PUTRAJAYA, May 8 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will turn 94 this year, but the prime minister was as sharp and witty as ever as he fielded question after question during an hour-long interview ahead of his administration’s one-year anniversary tomorrow.
Amid criticisms of the government, he drew up a list of other world leaders facing a litany of internal and external challenges despite being decades younger than him, pointing out controversial United States President Donald Trump as an example.
“I feel as strong as I could be at the age of 93,” he replied when asked if he felt rejuvenated by leading Pakatan Harapan (PH) to a surprise general election victory last year.
“Not many people at the age of 93 can even think. But I’m still able to answer all your nasty questions,” he added, drawing laughter from the press.
“I don’t think I’m worse than Trump, I don’t think I’m worse than the British [prime minister],” he said, referring to the embattled Theresa May who may now be forced to step down after failing to achieve a satisfactory Brexit deal.
Dr Mahathir also compared his relatively rosy situation with French President Emmanuel Macron who faces rife protests by the Yellow Vests movement, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez who has to deal with the Catalan secession crisis.
“Can you tell me which leader is [faring] better?” he asked the media.
He was also unfazed by a Fortune magazine article ranking him as the world’s 47th greatest leader who is currently “writing an unexpected chapter in his legacy” after a previous autocratic turn.
“Just 47th? I thought I would be number one,” he commented jokingly.
But he also downplayed any advantage that may be granted by his age.
“I have more experience than most people — 22 years as prime minister is something that is a good experience. That teaches me a lot,” he said.
That experience has perhaps contributed a lot towards keeping his largely inexperienced Cabinet afloat. Despite praising the ministers for being quick learners, he rated his Cabinet a mere five out of 10 for treading too lightly on certain issues.
The public euphoria that followed after the May 9 win has also worn off, with independent pollster Merdeka Center revealing last month that public approval for the new PH government is now just 39 per cent, while Dr Mahathir’s own popularity has plunged to 46 per cent.
“Well, Merdeka Center didn’t even think we would win,” Dr Mahathir said snarkily in response.
“What I do know is that people are not shooting at me, or taking pot-shots at me. I like to be told where I’m wrong so I can correct myself. There are those who are dead set against me and there are also those who want to see me dead.
“But there are also those who when they see me, they will shake my hand, smile, and even say ‘I love you’,” he said.