Perdana Podcast | Tun Talks

Tun Talks

1. Women & Youth

According to Dr Mahathir, the capacity of women to learn is high. At the university level, it is usually better than in the case of men. He says women tend to be better at business too. If this persists, the power equation will change. Women will go on to dominate society unless the men wake up. He says it’s not that the men don’t have the capacity. If they work as hard as the women, the country’s economic growth will be faster. How about the youth? Their job, says Dr M is the acquisition of knowledge and skills as much as possible.

He recalls how when he was a young man who wanted to be taken seriously, he had to acquire qualifications first. So for six years he stayed away from politics to get his medical degree. He calls on the Malays youths to study hard. As much as he is a Malay nationalist, he does not believe that non-Malays should be barred from taking up university places if there are no serious Malay students to take up those places.

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2. SOCIAL REENGINEERING

Malaysia is multiracial and the distribution of wealth is not balanced. As such, it is difficult to create an identity that is Malaysian, says Dr Mahathir. We have not become a true nation in the sense that people would say “We are Malaysians”. Not Malay Malaysians, Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians. In order to do social reengineering, fears need to be overcome. Malays fear Chinese economic power. Chinese fear Malay political dominance. Indians fear Malays and Chinese because they are a very small political minority. According to Dr M, it is easy to achieve political equality. It’s much harder to achieve economic equality.

Today, the Malays are still behind economically speaking. Do Islamic values hold back the Malays? Actually, Islam is a positive force. The Quran asks you to study and acquire knowledge. If the Malays follow that, then they will progress and Malay fear will star to disappear, followed by the disappearance of non-Malay fears. Then we would have achieved our social reengineering.

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3. SEPARATION OF POWERS

This land used to consist of feudal states and politics was seen as something that only the rulers should engage in, says Dr Mahathir. By 1957 though, when the country became independent, the people wanted to have a say in the running of the country. So democracy was chosen. The question was what type of democracy should we adopt? We naturally chose one based on the UK where the separation of powers is clearly defined: Legislative, Executive, Judiciary, and Constitutional Monarchy. Nevertheless there are overlaps.

The legislative can interfere with the executive, the judiciary can interfere with legislative, and the executive can also exert influence on the legislative. So it is not perfect but officially at least there is a separation of powers and each division, including the rulers, should adhere to the provisions of the constitution. Otherwise, it would become anarchic and there would be no government.

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4. POLITICAL STABILITY

Malaysia has all the ingredients for instability, says Dr Mahathir. This is a country that is multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious as well. Economic disparity is a big issue as well. He says Malaysians by right cannot even eat at the same table because Malays cannot eat pork but Chinese like pork. Indians cannot eat beef but Malays like beef. But somehow, we managed to eat together by being considerate. He talks about how this country actually started off on a wrong footing but how Tunku Abdul Rahman found a way for UMNO, MCA and MIC to share power in a coalition that now extends to 14 parties.

Dr M says it is much better to share slices of a cake and enlarge each slice than to have the whole cake to yourself and see it shrink to nothing. He hopes one day the people of this country would see themselves as just being Malaysian. Not Malay Malaysian or Chinese Malaysian or Indian Malaysian. Just Malaysian.

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5. MANAGING FINANCIAL CRISES

Dr Mahathir says a doctor has an advantage in dealing with crises because as a physician they deal with medical crises all the time. Their method of dealing with a crisis is by understanding the background of the problem and then diagnosing properly before attempting to cure it. This was also his approach in dealing with the 1997-98 financial crisis. As he was neither a finance man nor a banker, he had to read up on these topics to gain an understanding of how the financial crisis came to being.

He was shocked that currency speculators had so much ringgit to buy and sell but in the end he found out they didn’t actually have the ringgit but could borrow in order to enable their speculation activities. He had the central bank put an end to that by imposing currency controls. Dr M encourages businessmen to go back to doing “real business” which results in job creation and spin-off industries.

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6. ISLAMIC WORLD

Dr Mahathir dishes out some hard truths about the state of the Islamic world. He says that if you look at the behaviour of some Muslims in many parts of the world, you might have the impression that Islam does not implant good values. You are seeing more and more acts of terrorism such as the kinds perpetuated by ISIS which involves the brutal killing of their helpless prisoners. These are not “Jihadists” he says but candidates for “Neraka” as they have gone against the teachings of Islam.

He says that many of the practices today, such as the stoning of people for committing sins is not what is prescribed in the Quran. Islam is a merciful and compassionate religion and in prescribing punishment, there must always be the element of justice, he stresses. Dr M also makes an argument that contrary to what some people believe, it is not always necessary to have four witnesses for a crime to be prosecuted but that circumstantial evidence may be permitted.

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7. INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

After Malaysia achieved independence, it did what was natural, which was to join the British Commonwealth and became part of the Western Bloc. Malaysia rejected the Eastern bloc and for good reason, says Dr Mahathir. At that time, we were battling the communists. Malaysia supported the Americans in the Vietnam War because we believed in the Domino Theory that if Vietnam were to fall to communism, this would spread to the rest of the region. When Tun Abdul Razak became the prime minister, we began to see the beginnings of our country’s shift towards the non-aligned movement.

When Dr M came onto the scene, he decided Malaysia’s priority would be ASEAN followed by the poorer, developed countries of the world. Malaysia trained many diplomats and technocrats from third world countries. This has actually paid dividends because now it is easy for Malaysian businesses to enter into those countries. Petronas, for example, is in Chad, helping the country to produce petroleum.

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8. EDUCATION

Dr Mahathir describes education as the methodical spread of knowledge. According to him, it gained momentum during the age of Islamic civilisation when people wanted to study the Quran from learned teachers. This led to the formation of the world famous Al-Azhar University in Cairo. And from there, the idea of the systematic spread of knowledge caught on. He also touches on the notion of specialization and says because the sum of human knowledge is so vast, it is crucial that people specialize so that within society, there would be people knowledgeable about all kinds of subjects.

Dr M also shares his secret to mastery, which is to study something repeatedly until you can become as good as anybody else. The main thing is the drive, the dedication and the desire to do it right. And if you have to repeat something a thousand times, you must be prepared to do it.

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9. THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA

Despite the criticism levelled against him relating to press freedom, Dr Mahathir says he believes the media has a big role to play in a democracy because information is necessary in order for people to make informed decisions. He believes it’s important for people to get their information from various sources. For example, don’t just read the English papers, which he says is more curtailed, but also the vernacular press, which for some reason or another, is freer in its reporting.

There are licensing requirements in this country but the government cannot simply take away that licence without a valid reason. If the government abuses its power by making use of that law to stifle opposition and prevent people from speaking the truth, the country will not do well, he says. The role of the media is both deep and important, says Dr M, because it equips the people with the necessary information to do the right things in life.

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10. BANGSA MALAYSIA

When Malaysia became independent, people said the majority race would oppress the minority races and that we would fail as a country. Racial clashes could occur and indeed in 1969, they did. This, according to Dr Mahathir, was the result of economic disparity between the Malays and the non-Malays. The result was the New Economic Policy that, although not perfect, has managed to reduce the disparity. And we have not had racial clashes since. Dr M recalls how whenever he is abroad, Malaysians there see themselves as Malaysians first. Not Chinese Malaysians or Indian Malaysians or Malay Malaysians. But just “Malaysian”.

This changes when he returns home though. He hopes that someday, through mixing with each other and having common activities together, the different races back home will also learn to see themselves as Malaysian first. This will take a long time, he says, but as it is, we should be proud that the different races are able to live in peace with each other. Other multi-ethnic countries fare much worse, with ethnic strife and even killings. In contrast, Malaysia is a haven of peace and stability. He concludes that to a certain extent, we have already succeeded as Bangsa Malaysia.

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11. THE FUTURE OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Dr Mahathir has personal experience in affirmative action as a young man. He benefitted from it when he got a scholarship to study medicine despite not achieving the same grades as his Chinese and Indian counterparts. This was because the British, who ruled Malaysia at the time, understood the importance of having Malay doctors. He talks about the importance of having affirmative action so as to reduce the economic disparity between the Malays and non-Malays but highlights that this should not be regarded as a “permanent privilege”.

He says those who consider affirmative action as a symbol of their superior status should look at how the American Indians need special rights just to survive. So, to Dr M, affirmative action should be considered as temporary crutches to allow a person to walk forward. After a while, lose one of the crutches. Later switch to a walking stick. But in due time, “The tongkat has to go,” he says, adding that eventually there should no longer be any need for affirmative action in this country.

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12. FEDERAL – STATE RELATIONS: Q&A SESSION

This podcast highlights a few of the more interesting questions put forward to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the end of his keynote session at the 20th Perdana Discourse Series. The questions deal with the distribution of funds among states, Bangsa Johor, and the possibility of Penang being reclaimed by Kedah.

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13. FEDERAL – STATE RELATIONS: STATE FUNDING UNDER THE FEDERATION

Tun Dr. Mahathir talks about how finances are handled between the central government and the states. He explains how it is necessary sometimes for the central government to provide special funding for certain poorer states in order for crucial infrastructure to be built.

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14. FEDERAL – STATE RELATIONS: HISTORY OF THE FEDERATION OF MALAYSIA

Tun Dr. Mahathir talks about how the Malaysian Federation came about and explains how a central government works with the various states in the federation. He explains the reason why the central government in Malaysia is stronger than perhaps what was originally intended but also says that on the whole, being a federation has worked out well for Malaysia.

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15. BRITAIN & THATCHER

Dr. Mahathir is well-known for standing up to the West. In this podcast he explains his view about the West and shares his experiences in dealing with the legendary British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

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16. TUN DR MAHATHIR’S LETTER TO TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN

(Most of this podcast is in Bahasa Malaysia) Dr. Mahathir shares his views about Malaysia's first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and expresses some regret over the harshness of his famous letter to the Tunku after the racial riots of 1969. But he explains his feelings on the matter and why he felt compelled to write what he did.

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17. FINANCIAL MATTERS

In this insightful interview, Tun Dr Mahathir talks about various financial-related matters including why GST should dismantled, why privatisation works, why the concept of Malaysia Inc (modelled after Japan Inc) encourages foreign direct investment, and why Government-Linked Companies are necessary.

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18. CURBING ABUSES

In this enlightening interview, conducted just prior to the historic 14th General Election, Tun Dr Mahathir talks about the ways a Pakatan Harapan government would ensure that future prime ministers will not be able to abuse the system to their own ends.

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