KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 — Before his retirement, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was revered as Malaysia’s all-powerful and longest-serving prime minister.
But at home, the man who once called all the shots in the country was regarded as the “joker” of his family while his wife, the mild-mannered Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali assumed the role of the disciplinarian.
“He is more the joker, my mum didn’t tell jokes that much. My mum was the enforcer you know, she was tasked with making sure we did our homework, and of course you don’t like the enforcer,” Marina Mahathir, the couple’s first-born, told Malaysiakini in an exclusive interview today.
Marina added that despite being the daughter of the prime minister, she grew up in a household much like any other.
“People keep thinking I grew up as a prime minister’s daughter, which is quite flattering because they think I’m very young, but in fact he didn’t become premier until I was an adult.
“I had a pretty normal childhood. He was well known in Alor Setar, our town, because he was the first Malay doctor in the private sector, so he was quite well known.
“But apart from that we really had a normal time, a normal life,” she was quoted saying in the news portal.
But when matters became serious, Marina said her father would step in.
She recalled one incident when she received a “pinch” from her father for misbehaving.
“One day when I was three years old, our gardener Pak Hashim complained to my dad that I had stuck my tongue out at him, which was considered a really, really bad thing to do.
“I got pinched (on the side) for that, that’s something that’s not to be tolerated. You can’t be rude to anybody especially when they’re older, regardless of their station in life. That was really something that was honed in on us,” she was quoted saying.
Today, although Dr Mahathir is now seen as the harshest critic of the Najib administration, Marina said she still sees him as the same affectionate father who raised her and a doting grandfather to 18 grandchildren.
“When I was young we would walk hand in hand [...] and the granddaughters especially, grandsons too, but granddaughters particularly, get the same treatment.
“He has one granddaughter who is very tall and lanky and long haired, and they walk around and they’re holding hands. I’m sure people look and think that’s a girlfriend, but he just loves that.
“He’s a great grandfather, [...] very over indulgent,” she was quoted saying.
Dr Mahathir celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday and in a message to Malaysians, said he prays and hopes that everyone can live as long as he has.
Despite retiring from the post of prime minister over almost 12 years ago, Dr Mahathir remains a prominent and influential figure whose outspoken and frank views regularly dominate headlines — both domestically and internationally.
After 22 years in power, Dr Mahathir stepped down on October 31, 2003 to pave the way for Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to take over, and was later seen as leading a campaign in 2009 that ultimately resulted in his successor being replaced by current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Dr Mahathir has been Najib’s fiercest critic in recent months, unrelentingly questioning the latter over matters under his administration, including the Ministry of Finance-owned firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which had reportedly chalked up debts of RM42 billion.