KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 — Those in the position of power must be aware and keep in touch on the needs and suffering of the ordinary folks, said prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Speaking at a forum on public speaking and motivational entertainment tonight, Dr Mahathir made the historical observation on the words uttered by French queen Marie Antoinette who said: “Let them eat cake” when she heard the news that the peasants were complaining of hunger.
“One aspect of leadership that is sometimes overlooked is the ability to feel for the ordinary people. Sometimes, when leaders are aristocratic and of royal lineage, the tendency of not understanding the sufferings of the ordinary people is prevalent.
“It is kin to the oft-repeated saying to Marie Antoinette who, when told that the peasants were hungry for bread, she said: Let them eat cake.
“Whether Marie Antoinette said it or not, the crux of the matter is that leaders have been known to be so detached that the sufferings that could be resolved are allowed to perpetuate,” warned Dr Mahathir.
He pointed out that at times the ordinary person who has been elevated to a leadership position ignores the needs of the many not due to ignorance but simply due to sheer apathy.
At the same time, the world’s oldest elected official added that it is everyone’s responsibility to work hard to take themselves out of poverty and a difficult life.
“When I was a teenager, when the Japanese occupied us and we stopped schooling temporarily, I was selling goreng pisang (banana fritters) in Alor Setar’s Pekan Rabu and it was quite a thriving business and I discovered that there’s always opportunities if we look around hard enough,” he said.
However, Dr Mahathir also said he realised later in life after being elected into a position of power that there are many people who lack the simple ability to notice or seize the opportunity around them.
It is the duty of those in leadership positions to guide and help the needy in finding their footing.
“When I got into the position of power I realised that not everyone is capable of finding the opportunity and sometimes those with power should assist them in finding their footing.
“But the principle of giving them the rod instead of the fish, stands,” he said.