KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (Jan 18) responded to critics labelling him a dictator with a blog post laced with sarcasm and thinly veiled barbs.
On Jan 7, the 92-year-old, whose Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is part of the four-party opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, was named as its interim PM pick if it wins the upcoming general election.
Several prominent figures in the opposition and in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition called Mahathir’s 22-year rule from 1981 to 2003 a “dictatorship”, and argued he should not return to the top job.
“People and the media never fail to point out that I was a dictator. I presided over an authoritarian Government of Malaysia for 22 years,” Mahathir said on his Chedet blog which he shared on Facebook.
“Any mention of my name must be preceded or followed with the qualification ‘dictator’.
“Looking back now, I realise why, as prime minister of Malaysia I was described as a dictator. There were many things I did which were typically dictatorial.”
Mahathir then went on to cite “instances” of him behaving in an autocratic fashion, including demanding for police escorts as a minister and refusing to mingle with crowds.
He also referenced his aversion to building up a personality cult as one of his dictatorial traits.
“I did not want schools to be named after me because dictators normally do not like personality cults,” he said.
“So when I became prime minister I did not allow my name to be attached to any building, road or public toilets. Now the (PM) Najib government is doing me a favour. Reference to me in text books have been erased. Thank you Najib for being such a democrat.”
Mahathir added: “To continue the narration about my dictatorship, upon being appointed Prime Minister I ordered the release of 21 political detainees, detained under ISA Internal Security Act) by my predecessors.
“This release was of course the tradition with dictators. Previous democratic PMs did not release any detainees. They in fact added more because that was the democratic thing to do.”
He also cited examples of his wife and family members befitting from his time as a “dictator”.
“As wife of Prime Minister, Hasmah was also known as FLOMH (First Lady of my house). She was fond of pink diamonds and Hermes handbags,” he wrote.
“She bought many of them in the flea markets in London and Hong Kong. She wore them around her neck, arms and fingers every day. There are lots of pictures of her, loaded with expensive jewels. No one can fail to notice that she was the wife of a dictator. She also has a food taster.”
He added: “My children held high posts in the government and in (the ruling party) UMNO. They naturally got Government contracts which they sold at good prices. That is why they are among the super rich.”
Mahathir went on to give more instances of his “dictatorial” rule and ended by saying he was “lucky” to be able to resign before dying.
“There are many other authoritarian acts perpetrated by me,” he said. “But, to cut a long story short, as a true dictator I decided to resign. All dictators do this.
“Hitler and Mussolini unfortunately died before they could resign. Franco of Spain and Salazar of Portugal were about to resign when they died.
“But I was lucky. I was able to resign before I die. This confirms that I was a true dictator. I ordered some ministers to rush up to me and cry when I made the announcement.”