Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has reportedly dismissed the idea that he was under political party DAP’s control, asserting that he had full command of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Cabinet when he was prime minister, and even had the final say on Lim Guan Eng’s Finance Ministry affairs.
In an interview with news portal Malaysiakini, Dr Mahathir refuted the suggestion that he was under DAP’s thumb during his second stint as prime minister — which lasted less than two years from May 2018 to February 2020.
“To say that DAP controls me…I think you are insulting me if you think DAP can control me,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
“DAP had no such power. The one who had power was me. Everyone knows that I was the PM for a long period. During the first 22 years when I was PM, who controlled me?” he said.
He highlighted that various entities such as political parties under the Barisan Nasional coalition that he was leading then, and even the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank could not control him during his first tenure as prime minister.
Dr Mahathir was referring to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis when he declined assistance from the IMF and steered Malaysia out of the regional economic meltdown.
Dr Mahathir also pointed out that his then party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia had six ministers in Cabinet under the PH government despite only having 13 MPs — including “the two very powerful positions” of prime minister and home minister — while DAP which had considerably more representatives with 42 MPs were only allocated six ministers.
“PKR had seven cabinet members, and Warisan which was not part of Harapan, we gave them three. And all these cabinet members, they were not mute. They took part in the cabinet. As the chair of the cabinet meetings, I gave everyone the opportunity to speak.
“If we agreed to a proposal, then we would adopt it. If not, and it’s a pressing matter, then we will continue to discuss (until a decision is reached). Sometimes we even held cabinet meetings on the weekends for important matters,” he said.
In the same interview, Dr Mahathir addressed allegations by political rivals claiming that Malays were purportedly sidelined in terms of government budgets as DAP was given the finance ministry portfolio in the PH government.
Dr Mahathir pointed out, however, that he as the prime minister had the actual control over the government Budget that came under Lim’s portfolio as the finance minister.
“I was the one who had control. Before this, the prime minister had no role in drafting Budgets. Only the finance minister.
“But during Harapan’s time, when he did the Budget, I asked him to show me the draft first. Only after I was satisfied, then we took it to Parliament.
“He also performed many other actions, but he only implemented them after discussing with me. Lim could not simply bring matters into the Cabinet without me looking into whether it is appropriate or not,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
Dr Mahathir said Lim’s suggestions at the Cabinet were also not necessarily accepted, citing as example rejected proposals, including collecting no tolls and highway concessionaire takeovers.
Indicating DAP’s consideration of the Malays, Dr Mahathir also noted that Lim was the one who suggested the federal government pay RM400 million to Kelantan, further noting the disbursement by the federal government of RM200 million each to Opposition-helmed Malay-majority states Terengganu and Kedah due to the financial problems in the three states.
On Lim’s involvement in Tabung Haji, which was another issue that was raised by Harapan opponents, he said the then finance minister had to be involved because he was responsible for allocating the budget for the pilgrim fund.
Malaysiakini also reported Dr Mahathir as highlighting that DAP in the Cabinet shared their opinions but also accepted the “Shared Prosperity Vision” proposal that was drafted by Malay intellectuals who he said “wanted to help the Malays” by making right the failed New Economic Policy.
Dr Mahathir claimed in the same interview that the Shared Prosperity Vision actually gave more to the Malay community while non-Malay communities would allegedly receive relatively fewer benefits in comparison, but said this was not mentioned then to avoid angering the ethnic Chinese community.
Dr Mahathir had in October 2019 launched the Shared Prosperity Vision as the Pakatan Harapan government’s roadmap for turning Malaysia into an Asian tiger once more by 2030, and with the aim of restoring Malaysia’s economy and providing a decent living standard to all Malaysians regardless of their ethnicity, social class and location by 2030.
DAP, which touts itself as a multiracial party, has over the years had to repeatedly fend off accusations of being anti-Malay.
Mahathir was also asked what he would consider as his and Harapan’s legacy from their 22 months in federal power.
“Firstly, we should think about this – whenever there is a change of government in other parts of the world, there is violence. There will be a lot of instability.
“But we changed from a government in power for 60 years to a new government without any problems,” Mahathir said.
“If we look at other places, some had even gone to the extent of having a civil war, killing each other. But in Malaysia, we did not have this.
“We had a transfer of power done nicely. (Because) we were not out to abuse others, or to persecute others. We just wanted to have a transfer of power.
“That is one success,” he added.
Mahathir regarded Harapan managing to form a cabinet consisting of five political parties, as the coalition’s second success while in government.
The Harapan cabinet, he said, was able to run the government for 22 months and worked to clean it up from corrupt officers.
“The government, when it was under Najib, many of the officers were corrupt. We got rid of them. And for many companies, we got rid of politicians and put in professionals.
“Because the people who stole money, mismanaged the companies and lost the funds, were people who lacked capability. Yet, they were appointed because of political patronage,” Mahathir said.
“It was not easy to find new people who were non-politicians. Those chosen were not even people we know. We decided based on their abilities.
“This is something we did which no other government has done,” he added.
According to Mahathir, Harapan also managed to retain the stability of the country despite facing many racial and religious issues.
The country had also started to regain respect and confidence from others, he claimed.
Mahathir pointed out that the Harapan government also managed to tackle the country’s financial problem, which he claimed was as bad as Greece.
“We were in a position like Greece. Because if you don’t pay your interest, then you become bankrupt,” he said, referring to 1MDB where the sovereign wealth fund’s debt and interests had to be shouldered by the government.
“But we didn’t become bankrupt. We managed to ensure the finances of the country remain healthy,” he added. – MMO