
Known for his outspoken ways, Dr. Mahathir has been scathing about the successor he hand-picked, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
By his own admission, Dr. Mahathir has a big mouth and he is not afraid to use it.
Dr. Mahathir welcome to the show. Let's first address the question that everybody has been asking recently. What on Earth is going on with you and the current Prime Minister?
MM Obviously we have differences, perceptions of things and all that differ, and there are some instances where I feel very strongly that he has let down Malaysia. So, I was forced to make some criticism.
AR In what way do you think that he has let down Malaysia?
MM I finally try to stop myself from getting involved, but over this bridge issue, he had said something that was not the true.
AR The bridge from Malaysia to Singapore?
MM In a way, it struck our sovereignty. We have the right to do the bridge on our side and there is no question of asking Singapore whether we should build or we shouldn't build a bridge. But he has apparently made the decision that even a bridge built on our side must have the approval of Singapore. This is our country, we are an independent, sovereign nation. There is no question of asking other people whether we can do something in our country.
AR He has told us that he felt that his decision was made with best interests of the country at heart. That must have been his decision to make though. Wouldn't you agree?
MM Yes, his decisions! But I disagree with him as to that being the best in the interests of Malaysia. We need to have this bridge which allows the water to go through. But the most important thing is that there is a huge traffic jam, because we have the CIQ in the wrong place at the end of the causeway is almost at the center at the heart of town of Johor Baru, and there is always a congestion there.
AR In the run up though, to Prime Minister Abdullah's appointment, one of the things that you were saying is that you are both two very different people and that you have two different approaches to taking the country forward. Is it really fair now to hold those differences against him?
MM Well, I made a promise not to interfere. But I did not think that he would do things which are in my view detrimental to the interests of the country. At that stage I thought I must come out and, well, be critical.
AR Yes, that is one of the things that I just going to quote back to you. Because last time that Talk Asia spoke you in 2002, I asked Whether you take on a behind the scene political role as Singapore founder father Lee Kuan has? And you said: No. I just don't think I should be interfering with things. Isn't this what you are doing now? The dictionary definition of interfering?
MM It is. I admit I am interfering now, because the atmosphere has changed completely. We now have a country where nobody is allowed to criticize the government and above all, not criticize the prime minister.
AR But criticism against the government was severely restricted when you were in power.
MM No. No. I disagree with your view. Certainly CNN has been a critical of me and I have allowed CNN to be seen by everybody. We have the Herald Tribune printed here, we have the Wall Street Journal, Asian Wall Street printed here. They have been critical. If you care to read the local papers in Malaysia you will find that they are always critical of the government.
AR Let me bring you back to the dispute at hand. Even your ruling party UMNO has asked you to pipe down a bit about your criticisms of Prime Minister Abdullah. Why is it so important to you to keep going with that opposition against him? Because there are now suggestions that UMNO itself could end up being deeply divided between those on your side and those on Prime Minister's side.
MM Well, this is not something new. It has happened in UMNO many times. In fact in 1986 the Prime Minister himself was on the side of a group which tried to challenge me, actually challenged me and there was contest for the leadership of the party and I managed to win. He lost. He and his friends lost. So, this has not ended up with UMNO being broken up completely.
AR Do you think that shows, then, that by your criticisms of him, it's actually reflecting more on you having a negative impact on yourself, rather than reflecting on him?
MM I think you will find out that it has a negative effect on him also. It is not always on me. I know what I am talking about.
AR When we spoke to Prime Minister Abdullah about exactly this, he said that, you know, politically speaking, the way that you speak out against him doesn't affect the way he runs the country or conducts his business affairs, but on a personal level, he still sees you as friend. (Mahathir smiles) How do you respond to that? Do you still see him as a friend?
MM Yes. This is not a personal quarrel between him and me. This is about issues. You see? We can be friends, but on issues we can differ. And I am going to differ, but what I don't like is his attempts to muzzle me. I never muzzled him. I allowed him to speak. I allowed everybody to speak during my time. But here, he doesn't allow me to meet any UMNO people, he doesn't allow me to meet even academies, he doesn't allow me to meet civil servants. Invitations issued to me to go and speak have been cancelled.
AR This isn't though the first time you've had a dispute like this on such a higher level. You fired your deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who then served six years in jail. Yet he had once been your chosen successor for Prime Minister, as Mr. Abdullah then ended up being. How do you account for that? Because of the common threat in both of these is you.
MM In the case of Anwar, he looked to me like a good candidate and everything went well until we discovered certain moral deficiencies on his part, which to me does not qualify him to become a Prime Minister.
AR You believe that he was gay.
MM Yeah, well I believe that he has done something that is wrong. Now he is suing me of course about that. But, what happened is I didn't catch him by the scuff of his neck and throw him in jail. I expelled him from the government, which is my right. I expelled him from government, then the police then took action, proper action. He was charged in court and tried for nine months. He had nine lawyers defending him and he was found guilty, and he was sentenced. So that means that here in this country even if you are the highest official, you are not above the law.
AR So the only way you would support him is in the case he was compliant?
MM In the case of Anwar, he was tried. I didn't catch him by the neck and throw him into jail.
AR No, but you sacked him.
MM I sacked him, but that is my right. That is my right!
AR Dr. Mahathir, stay with us. We'll pick this up in a few minutes. Still to come on the program, we'll broach an always testy topic, religion. And we will find out whether Dr. Mahathir's stance has softened at all on the world's Jews. Stay tuned.
AR Welcome back to Talk Asia, with my guest Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. Dr, it was in 2003 that you made those comments about Jews which are still being discussed today. Is this still the way you feel?
MM Yes. I still feel that way. Because I can't understand this. You cannot say anything against the Jews but they can say anything they like about Muslims, about other people. You know, we have been called terrorists and things like that, that is alright to everybody. But if you go to 4 countries in Europe and you say well actually it was not 6 million Jews who died in the holocaust but is was 5million,9 hundred and 99 thousand you are going to be thrown into jail!
AR Still though, when you make comments like that about Jews, as a Muslim yourself, are you not just helping to foster the deep animosity that already exist between Islam and the Jewish community?
MM Well they should stop saying things and they should stop killing Muslims. They have no right to invade Lebanon and destroy everything.
AR But we remember how all that started, of course, with Hezbollah going across the border and abducting two Jewish soldiers.
MM Before that, the Jews had already captured so many of these Lebanese in southern Lebanon. Why was that not reported? Why did not Hezbollah invade Israel to bring back some thousands of their people who have been captured by the Jews?
AR Is that what you would advocate?
MM Well I would not advocate that simply because Hezbollah is not capable of doing that. But the Jews make use of their military power to destroy everything, because two of their people have been captured. When thousands of Lebanese were captured, nothing happened.
AR Does that ever concern you that by being so vocal about those views you are creating an image of the whole country of Malaysia, which is known for being an accepting multi-faith society taking that image and turning it on its head?
MM No. I don't think so. We here are very rational. We live in a multi-racial, multi-religious country and we have no problem, because we don't have people who go around killing people, taking other people's land and when people try to get back their land you do all kinds of things to them. It doesn't happen in this country.
AR President George W. Bush issued a rather stern rebuke over those comments you made about the Jews. He has been trying to prove to the Muslim world for the past five years -- since the war on terror started -- that it is not a campaign of The West vs. Islams. How do you think that he is doing on that score?
MM I think it's a campaign of the West against the Muslims, as far as Bush is concerned. The first thing that came out of him: "we should have a crusade." You see, but of course, later on he amended that. But at heart, that is what he has in mind. And you know what disaster he has caused?
AR Still though, Malaysia is cooperating of course in the War on Terror, which was initiated whilst you were in office. How much of a challenge is it for a Muslim country, albeit moderate, to be seen as a close ally of Washington yet making sure not to tread on any religious Islamic sensitivities back home?
MM We are against terrorism and it so happens that the US is also against terrorism, but we don't agree with the way the US goes about fighting against terrorism. But we will continue our fight against terrorism, where we are convinced that these are terrorists. We don't go around killing Muslims just because they are Muslims, therefore they are terrorists. We don't arrest them and exam their shoes or whatever.
AR Something which really did strike at the heart of Islamic sensitivities recently were those comments given by Pope Benedict. His address to an academic gathering. What he did, was that he came out with an ancient quote referring to Islam as evil and inhuman. What are your takes on those comments and the reaction of the Islamic world, given that the Pope had argued that these were not representative of his own views?
MM No. When you quote somebody, it's because you want to bolster your own arguments. So, he believes in what he quotes. He believes the Islam was spread by the sword. You know, the Catholics were very intolerant in the past they used to massacre Jews, they had the Inquisition. For 800 years, Spain was under Muslim rule. There were Christians, there were Jews living there, but when the re-conquest was completed by Ferdinand and Isabella, they were given three choices: either leave Spain, or convert to Christianity, or be put to death.
AR No one doubts that Christianity has an extremely bloody history, as do most religions, but the Pope may well have been looking at situation today, where when we see major attacks, such as 9/11. We see them being perpetrated by extremist Islamists.
MM No. It is not just them. They are defending themselves. That is the only way they can defend themselves.
AR How was September 11 defending oneself?
MM Well if they have fighter planes and all that, they would launch a conventional war. But this is the only thing that they can do. I don't agree with doing that, but when you push people to a corner they will do extraordinary things.
AR Stay with us Dr. Mahathir. We are going to take a short break at this point. Though in a moment, we will discuss Dr. Mahathir's hopes for his nation, plus we'll get personal with the man many here still see as Malaysia's most fearsome political persona
AR You are with Talk Asia. Our guest today is Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the former Premier of Malaysia. Dr. during you time as premier one of yours most forward thinking projects was Vision 2020, in which you said you wanted to turn Malaysia into a 1st world, fully developed country by the year 2020. The current Prime Minister says it is on track. What are you thoughts?
MM Well I don't think we are going to achieve it with the rate of growth that we are seeing today. Everything has been slowed down, ostensibly because we have no money. But I don't believe we have no money. We have plenty of money!
AR What would their reasoning be for saying that, if you don't believe it?
MM They say that I've finished all the money when I was running this country. I spent so much money on mega-projects so that, when I left there was no money. That is why they couldn't continue with double tracking, they couldn't continue with the bridge, they couldn't continue with a whole lot of things.
AR You had such a great hand in turning Malaysia what it is today. How hard is it after 22 years at top to seat back and let somebody else take the reigns?
MM It is not hard if the person who takes the reigns were to do things that are beneficial for the growth of the country. But what is being done is actually to stifle growth. There is a lot of corruption in this country now, which is something I feel needs to be highlighted.
AR But the government under your rule was also accused of wide spread corruption.
MM Corruption, there was, but no to this degree. I mean, leaders, people like me are not corrupted. You may not believe it of course, but that doesn't matter. But today we see the family of the Prime Minister being involved in business, getting contracts and things like that. And, even in a small bi-election money was used. And even a case of my trying to become just a delegate in the convention, money was spent to make sure that I wouldn't be elected in my own division, which I headed for 22 years.
AR So, away from Dr. Mahathir the politician is Dr. Mahathir the man, who has 7 kids. When you were a Prime Minister did you feel that you were able to devote enough time to them?
MM No I didn't. I am not bothered by my family or about having to be close to them or anything or like that. They knew I have a job to do and they put up with it.
AR But having a father and a husband at home would obviously make for a better more tight knit and functional family, wouldn't it?
MM They were away studying most of the time. They were not at home. And when they come back home having completed their studies, they were doing business, they got married and they stayed away, they have their own family. I have 16 grandchildren.
AR You have time on your hand these days because you're retired. What do you do with it?
MM Well, actually I am very busy now because I come to office everyday almost as if I were not retired. I spend a lot of time meeting people who want to call on me and want to see me for advice or whatever. And then I have to spend my time writing. I am trying to write my memoirs and not doing well at all. And then I have to write speeches I get invited to many countries to give talks on various subjects, so I am very busy.
AR What are the difficulties of writing your memoirs?
MM Well, it has been a long time and I am trying to do research to make sure I get all the dates right and that kind of thing takes a long time.
AR You are very famous figure around the world. What is it that you want people to know about you through these memoirs that you don't think we already do?
MM Some people told me that they would be interested to find out how is it that Malaysia, which was an agricultural country could be converted in an industrialized country. How does a third world country manage to prosper? These are the questions I get asked. Then of course, Malaysia is a multi racial, multi-religious country. How do we manage them? Lots of questions about Malaysia and whenever I go abroad people ask me about these questions and ask me about leadership and things like that. So I talk on these subjects.
AR We wish you the very best of luck on all these memoirs and thank you very much indeed for speaking to us today. (You're welcome) And that is it for this edition of Talk Asia. My guest for today as Malaysia former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. I'm Anjiali Rao, see you next week.
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