21 June, 2021

Grand, Old & Independent

Recollections of Mahathir Mohamad and the hallmarks of his leadership

Grand, Old & Independent

Meeting Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the oldest ele­cted head of government in the world, can be uns­ettling the first time. Mahathir does not have the distinct Malay accent that one expects when he speaks English. He has the nearest to an aquiline nose for a Malay and is tall at 176 cms, unlike most of his fellow countrymen. Thirty-six years ago, there was no 24-hour news on television and no Internet, so my idea of what to expect from the recently-elected Malaysian prime minister with a reputation for championing Malay ethnic sub-nationalism was based solely on what I had read about him and from grainy, black and white passport-size newspaper photographs of him.

In his first months in power, when I intervie­wed him at the Dubai Intercontinental hotel in 1982, Mah­­­­­athir had vowed to stren­gthen his country’s bumiputera policy which gave Malays prefere­nce over other ethnic Malaysians in virtually everything.

The penny dropped during my second meeting over a decade later. I met him along with the late T.V.R....

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