PETALING JAYA: Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has faced calls to show regret or repentance for his past actions, showed no sign of backing down in a press interview published today.
Asked whether he had any regrets for the system he put in place during his 22 years in power, he merely said “My regret is not with what I had created” and then switched the focus to the mentality of Umno members wanting to hold on to their positions.
“That, I regret,” he said, before claiming that no one had ever asked him to step down as prime minister.
In the interview with Malaysiakini, he made no mention of the events of the late 1980s and 1990s when he only narrowly fended off Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s challenge to the Umno presidency, and later faced street unrest and demands for his resignation for sacking Anwar Ibrahim.
Instead he claimed he had been willing to give up his position as prime minister.
“I am willing to give up my position as PM. Nobody asked me to, nobody even knew, and I thought that would be a lesson to them – when people think you are overstaying your welcome, please go. It wasn’t that I was unpopular, I could still win elections but I decided to go,” he said.
Dr Mahathir’s assertion is at odds with his position in 1987, when Tengku Razaleigh’s direct challenge, unprecedented in Umno, showed deep division in the party. Mahathir declared that he would not step down, even if he won by only one vote.
In the decisive Umno elections, Tengku Razaleigh narrowly lost by 43 votes, which led to Umno being deregistered and a new party with the same name formed by Mahathir, with new election rules that placed obstacles on further challenges to the president.
Dr Mahathir was subsequently to stay in power until 2003.
However, in the interview, he lambasted Umno members for trying to hold on to their positions. “These people once they are in positions they do not want to go. I have met senators, and they want to go on and on and on, so they prevent other people from being nominated as senators.
“This is the problem with a party in power, the tendency is to manipulate so that you stay in place. I didn’t want to do that because when the time comes for me to go I go.”
After a year of campaigning for Najib Razak to be forced out of office, Dr Mahathir left Umno in February, for the second time. He had left Umno in 2009 as part of moves to force his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to step down, and rejoined the party when Abdullah made way for Najib.