Leaders must empathise with the sufferings of ordinary people, says PM

Dr Mahathir Mohamad also praised his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, for standing beside him all this time.

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad tonight lamented how some “aristocratic, autocratic and royal lineage” leaders failed to empathise with the sufferings of ordinary people.

Mahathir said that one aspect of leadership that is sometimes overlooked is the ability to feel for the ordinary folk.

“Sometimes, when leaders are aristocratic, autocratic and of royal lineage, the tendency of not understanding the sufferings of the ordinary people is prevalent.

“It is akin to the oft-repeated saying attributed to Mary Antoinette who, when told that the peasants were hungry for bread, said: ‘Let them eat cake.’

“Whether Marie Antoinette said it or not, the crux of the matter is that leaders have been known to be so detached that the suffering that could be resolved is allowed to perpetuate.

“It can be argued that ordinary men who went on to become leaders have been known to ignore the sufferings of the ordinary citizens but that is not due to ignorance but due to apathy,” he said in his speech at the “My Voice, My Nation” concert here tonight.

Mahathir said he also believed in working hard to lift oneself out of poverty and difficulty.

“When I was a teenager, when the Japanese occupied us and we stopped schooling temporarily, I was selling pisang goreng (banana fritters) at Alor Setar’s Pekan Rabu and it was quite a thriving business.

“I discovered that there’re always opportunities if we look around hard enough,” he said.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman said when he reached a position of power, he realised that not everyone was capable of finding opportunities to lift themselves out of hardship.

“Sometimes, those with power should assist them in finding their footing. But the principle of giving them the rod instead of the fish stands,” he said.

The Langkawi MP also noted that some have found his leadership style to be inspiring and necessary, but there were others who felt that he was too authoritarian, with some labelling him as a dictator.

“I didn’t take to heart such labelling because I only imposed what I myself observed and followed.

“Hence the slogan “Leadership by example” in which, whatever I expect of my subordinates and government officers, I myself would have observed first,” he said.

‘Lucky to have Siti Hasmah by my side’

Mahathir also spoke of his 63-year marriage to Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, saying he was lucky to have her by his side all these years.

“It is said that behind every successful man, there is a woman. I do not know if I fall into the category of being successful because my job, until today, is still a work in progress and it is being judged all the time.

“And she being a doctor as well is definitely a bonus as I am assured, especially at this stage in life, that I have a doctor by my side at almost all times.

“I don’t know how she has put up with me all this time. But she did and my life is so much the better,” he said.

Mahathir further expressed hope that Malaysians, notably the younger generation, will be able to see and realise why they stood up against colonialism and fought for the country’s independence.

He spoke of how he had to witness how Malayans back then were mistreated and subjected to all kinds of indignity by the colonisers, how “they came into our homes, told us how to behave and made us do things for their benefit and left us with crumbs”.

“They thought they knew what was best and we were forced to let them do the thinking. They took away our wealth and we were supposed to smile and help them do the plundering.

“You’re lucky and I truly hope Malaysians will never again go through such indignities. But freedom is not a given. You have to work for it, defend it and nurture it.

“That I believe is a task you are being entrusted with. Good or bad, big or small, my generation has done its bit,” he added.