Dr Mahathir is confident in Najib and believes if Umno "behaves" the two-thirds can be regained (Photo by Hussein Shaharuddin/The Mole)
KUALA LUMPUR 25/11/2012: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) will have a two-thirds majority if the grassroots leaders behave well and refrain from sabotaging the party should their choices of candidates not be chosen by the party's election committee.
In an interview with The Mole, Utusan Malaysia and The Star, the statesman declared that he is confident in the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, whom he described as "a lot better" than his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Dr Mahathir, who was in the power for 22 years, also pointed out that it is crucial for BN to win the election handsomely to ensure a brighter future for the country.
While he was pessismistic about Umno and BN's future a year ago, now he has more confidence in the leadership, and urged people to evaluate all the efforts done by the ruling government and not to put the country into a risky condition by voting Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Below is the full interview in conjunction on the upcoming Umno General Assembly 2012:
Q: A year ago, when you spoke to the media, it seemed like you were still very concerned and pessimistic about Umno. But now, a few months before the General Election (GE), what is your current assessment?
Dr M: I think it is much better than it was last year. I think they are slowly getting around to understanding that, if they don’t behave themselves, then Umno and BN might lose. In this case everybody is going to lose.
Q: Do you think BN may be able to win back states that it lost in 2008?
Dr M: I think there is a possibility in three states Penang, Kedah and Selangor. I think there's even chance in Penang. Even in Kelantan. But it all depends on Umno itself. In Kelantan especially, because in that state, Umno leaders are fond of undermining whoever becomes a candidate. That is almost a cultural thing (in Kelantan) more in other states. That's one of the factors that can bring down Umno.
Q: What about Nik Aziz’s age and the fact that he has been around for 22 years?
Dr M: You find that before no one dared to criticise Nik Aziz, even among Umno members. There was an unwillingness to criticise him. Today we find among Pas members there is quite a number who do not think he is above criticism. His influence is decreasing because he's making all sorts of pronouncements which are not in keeping with Islam's teachings.
Q: Speaking of Umno, how do you see the transformation that Umno has made, especially when it comes to the younger generation?
Dr M: It seems like Umno still doesn’t want to take necessary action to approach them. I’ve spoken to the youngsters and they are positive about Umno’s struggle. Yes, they do criticise Umno when it comes to issues like corruption. And I’m not denying that their criticism is based on facts, but somehow they are still aware of the importance of Umno.
Q: So they are not 100 per cent rejecting Umno?
Dr M: They were (actually) mad about the Umno Supreme Council (MT) election. There was corruption during the process and it wasn’t well handled. Some of the corrupt MT members were allowed to hold positions in the government, and some were not.
Q: How do you see Najib’s role…especially when it comes to election candidates.
Dr M: I can see that he is doing pretty well. Unlike his predecessor (former Umno president and Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) who did not work at all and hoped that everything was going to be successful.
Q: Previously, Pemuda Umno’s leader Khairy Jamaluddin announced that he wouldn’t be contesting for another term as a member of Parliament, but he openly wished that he could go for another term as the wing’s leader.
Dr M: That depends on the wing whether they still want him as their leader or not. But everyone should remember that during the previous GE, he recommended a few people to be the candidate, and all of them lost.
Q: How do you see the role undertaken by each of Umno’s wings such as Pemuda, Puteri and Wanita. Have they done well to refresh the brand of Umno?
Dr M: Pemuda is not so good. Somehow, it seems like Pemuda is inactive. During a few division meetings that I attended, I could not see the involvement of Pemuda.
Q: How about Wanita?
Dr M: Wanita is seemed like more active and enthusiastic. That goes with Puteri too.
Q: Do you think that it is okay for Wanita’s chief (Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil) to contest for the next GE?
Dr M: Everyone should evaluate himself or herself. If they think they won’t bring any good for the party anymore, they should step down immediately. Otherwise, they will be easy targets for the opponents and their struggles would be futile.
Q: Do you have any advice for Nik Abdul Aziz (spiritual leader of Pas and Mentri Besar for Kelantan)?
Dr M: Well, he promised that when I stepped down (from the seat of Prime Minister), he would do the same. One thing about these people is, they never keep their word. He is supposed to be a religious man.
Q: Recently, at Muktamar Pas, there was a doa for the destruction of Umno. Were you shocked by it?
Dr M: I was shocked but I also expect this kind of thing. They are not an Islamic party. They are just a political party making use of Islam.
Q: Looking back at the opposition states, you mentioned that chances of falling (back to BN) are there. But are you serious about Penang? Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is considered a ‘Tokong’.
Dr M: There are people who are not happy with him. A close relationship between the state and federal governments is important. Of course if PR wins (the General Election), it would be great to have him as the CM. But if the central government, which is more likely Barisan Nasional, that poor relationship is not good for the country.
Q: Do you think that BN will get a two-thirds majority this time?
Dr M: I hope so, but it is not easy to predict this time. Number five (the fifth Prime Minister) spoiled a lot of things. He destroyed the components in BN, including the administration. Today, members of the administration are not very supportive towards the government because of him. During my time, their support was strong.
Q: With the back-to-back attacks from outsiders on Umno, do you think the party can hold on for much longer?
Dr M: I think the more they attack Umno, the more they will bring benefits to the party. For example, these outsiders were supporting the opponent parties and media, which means those political parties and the media have become the outsiders’ political tools. Do Malaysians like to support a political party that is being supported by foreigners? I think Malaysians are smarter. There’s no way for them to let the country to be controlled by foreigners.
Q: During your era, these attacks were easily rebutted. But today, it seems like the government prefers to be silent.
Dr M: I like to talk a lot but maybe they do not. It's like they prefer to practice elegant silence. Actually they don’t know how to deal with it.
Q: The current situation shows that Najib has managed to convince the people to swing their votes back to BN, but somehow his efforts are being jeopardised by some of the grassroots leaders, to the point that people are reluctant to show their support to BN. Any comment on that?
Dr M: This is what we have been trying to do… which is to remind leaders of Umno branches and divisions. The problem is, these leaders are more willing to take care of their positions rather than to struggle sincerely for the people. They do not allow other more qualified people to join Umno. These rejected people became frustrated and they decided to join Pas for example. Years ago, there were not any lawyers, engineers or doctors in Pas. But they have no choice since their wish to join Umno is being blockaded by these leaders. Najib is doing okay, but what about others?
Q: You mean the culture of grassroots leaders in Umno.
Dr M: It is still happening. But since Umno’s constitution has been amended, it is easier for this group of professionals to join Umno.
Q: Do you think that it is necessary for Umno’s constitution to be amended to limit the term of President?
Dr M: That one we have to do extra research on. If it had been done during my time, I guess I wouldn't have been Prime Minister for 22 years.
Q: This upcoming General Election will be the mother of all battles, and you as the former general for Barisan Nasional, what is your assessment of the readiness of Umno?
Dr M: While we are seeing how active Najib is, we will also be able to see that the branches and divisions have not moved yet. They are still waiting on who will be the candidates. This behavior might bring BN down. They should do what they were tasked to do without favouring candidate-wannabes. If their choice of candidate is rejected, then they would rather let the party lose. But they should remember if their choice of candidate wins, but the party loses, it won’t bring anything good for the country. The losing party won’t be the government. This is a simple thing that we need to remind these leaders of.
Q: What is the significance of the upcoming Umno General Assembly for the Malays?
Dr M: I hope they can realise that Malays used to be the majority, in this country, but are not anymore. Malays have been divided into three (Umno, Pas, PKR). There are possibilities that Malays could be the minority in a less-powerful party, so it would be our loss. It's not that I’m saying that other races should not be given attention, but Malays should remember, if you want to defend your race, obviously the Malays have to do it. It would be illogical if we have to depend on Chinese or Indians to take care of our welfare. That’s why it is very important for Malays to win the General Election.
Q: Talking about the candidates, it is a very sensitive issue. If their preferred candidates aren't chosen, they will boycott. The trend even exists in MIC and MCA. What is your suggestion on this?
Dr M: The party is like a human being. Once a human gets older, he will probably get cancer, and if he does not treat it well, the cancer will spread to the whole body and he will die faster. The party is just like a human.
Q: As a veteran politician, what is your advice to the Malays out there? Because it seems like there is a movement which is saying that they want to make a change, but it is obviously seen this group is willing enough to risk religion and race.
Dr M: The Malays should remember that some quarters are manipulating some issues for the sake of their own goodness. If the Malays understand this, they will survive. For example, some people have been saying that BN has been in power for almost 55 years and the other parties should be given a chance. If they are the government, I am pretty sure they won't allow such a thing to happen. This issue is just to raise support, not because they really want to see change.
Q: Najib wasn’t your choice to replace you as the next Prime Minister. Now he has been in the hot seat for three years. Would you give us an honest assessment about him, the journey he has travelled?
Dr M: Certainly he has done better than the previous one. He's certainly done better and deserves to be supported. If we don’t support him, then we are supporting Anwar. That is something that we should not do. However, there are some things that could be improved. We'll do all that after the election. Now it is important to win.
Q: Does he have your support? Because on the Internet, there are allegations that you prefer Muhyiddin Yassin over Najib.
Dr M: That's their propaganda. Have they ever heard me promoting Muhyiddin? During Pak Lah’s time, yes, I promoted Muhyiddin. But Muhyiddin told me he supports Najib and won't contest against Najib. And now Najib is in place. I support Najib. I have spoken to Umno all over the country. All of them came to see me. Divisions and branches that met me, I said we have to support Najib. I never once said that they should support Muhyiddin. This is something that I’m not going to decide, but at the moment, the most important thing is to support Najib to win the election, because if you come out and support somebody else you will lose the election.
Q: So the allegation that Najib doesn’t have your support is not true?
Dr M: The opposition made that lie. You have to remember that everything comes out from them is not true. It was only their strategy to weaken Umno.
Q: What about the three Prime Ministers-to-be from Pakatan Rakyat? Abdul Hadi, Anwar Ibrahim and Karpal Singh?
Dr M: (Laughing) I think out of the three, Karpal is the most qualified, he's been there longest. If he puts on his turban, he can compete with Nik Aziz, he's a very good lawyer. Karpal is the most qualified. But, I think already they are fighting over it. This is called counting your eggs before they are hatched. Some of the eggs will be telur busuk (rotten eggs). I’m quite sure that there will be a fight if they win.
Q: What is the necessary thing that Umno must do to ensure a two-thirds majority?
Dr M: Generally speaking, there are a lot of things that could be done. During my time, we did a lot of things at the eleventh hour to ensure victory. Therefore, I believe there is still room for them to do something.
Q: Among all the states, which one do you think is the safest?
Dr M: Johor is the safest, but the number of BN seats won’t be as high as in the previous election. For Sabah, I still think the state is safe, even though there are some issues that BN needs to deal with. And I think BN still can retain Negeri Sembilan.
Q: What about your home state of Kedah?
Dr M: If Umno behaves, we can win. The only reason we'll lose is due to the infighting within Umno.
Q: Some said it is a secured victory for BN Kedah if they put your son Datuk Mukhriz as the potential candidate for Mentri Besar.
Dr M: It all depends on leaders of Umno branches and divisions. It's not like they can ensure the victory, but they could ensure the loss if they don’t fight well.
Q: Do you get upset when people still call you the ‘devil’?
Dr M: I’ve been called names like Firaun, Syaitan, and many more. But it doesn’t touch me at all. It is more important to see how the rakyat see me. I trust them and I think they know what the truth is.
Q: Some people said that they are willing to give Mukhriz a chance because they see your figure behind him. Do you think that the ‘Tun Mahathir factor’ will bring some effect in this upcoming election?
Dr M: Choose him if you think he is a good candidate, not because of me. There is not even once that I told him what to do or what not to do. During my time, I prohibited him from joining politics. But since I have stepped down, he can do whatever he wishes.
Q: Will you be around to campaign for Umno?
Dr M: I would like to, I gave a pledge before I stepped down that I would continue to support Umno and campaign. Unfortunately some quarters feel this is bad for the leadership. So I wasn't allowed to campaign. It is all right. I offer my services to the leaders if they want it.
Q: That was in 2008?
Dr M: Yes.
Q: This time around, will you?
Dr M: I will if Najib doesn't object. I will go and campaign. This is the payback period, because party enabled me to win and become PM. Now it is time to pay them back for what they did for me.
Q: Will you be focusing on some states for the campaigning process?
Dr M: I would love to go to every state. But I don’t know if I have the time to do it.
Q: Opposition-led states (Penang, Kedah, Kelantan, Selangor) perhaps?
Dr M: If I think it is necessary for me to do so, then I will go.
By Firdaus AzilSunday