KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad conceded that his first stint as prime minister was unsuccessful as he was unable to bridge the country’s ethnic and income divisions.
In an exclusive interview with US news agency CNN, the 93-year-old said he sought then to ensure the inequalities were diminished, but only managed to gain mixed results.
“Not much of a regret but I felt that this country is a multi-racial country. You cannot change that, and that is something that I tried to do because I don't like disparities between rich and poor, between races, because that will destabilise the country
“I had little success but generally I failed. I wish I had [done more], but you know, you can't change people's way of life, culture, mindsets and all that overnight. I will try again,” he said in the interview.
Dr Mahathir also denied being a dictator — which he was often accused of during his 22-year rule — and stressed that he was dedicated to propel the nation to greater heights.
He also said he was driven by the chance to serve and deliver for the country, and that money was not a motivating factor.
“I was not a dictator, I was elected five times by the people, and no dictator has ever resigned; I resigned,” he said.
Dr Mahathir was appointed as prime minister for a second time on May 10 after leading Pakatan Harapan to an unlikely victory over Barisan Nasional, ending the latter coalition’s six decades of rule.
The PH chairman said he saw other countries achieve success while on his travels and felt that Malaysia should enjoy similar levels of development given its resources and abilities.
Dr Mahathir said he was consequently compelled to come out of political retirement at such a late stage in life due to the people’s frustrations over the inability of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration to deliver this progress.
“Well, when I stepped down voluntarily, I thought that I would have a very relaxed time, be with my family and maybe cruise around.
“Unfortunately, the moment I stepped down, my successor decided to change course, adopted new policies and all that. And particularly discarded everything that I have started.
“So, a lot of people felt unhappy. They all came to see me, asking me ‘Please, do something, please do something’,” he said.
Dr Mahathir became the world's oldest elected leader at 93 when he led the Pakatan Harapan coalition to dethrone incumbent Barisan Nasional in the May 9 polls.