Malaysia Dateline

My meeting with Tun Mahathir

I could see it in his eyes. He was hurt by the betrayal. At 95, I thought he woud have seen his fair share of betrayals and would not have been as affected. Yet, although he tried his best to hide it, I could see he was in pain. He sat upright as usual, no slumping or fidgetting and although I sensed his heart was aching, his face, no, his very demeanour was of a man on a mission.

Sensing perhaps my thoughts on how he was hurting, he quickly asked, “why did you not come the other day, with the other AMANAH leaders?” Yes, there was a visit by the AMANAH top 5 two days before and I was not with them. He must have ‘missed me’.

I smiled, slowly turned to looked away and quickly replied, “they did not invite me along!” He smirked a bit, I think and  expressed surprise. While putting down the folder he held in his hand he asked, “And why not? Are you not one of their top leaders?”

Yet again I smiled, sensing the oppurtunity to crack a joke and make this old man laugh. And so this time, while looking straight at his face, I said, “Well, I suspect they thought you might not want to see me” and I laughed while managing to get only a snigger from him. “And why would that be?” he asked, knowing full well, I suspect, that I was reported to have made some remarks which he might have not been too happy with a few days before that.

“Ohh, as you know Tun, I speak too often and  say too much. And not being reported correctly at that! I was reported to have asked you to step down, two days after you stepped down!”

And we laughed at the ludricrousness of such a report.

It was Thursday 12th of March, 11.05 a.m. at Tun’s office in Yayasan Kepimpinan Perdana, Putrajaya. I had made an appointment to see him as I was scheduled to give a talk on FB Live at the invitation of KelabinspirasikuMahathir at 9 p.m. that night. I wanted to be clear about some of his views, just in case the moderator asked me about what I thought of him as a person and as a leader. I wanted to try to understand the man.

I went with Azli, my ex-political secretary and the current AMANAH Shah Alam Branch Head. Azli has been the Head since 2015 and the Head of PAS Shah Alam before that in 2013. All in all we spent more than 30 minutes with Tun. Just the three of us with Azli keeping quiet most of the time. It was more a one on one session, a no holds barred questioning time with me asking the kind of questions I believe many would have avoided. It was frank, but not brutal.

When we first went into his room, hands outstreched giving our salaams, he replied the salaams but quickly made the ‘Namaste’ gesture with his hands. We quickly did the same, acknowledging the truth in his words, “this Corona virus issue is a serious matter”. And so we sat across the table from him, his table as always being full of letters and folders.

After the short exchange as reported above, I started with my questions. Many were asked but I will not reveal them all this time around. What I will relay is my last question which I put to him, which was “And what do you wish to do now Tun?” Tun replied that he wants to get back his Party, BERSATU which he felt was taken away from him through deceit and treachery.

“Andwhat do you want to do after winning it back Tun?” I asked, sensing his single-mindedness and seriousness in undertaking this effort. “Do you wish then for BERSATU to remain in PN (Perikatan Nasional) or for it to rejoin PH (Pakatan Harapan)?”

He paused for a minute, perhaps thinking that the answer should have been obvious to me and after taking a deep breath, Tun replied, “back to PH”.

Yes, I thought to myself, obviously. For Tun’s fight, although at such an advanced stage in his life, is to form a new and clean corruption free Malay political party to replace UMNO. To Tun, UMNO is a gone case, having been corrupted beyond repair by Najib and his “Cash is King” philosophy. BERSATU was to be a new platform which would accept only the clean leaders from UMNO, leaving the corrupt ones to rot with UMNO. But to do that, BERSATU must be with the ruling coalition while UMNO left with the opposition. And everything was going as planned, until Muhyiddin, at the beckoning of Azmin, left PH and together with UMNO and PAS formed PN!

That was why Tun had said, when asked earlier, that Muhyiddin had betrayed not him, but the struggle of the party. For the party was formed with this precise objective and by taking it out of PH and forming a PN government with UMNO, the struggle was lost. With UMNO in the ruling coalition, with more seats than BERSATU, what reason would the UMNO leaders have to leave UMNO and join BERSATU? It would be only logical that after a short period of time the reverse would occur. After all, they were in the same coalition, what reason would they have to leave UMNO?

Tun had already warned Muhyiddin that the UMNO leaders will initially agree to all his conditions for the formation of  the PN government but once Muhyiddin brings BERSATU out of PH, he would be at their mercy! Clearly Tun’s prediction has been proven right. Even now, the PN government has been reduced to a coalition, not of political parties but of individual MPs! This means the political parties hold no allegiance to Muhyiddin and as easilly and quickly as they came to him, as easilly and as quickly too the MPs can leave him. No ties, no bonds, an extra loose coalition of individuals.

Muhyiddin is being made use of. Not only by Najib and his gang of  bandits but more so by Azmin. The man who I believe, will do anything to move out of Anwar’s shadow and be Prime Minister. Tun realised this and refused to be anyone’s ‘stepping stone’. Muhyiddin, unfortunately is not as intelligent or perhaps thought his ‘last hurrah’ would be as the Prime Minister of Malaysia and that was more important than the struggle of the party. Yes, perhaps Muhyiddin is not naive nor silly, as many think, but simply ambitious instead.

However, be it as it may, his ambition has clouded his thinking. It is obvious he doesn’t understand Tun and Tun’s seriousness in leaving a political legacy the rakyat can be proud of. Which is a clean and corruption free Malay politcal party to replace UMNO. That is why Muhyiddin’s apology will fall on deaf ears. It is not Tun that you have wronged, Muhyiddin, it is his struggle and sense of purpose. It is what drives him this past few years. You are turning it to dust!

The upcoming 15th Genera Elections will also further put BERSATU in a very disadvantageous position. It will have to negotiate for seats with both UMNO and PAS. While both parties have a long history and are well established in all the Malay majority seats, BERSATU is new. And with no special appeal, the Malay electorate will begin to see its glaring lack of depth in leadership and its ‘ideological’ similarities with UMNO. Its very justification for existence  would be questioned.

At the end of the session I believe I understood Tun’s way of thinking. The need for him to regain his party for his objective to be achieved became increasingly clear. However, I could not help but wonder, how many in BERSATU share his vision of a new and clean, corruption free Malay political party. And how many would be willing to go all the way, like him.

I looked at my watch and it said 11.45 a.m. I remembered the person waiting outside to see Tun, scheduled for an 11.30 a.m. meeting. I decided it was time to go. We stood up to say our goodbyes and took a photo as a momento of the meetting and the frank exchanges which occured. Turning to move away, I then took the oppurtunity to say to Tun, “Thank you Tun for having appointed me as a Minister in your cabinet. Athough it was for a short period, I had the oppurtunity to interact with you and get to know you from a completely different perspective”.

He then looked at me, thinking my statement as words of a final parting, and said, “It is not over yet” and he smiled. I suppose we will be meeting again and if this 95 year old is game for taking on PN, then how can I not?