People just can’t seem to get enough of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. There have been two prime ministers in office since he retired from the country’s top post over a decade ago. Yet his daily schedule can rival that of any world leader.
Take the day Dr Mahathir launched yet another book on his 22-year administration, recently. He had come from another event some 40km away, where reporters wanted his comment on the topic of the day – the ongoing search for MH370. And at the book launch he apologized to the VIPs for not being able to stay as long as he would have loved to – despite his love of being surrounded by books – for at 6.30pm, he still had another engagement to fulfill later in the evening.
Very early the following day, he was to leave for an international investment conference in Nepal where he was the key speaker. While in Nepal, Dr Mahathir was scheduled to meet Nepal’s President Dr Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. Though no longer in office, he is still very much sought after by those who are curious to meet, speak and listen him.
Even on his “off” days, people still “stalk” Dr Mahathir. You would see him in a selfie with a group of young people, joining them in making funny faces. Another admirer posted a picture of him performing his prayers at Masjid Negara, with a caption: “Here is Tun M at Masjid Negara during Friday prayer, and I believe at his favourite spot, the same old spot since 1980+. No protocol necessary though he is a great statesman.”
Admire him or abhor him, Dr Mahathir, who turns 90 next year, will go down in history as a man known for his character and fine intelligence that merits lasting admiration. The latest book on him, Jejak Seorang Pemimpin: Sejarah Lisan Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (The Footsteps of a Leader: Oral Histories of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad), is a joint effort between the Perdana Leadership Foundation and the Institute of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Thoughts (IPDM) at Universiti Utara Malaysia. Among the topics addressed in the book was the way Dr Mahathir resolved radical issues soon after taking over as prime minister, such as national security, politics and education.
In a series of interviews, 32 hours in total, conducted from October 2006 to March 2007, three interviewers sat down with Dr Mahathir to record in his own words selected topics that range from the serious (his controversial book The Malay Dilemma, the Internal Security Act and Official Secrets Act) to the humorous – dark humour rather – tha Dr Mahathir is known for (to a question about his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali on what was special about her that made her “the one” when they were both students at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore, his response was “No other choice. Out of seven Malays who went to the university in 1947, there was only one female.”)
The interviewers are Prof Dr Mustapha Kassim, former director of IPDMl; Prof Dr Abdul Rahman Abdul Aziz, current director of IPDM; and Dr R. Sivapregasam P. Rajanthiran, a scholar at Perdana Leadership Foundation and former deputy director of IPDM.
Prof Dr Mustapha, who was present at the book launch, said the experience of speaking face-to-face with the man himself was priceless. “Though you may have read about him or watched him on TV or met him at an event, being able to hear him speak in his own words about important decisions in his personal and official life was an honour.
“His memory is crystal clear. His explanation is very thorough. There were some questions that went unanswered, which I suspect he probably thought were pointless, where he just smiled and looked away. All in all, while you admire his intelligence and wit, you will also come to realize that this man who is admired by many, not just in Malaysia but abroad , is humble about his achievements,” added Prof Dr Mustapha.
Perdana Leadership Foundation executive director Tan Sri Nik Mohamed Nik Yaacob said the book, written in Q&A format, would help readers understand the country then, now and in the future.
“This book showcases deep and useful observations, as well as interpretations about the country’s history, government policies as well as important events. We believe this volume of transcripts will be a valuable reference for research on leadership, policies and history,” he said in a statement issued to the media during the launch of the book at the Putrajaya International Book Festival in Kuala Lumpur.