Malaysia's Mahathir says country's leader must be focused on the nation

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad waves to supporters as he arrives back at Subang airport, outside Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 9, 2015.
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad waves to supporters as he arrives back at Subang airport, outside Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 9, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the country needs a leader who is focused on doing "what is good for the country", adding that Kuala Lumpur's vision of becoming a developed nation by 2020 would not be achieved due to bad governance.

"The kind of leadership we have should be one that has the capacity to focus not on himself, but on what is good for the country," Tun Dr Mahathir said in a wide-ranging interview with the Asia-Pacific current-affairs magazine The Diplomat published on Wednesday (Oct 7).

"Now I find that not anybody can be a leader. You need somebody that is dedicated to the cause of doing something for the country," he added.

He also claimed that Malaysia's likely failure to achieve developed nation status by 2020 will be due to each prime minister playing up other issues and not giving due attention to national economic growth.

"The country was growing during my time, most of the time. There were downturns. But (later) the country was arrested because of improper handling, because of focus not so much on economic development, but on political survival," he said.

"Each prime minister wants to survive, and they thought they would survive by playing up other issues instead of concentrating on economic development. And therefore the growth slowed down," he added.

"And when there was racial tension, bad administration, corruption, et cetera, the economy shrinks. So we will not achieve Vision 2020 to become a fully developed country," he said.

"You can see the currency is depreciated, (the) stock market is in a bad shape, people are generally unhappy," said the former leader, who was at the helm for 22 years.

Dr Mahathir introduced the Vision 2020 concept during the tabling of the Sixth Malaysia Plan in 1991. It aimed for Malaysia to be a self-sufficient industrialised nation by that year.

In the interview, he also claimed that the Sept 16 pro-Malay "Red Shirt" rally was carried as a way to divert attention from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue.

"(The Sept 16 rally) was organised by the government. They turned the Bersih demonstration into a racial thing, Chinese against Malays, which it is not. But they have to divert the attention of the demands of Bersih on 1MDB to something else, and they made race an issue. This is very dangerous, but the government wants to get people to show support for them," he said.

According to the Sept 16 rally organisers, the Red Shirt protest was held to "protect racial dignity" and as a counter to the Aug 29 Bersih 4.0 rally, which was aimed at demanding Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over the 1MDB saga.

Sharing his thoughts on why he attended Bersih 4.0, Dr Mahathir said that the "Yellow Shirt" Bersih rally was a way for him to air his opinions.

"(Attending Bersih 4.0) was kind of last resort. I feel the need to express my opinion, and since I hold the same view as Bersih, with regard to the removal of the prime minister, I went. It's not a racial thing," he said.

"The people at Bersih come from all communities. It's not a Chinese demonstration against a Malay government. It's not racist at all. So I went to express my support for what they are demanding," he said.

Dr Mahathir also contrasted current-day Malaysia and the Malaysia of his premiership, saying that the public were happier then, evidenced by the lack of protests.

"I'm not against those things (Bersih's demands), but during my time, there were no protests. There was no Bersih. People were happy to participate in elections. They didn't dispute the results of elections. It was only after I stepped down that there was Bersih, that (its supporters) demonstrated and made all these demands," he said.