KUALA LUMPUR - As Pakatan Harapan (PH) rounds up its first year of governance, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad issued a cautionary warning to Malaysia's majority race to stop expecting handouts and work harder.
"Yes, they (Malay) are the majority. But they are weak," said Tun Dr Mahathir in a live interview on Wednesday (May 8) with state television station RTM1. "Weak in terms of economy... Weak in political mindset. They are the majority but they divide themselves into four parties which become minority parties and require assistance from other parties."
The Premier was referring to the country's four Malay race-based parties - his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Amanah Negara in the PH coalition, and opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
After a tough year of administering government and trying to appease an increasingly conservative Malay community, Dr Mahathir on Wednesday urged the Malays to buck up or forever live in the shadow of other ethnic communities like the Chinese and Indians.
"(Their fears) can be overcome if they work hard to strengthen themselves economically, intellectually," the Premier said. "If they can do so and compete with minority races they wouldn't have this fear."
PH came into power in May last year with only one-third of the total Malay vote, with the remainder split between former ruling party Umno and PAS.
Umno and PAS agreed to cooperate formally in March this year, and won three by-elections against PH by agreeing not to run against each other in Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau.
They have also exploited issues of race and religion, by claiming PH is not protecting Malay rights. PH has backed out of signing international treaties after protests that these eroded Malay rights and undermined the sovereignty of the country's royal rulers.
In an earlier media interview on Wednesday, Dr Mahathir defended his administration's track record on race relations.
"Everyone thinks the government is paying attention to the other communities and not them," he said. "But the fact is that we are dealing with all communities. We have to make sure everybody is more or less satisfied," the 93-year-old said.
However, he acknowledged that despite the administration's efforts, "we can't satisfy everybody fully all the time".
He also sought to temper expectations on his government's performance, after a recent survey revealed plunging approval ratings for both him and his ruling coalition, largely due to election pledges that have yet to be fulfilled.
"It's only been a year. Nothing happens overnight," he said. He noted that he himself needed five years to prove his mettle when he was first made PM in 1981.
Dr Mahathir said he did not think he had done so badly in the first year of his comeback after stepping down in 2003.
"There are many leaders in the world, but I don't think I am worse than (US President Donald) Trump. I don't think I am worse than British leaders, French leaders, Spanish leaders, and all those other leaders," he said, according to national news agency Bernama. "Can you tell me which leader has done better than me?" he quipped.
Towards the end of his interview with RTM1, the straight-talking Prime Minister circled back to one of his bugbears, the culture of depending on the government for assistance.
"If we continue to ask the government for help for all our problems, eventually we will become crippled. Those who hardly use their body eventually become paralysed. If we don't use our brains, we become stupid," he said bluntly.