Mahathir calls Malaysian PM Anwar a dictator after pro-Malay rally organiser fails to secure venue

Malaysia’s former premier Mahathir Mohamad said Datuk Seri Anwar has been displaying increasing intolerance of free speech. PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s former premier Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday accused Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim of being a dictator after a pro-Malay gathering was called off.

While Tun Dr Mahathir said he had no evidence that Datuk Seri Anwar was behind the sudden cancellation of the rally on Malay solidarity, he said the Premier has been displaying increasing intolerance of free speech by attacking the opposition and his critics.

“From his speeches against me, I am sure that he is behind this ban to try to shut the mouths of people who want to tell the truth,” Dr Mahathir told a news conference. 

“Only dictators don’t allow people to criticise the government.“

The Sekretariat Proklamasi Orang Melayu (Malay People’s Proclamation Secretariat) was reportedly forced to scrap the event planned for Sunday after several venues, including a hotel close to the Petronas Twin Towers, cancelled its bookings. 

Dr Mahathir was scheduled to attend the gathering, which he said would have been attended by about 2,000 participants. 

“I don’t understand why the government is so afraid of Malays that they won’t let us gather. We have tried four venues but to no avail. The gathering is apparently racist.

“Actually, when you block one race, you are the one who is racist. The government is the one that is racist,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said that during the Reformasi (Reform) movement, pro-Anwar supporters had regularly held “rough” protests, but the event that was planned for Sunday was not meant to be aggressive. 

“The press is censored. Nothing bad about the government can be printed,” Dr Mahathir alleged.

Without naming names, Mr Anwar said on Sunday that desperate leaders who have lost power are manipulating sensitive issues.

“Those who are playing up racial and religious issues, dividing the people and instigating violence, I will take stern action,” he was quoted as saying by The Star daily.

Last Friday, Mr Anwar had ordered security forces to be alert against those stirring up racial and religious rhetoric, ahead of the Malay nationalist convention planned for Sunday.

The tables appear to have turned on Dr Mahathir. During his first tenure as prime minister, he was labelled a dictator by Mr Anwar’s supporters.

Mr Anwar’s sacking as deputy premier in 1998 by Dr Mahathir and his subsequent jailing led to the rise of the Reformasi movement, with Mr Anwar’s supporters calling Dr Mahathir mahafiraun (great pharaoh) and mahazalim (great oppressor).

“This is a dictator government. People accused me of being a dictator. But tell me which dictator would step down,” said Dr Mahathir on Sunday. 

The 97-year-old served as premier twice – from 1981 to 2003, and from 2018 to 2020 – and resigned both times. He lost his parliamentary seat of Langkawi in the 2022 general election, coming in fourth, behind candidates from Perikatan Nasional, Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan, obtaining less than 10 per cent of the vote. It is his first defeat in Malaysia’s parliamentary elections since he lost in 1969.

Dr Mahathir, the longest-serving prime minister in Malaysia’s history, recently quit the Pejuang party. He had formed it after being expelled from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which he co-founded with former premier Muhyiddin Yassin.

The latter’s infamous “Sheraton Move” toppled the second Mahathir administration in 2020.

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