LANGKAWI • Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he is prepared to resign as Malaysia's prime minister, during a dialogue yesterday with taxi drivers that turned rowdy for several minutes, over what they said was preferential treatment given to ride-hailing service Grab.
The meeting in a hall on Langkawi island, where Dr Mahathir is MP, turned chaotic as some 10 drivers heckled him and walked out after they disagreed with the Premier's views on Grab, reported Bernama news agency.
Some of them shouted rude words as they were walking out, Malaysian news media reported.
The group was unhappy the government has not agreed to the longstanding demand of cabbies that it shut down Grab and other ride-hailing services, claiming these were stealing their customers.
Last Wednesday, 250 taxi drivers protested in front of the Ministry of Finance in Putrajaya, following news that the government was talking to Grab to resolve last-mile connectivity at LRT and MRT stations. The cabbies say they often wait at these stations for customers and are now being undermined by Grab drivers.
In Langkawi yesterday, the group was upset over Dr Mahathir saying the government would seek a mechanism to level the playing field between taxis and ride-sharing services, instead of an outright ban, local media reported.
"Give me time to resolve this problem. It is not easy to ban (Grab) so as to eliminate competition. I've long sought a solution so that all sides can make a living. I will try but I can't make promises," he was quoted as saying by Utusan Malaysia newspaper.
After the angry group left, Dr Mahathir, 93, said: "If you don't believe that I can help, do (it) yourself. See what happens. I want to help, but if you don't help me, I cannot help."
He added: "It's not that I want to be a prime minister. I have retired, but people called me back, that's why I came. If you don't want me to be the prime minister, I can resign today, it's no problem for me."
The session was attended by some 200 Langkawi taxi drivers.
Dr Mahathir said that to ensure a level playing field, Grab would be asked to use vehicles approved by the government and pay insurance and taxes like normal taxis.
On social media yesterday, the debate in Malaysia over regular cabbies versus ride-hailing services heated up again. Some asked Dr Mahathir to ban these taxi apps to protect cabbies. But others say they prefer ride-hailing drivers as they do not overcharge customers.
Meanwhile, the taxi association that was involved with the Langkawi event said the group of hecklers might be political saboteurs.
Mr Zailani Isaisuludin, chief of the Association of Malaysia Taxi Drivers, Rental Cars, Premium Executive Limo (Perjiwa), told Astro Awani television station: "Maybe they were paid by certain quarters to disrupt the event... I reject claims that they were members of Perjiwa. I don't know them at all."