KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 — Possibly no one is more aware that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is nearing 93 than the man himself.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the prime minister said he is rushing to restore Malaysia to its former glory, one he likely considers as his previous time in office when viewed through the tint of nostalgia.
Dr Mahathir told the London-based weekly he intended to make Malaysia “once again democratic”, but insisted that he had not been an authoritarian when he was last the prime minister.
However, he is at least committed to decentralising power away from the position of the prime minister, after previous efforts to consolidate this authority, and said it was imperative to minimise the opportunities for abuse.
While Dr Mahathir did not take ownership of any of Malaysia’s problems beyond one named “Datuk Seri Najib Razak”, he felt there was much that still needed to be done.
“Soon I’ll be 93. I will try to accomplish as much as possible in the short time given to me,” he told FT.
Beyond his age, Dr Mahathir is also aware that there is another already queuing up to replace him.
While Pakatan Harapan de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim asserted that he is in no rush to take over from Dr Mahathir, it is unlikely the latter will be willing to wait indefinitely.
After all, it was Anwar’s early ambitions that triggered his fallout with Dr Mahathir in the 1990s, an event that then served as the catalyst for the Opposition that eventually became the government of the day.
While neither men are what they were nearly two decades ago and both have noticeably mellowed, Anwar’s looming presence must still be on Dr Mahathir’s mind.
“I think he is quite a different man now,” Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying by FT, which noted the economy of his appreciation for his former deputy.
“I think he realises that things do not just go the way you want it to go. So he will have to be a bit more patient.”
PH previously said its plan after winning the general election was to secure a royal pardon for Anwar so that he may contest for a federal seat and replace Dr Mahathir as prime minister.
Anwar has already been pardoned, but remains coy on when he will try to return to Parliament, while Dr Mahathir also said he would like another year or two to achieve what he has set out to do.
Freed from the need to secure another term and the burden of popular opinion, Dr Mahathir — like the rest of Malaysia — is relishing this newfound and unfamiliar freedom.
Already, he has scrapped one major infrastructure project in the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, and has sent signals that others initiated by the defeated Barisan Nasional may suffer the same fate.
Dr Mahathir is also shifting Malaysia’s old geopolitical alliances that former PM Najib cultivated, reverting to his old philosophy of self-reliance as a safeguard against neocolonialism by world superpowers.
In the FT interview, he spoke unfavourably about the US and its president, Donald Trump, as well as Beijing and its unrelenting push into the South China Sea.
His decisions may not be universally popular, but like most men his age, Dr Mahathir is not especially concerned with his image.
“When I came back into politics, I found that the labels that I got tend to cause people to believe that I was really like that and therefore they should reject me.
“Now, if they say anything, I’m already prime minister. The most they can do is to throw me out,” he concluded.