Mahathir apologises for past mistakes, promises better future

Ex-PM pledges bold steps to revive economy should his opposition alliance win the election

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of the opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, at its first annual general meeting yesterday. Behind him are party president Muhyiddin Yassin and deputy president Mukhriz Mahathir.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of the opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, at its first annual general meeting yesterday. Behind him are party president Muhyiddin Yassin and deputy president Mukhriz Mahathir.PHOTO: PPBM/ FACEBOOK

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, an opposition leader whose party is pushing for him to lead Malaysia again, yesterday apologised "for whatever wrongdoing" he had done during his time in politics.

Tun Dr Mahathir's apology, delivered at the end of a speech at his year-old party's first annual general meeting, came about as his leadership of the four-party opposition alliance received mixed voter reviews due to his political baggage as prime minister for 22 years.

He said that should the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance win in the general election, it would take bold steps to improve the economy. These include considering pegging the ringgit to the US dollar again, sharply reducing the foreign labour force from seven million to two million, and encouraging industries to employ Malaysians first.

"Before I conclude my speech, I would like to apologise if I was rude or had offended anyone," said the 92-year-old. "I, just like other humans, am not alone in making mistakes, not just today but during the time I had dabbled in politics.

"I apologise for whatever wrongdoing throughout that time."

Dr Mahathir is chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and PH.

TO ERR IS HUMAN

I, just like other humans, am not alone in making mistakes, not just today but during the time I had dabbled in politics... I apologise for whatever wrongdoing throughout that time.

DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, at the end of his speech yesterday.

With the general election expected in the first half of next year, the PH coalition has been mired in debate over who should become Malaysia's next premier.

The country has always been ruled by the 13-party Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

BN is led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had faced allegations of graft, and there is also voter unhappiness over cost of living issues.

Other than Dr Mahathir's pro-Malay PPBM, the other members of PH are Parti Keadilan Rakyat with its multiracial outlook, led by Anwar Ibrahim; Chinese-led Democratic Action Party; and Parti Amanah Negara, a moderate Islamic party.

While many in the opposition prefer Anwar as its candidate for prime ministership, he is behind bars and is expected to be released only in June next year.

Even after his release, he cannot run for political office for five years, unless he is pardoned by the Malaysian King.

Hence, PPBM is pushing for Dr Mahathir to become "interim" prime minister in the event of a PH win.

Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, son of the former premier and PPBM's deputy president, told the audience that "PPBM is asking for the role of prime minister because Tun Mahathir is the most worthy and most experienced".

Asked whether he would contest the next election, Dr Mahathir said: "I may contest in any one of three different constituencies. They are telling me I got a good chance of winning in Langkawi, Kubang Pasu and Putrajaya. So be ready for that."

Langkawi and Kubang Pasu are both in Kedah state, while the ward of Putrajaya covers Malaysia's administrative capital.

Dr Mahathir in his speech also made bold promises of how, if elected into government, the coalition would move the country in a new direction. The supremacy of law, freedom of speech and independence of the police - all controlled by Dr Mahathir during his prime ministership between 1981 and 2003 - would be restored, he promised.

He also vowed to revamp governance by separating powers between the judiciary, legislative and the executive, and even to eliminate cronyism - all of which his critics would say were missing when he was previously in power.

With voters complaining about the weak ringgit, which has pushed up the cost of imported goods and overseas education for their children, Dr Mahathir said: "The Pakatan Harapan government will attempt to improve the national economy. The first thing is to restore the value of the ringgit.

"(We) will consider whether exchange control would be adopted again if necessary, and the management of the national finances will be made more transparent."

Dr Mahathir introduced the ringgit peg to the US dollar in 1998 at height of the Asian financial crisis which battered regional currencies. The peg was scrapped seven years later, in 2005.

PPBM's president Muhyiddin Yassin said the party, at just a year old, has 158 divisions nationwide - just 33 shy of the 191 that Malaysia's ruling party Umno has.

The AGM was attended by more than 900 delegates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Mahathir apologises for past mistakes, promises better future'. Subscribe