KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 ― Life as Malaysia's prime minister for the second time means hardly any private time for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as his bodyguards trail along everywhere, his wife has shared.
Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, 92, shared about the 10 Special Actions Unit (UTK) members that are tasked with following her and her husband to ensure their protection.
“They don't leave us alone. We are so precious, as if someone was going to do harm to us,” she said in an interview with local daily New Straits Times (NST).
Dr Siti Hasmah said she has her own private time, while such moments are rare for Dr Mahathir as the country's leader.
“I feel sorry for him. If he goes cycling, the bodyguards will trail behind. Similarly, if he goes horse riding, they will follow too,” she said.
She also shared how the UTK personnel who protect Dr Mahathir are rotated on a three-week basis, adding that some of these bodyguards “don't even recognise” their children.
“Maizura, for example, she is a small-sized girl and she too gets pushed by them. That's how we live now,” she told NST.
Dr Mahathir became prime minister again a year ago after his Pakatan Harapan coalition won power in the 14th general elections, taking up again the post he had held for 22 years before retiring in 2003.
In the same interview, Dr Siti Hasmah reportedly shared her observations of how the public post-GE14 are now going to great lengths to express how happy and grateful they were, in contrast to previously where Dr Mahathir would be given some space.
“There would be a whole crowd. Chinese, Indians, young and old. They all recognised him,” she said.
In the same interview, Dr Siti Hasmah revealed a gutsy side as she shared how she had went alone to meet the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein at his request in 2000.
She was then in Iraq to provide humanitarian aid, noting that she spoke to Saddam for about half and hour where he thanked the Malaysian government and then PM Dr Mahathir for helping to appeal against United Nations sanctions against the country.
She also shared how she and Dr Mahathir had made an unscheduled trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina which was torn apart by war, after being invited by Malaysian soldiers who they met in Rome while on holiday.
The couple flew into Bosnia on a plane that had to fly in a designated zone to prevent being shot at, and had to switch to a helicopter and finally a military tank before reaching the camp where the Malaysian soldiers were based.
“I was so afraid, especially for my husband. He was putting his head out [of the tank] to take photos. I pulled him down. There were already incidents of grenades being thrown into tanks.
“Even in the helicopter he was busy taking photos,” she said, adding that the couple then performed Friday prayers with the Malaysian soldiers who had cooked Malaysian food.
The interview did not state when the trip took place, but it was during the time when Najib was defence minister and he had then confirmed with Dr Siti Hasmah that it was “okay to go” visit Bosnia then and advised her to wear pants instead of baju kurung for the visit.
Najib was defence minister from 2000 to 2008, prior to being the prime minister from 2009 to May 2018.