PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has warned Malaysians of the danger of allowing prime ministers to serve for too long.
He was addressing a question on nepotism posed by a member of the audience during a recent town hall session with youths at the community library here.
Speaking to the audience, Mahathir said when leaders stayed in power for too long, nepotism tended to emerge.
“There is a tendency to keep it (the power) in the family, and that leads to absolute power and absolute power leads to absolute corruption,” he said.
Mahathir cited former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe as an example of someone who had served as a leader for too long.
Mugabe, who was forced to resigned on Tuesday, had ruled Zimbabwe almost unopposed since 1987, seven years after the country’s independence from Britain. The country was formerly known as Rhodesia.
However, efforts to position his wife Grace as his successor triggered fury in the military that had underpinned his regime.
Mahathir himself served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, making him the longest-serving holder of that office.
Mahathir said since Malaysia’s independence, the country had attempted to prevent nepotism by removing the executive powers of the monarchy.
“We no longer have executive monarchs. The executive powers are given instead to the prime minister.
“But even if you choose a prime minister and he stays too long, he might establish a dynasty. That’s why you have elections, but even then there is still a tendency to push power to the family.”
Mukhriz’s political aspirations
Mahathir said he prevented nepotism by prohibiting his son from joining politics during his tenure.
Alluding to Mukhriz Mahathir, he said his son had to “sacrifice his political aspirations”.
“But when I stepped down, I thought there was no longer any need for my son to sacrifice for my reputation.”
In 2004, a year after Mahathir stepped down from office, Mukhriz was elected to the executive council of Umno’s youth wing, garnering the highest number of votes of any candidate. He was also seen as a potential candidate for Umno deputy youth chief, but later withdrew his candidacy.
In 2006, his father lost his bid to be elected as one of seven delegates from Kubang Pasu to Umno’s general assembly. Mukhriz, however, was elected as one of the seven.
In the 2013 election, Mukhriz gave up his parliamentary seat to contest for a state seat in Kedah.
Mukhriz won the state seat of Ayer Hitam, defeating the PAS incumbent. Barisan Nasional reclaimed the state government, and Mukhriz was sworn in as chief minister on May 6, the day after the election, in the presence of his father.
However, in January 2016, Umno Kedah leaders, led by Bakar Bata assemblyman Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, declared a loss of confidence in Mukhriz due to “his inability to maintain a united party leadership”.
The move was widely believed to be a reprisal orchestrated by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s camp in Umno, which was increasingly infuriated by the criticism of Mahathir and Mukhriz against Najib.
Mukhriz resigned on Feb 3, 2016, after losing the majority support among the assemblymen.
In June 2016, Mukhriz along with Muhyiddin Yassin – who had been suspended as Umno deputy president in February the same year – were sacked from Umno.
Mahathir, Mukhriz and Muhyiddin are among the founding members of PPBM. Mahathir is the PPBM chairman, while Muhyiddin and Mukhriz are president and deputy president, respectively.
Mahathir’s other children include activist and writer Marina, and businessmen Mokhzani and Mirzan.