PART THREE: Ten Years' Retired And Still Working Hard For The Country
There have been two supplementary budgets tabled in Parliament. Are you worried about this?
We've had supplementary budgets before, but supplementary budgets must be due to needs. If you manage well the amount you'll get it much less, but if you don't manage to your finances well, you keep on having supplementary budget, it will decrease the deficit.
Does this show incompetence in managing government?
Not incompetence. I think the government liked being very good in planning. Malaysian government has always been good in planning, in financial planning, but nowadays we have outside advice, consultants, and they of course have got different backgrounds. They don't understand the nature of this country.
Touching on the recent Umno elections, particularly the introduction of the Electoral College system, do you think it is a well-thought out system to prevent money politics?
Well, if it was to prevent money politics, it didn’t succeed.
I know from people who receive money that they said they were paid so much. If you ask them, can you give evidence? (They’ll reply) ‘Oh, no, no, no, I will not give evidence’.
So, I know lots of money change hands; (they) were given to voters, to division leaders, etc, lots of money. If it is to prevent money politics, it is a failure.
But does the new voting system deter people wanting to engage in money politics?
There is no deterrence. No deterrence. Because nobody will come forward and say 'he has bribed me'. No, nobody. And the person can deny, because he has done (it) indirectly.
From the money giver's point of view, he will have to fork out more money.
More money is not a problem. People are very rich now. In my days, they allocated only a few thousand Ringgit. When I first contested in 1964, headquarters gave me RM10,000. RM6,000 for parliament, RM2,000 each for ministry, that's all. And we won elections, you see, and the money was used in order to pay for fuel and some minor things.
They don't go into anybody's pocket. But nowadays, you need money. Is the money used for the elections? We don't know. They (may) go into the pockets of people.
The recent Umno election, I've seen some personality that won, which they were expected to win but not by a margin that they did. For example, Umno Youth, it is surprising to see that some of the challengers did not even get one vote. Do you think is this setting an unhealthy trend for the so-called and open election process?
Well, this is a mystery. When you are 'open', lots of people will participate and lots of people will give their votes. But somehow or rather, despite being open and having candidates and all that, the votes will do not go to so many candidate, so this is a mystery.
Were you disappointed?
Well, it's great to have a leader who is so strongly supported.
If you look at it that way, don’t you think you would have hoped bigger names to step up to the challenge?
No. Bigger names will not challenge because bigger names do not want to displease, to be a pain in the neck to some people because their future would be at stake.
Is this a trend that began during your time? That there is an implicit understanding that competition is not encouraged; you learn to voluntarily make way for ‘the chosen personality’. Is that a trend during your time?
During my time, people challenge me. And I almost lost, you see. So, if I want to have the same people re-elected, there'll be no challenge. But as you know, I was challenged. I almost lost. My choice of deputy prime minister also almost lost.
So, in those days, we don’t tell people ‘you must vote for so and so'. I mean, people want to challenge, they (can) challenge. They want to campaign, they want to use money, they did.
And as result, of course, the vote was split between me and my challenger, and of course my challenger having lost, decided to go to the courts and as a result of going to court, Umno was declared illegal.
That is the kind of thing that happened to you at that time, so if I were to say, that ‘we should return all the (members of the Supreme Council) because I like them, then there would be no change. During my time there were lots of changes.
Even people I don't like – (Tun) Abdullah Badawi for example - worked hard against me supporting Tengku Razaleigh. But then he stood for (the Supreme Council) . He won.
And then he stood for vice-president. He won. See, if I don't like him - and of course I didn't quite like him because he went against me - however, I cannot stop him from contesting, nor could I stop him from getting support. So, he won and naturally became vice president.
As a vice president, I guess that he is somebody who the members want. So I brought him back into the Cabinet. And of course (he became deputy minister) and then prime minister.
Was that your biggest bad decision?
I made a lot of mistakes making decisions.
Looking at Datuk Seri Najib, Dato' Hishammuddin, Datuk Mukhriz. They're all sons of our ex-prime ministers. Najib was the Umno Youth Chief, so was Hishammuddin. Do you think your son Mukhriz should have contested and challenge KJ instead of going for VP that he would have had better chance at winning?
I don't know, but that is his choice. I'm not concerned about what he wants to do; I'm concerned to see people who are qualified, people who can contribute towards the party and the nation, become elected.
Whether he is my son or not my son is irrelevant. As you know, I could have promoted him when I was Prime Minister. I not only did not promote him, I even told him ‘no, you are not going to do politics, (not) during my time".
Of course after I stepped down I can't tell him not to be involved in politics.
What is the reason why you said this?
Because I don't like to see (accusations of) nepotism.
But even when he's a capable politician? Suitably qualified?
But the accusation will still be about nepotism, even if he's brilliant, people will say, I'm choosing my son, and I'm trying to set up a (political) dynasty. That I will not do, so I told him, I told Mokhzani ‘No, you do not contest,’ although Mokhzani was chosen by Hishammuddin, I believe, to become treasurer of (Umno Youth).
When Mukhriz came into the picture it surprised a few people and also probably made a few people uncomfortable within the Umno leadership. Why do you think they felt that way?
It may make some people uncomfortable but the (Umno) leadership often says they want change, they want to transform. If it is the same people there is no change. I mean no matter how much they try, (they must realise that) the same people do not change very much.
If you have a change in leadership, for example when I stepped down, Pak Lah took over. There was definite change. You change people, things change. But if you don't change people, things do not change.
So, I suppose when the leader wants transformation, people thought that they should have new leaders. Is that wrong? I don’t think it is wrong. If you say ‘we want transformation but no change please’ then I think people would not believe that you are going to transform anything.
Does the fault also lie on Umno delegates?
Umno delegates are, if I might say so, quite feudalistic. They support their leader. During my time they supported me. Not because they like me but they supported me because I was Prime Minister.
If I decided to remain prime minister I think they would still support me. So I could stay on to become Prime Minister my whole life. But I decided on my own that I should give chance to other people.
This talk about transformation obviously is not happening in the last election. If the younger generation were to ask you, what would be the measures that you think will return the younger generation’s support to Umno?
If you want the younger people to come back, to come into Umno, you must open Umno, Firstly (the problem why younger generation’s support to Umno is not forthcoming is) because Umno is not open. People cannot join Umno, especially those who have potential; who are well educated, have leadership qualities, people are not allowed into Umno, instead they join Pas.
Surely there's no black and white that say they can't join?
But you see, I know, because (there were some young) people who told me they wanted to join Umno, made an application but their application was rejected 5 times or were told that their application got lost.
Even Mukhriz couldn't join then. Mukhriz wanted to join in my own constituency. He was rejected many times, until he get to go to Umno headquarters and they allowed him to join. But if he were to leave it to my own division, of which I was the head of division, he (would not have been accepted to join), I didn’t interfere.
I think I was at that time head of division, Prime Minister, president of the party, but I did not interfere to let him join my division. And as a result he couldn't join. He had to go to headquarters to ask for some help and eventually he managed to join.
If they don't open doors, they will die. Umno will lose. The consequence is, in the next election Umno will lose, simply because young people who are now able to vote, they are disgusted. They are disgusted with Umno because they think it a very corrupt institution.
I can't blame them because we all know that certain people were found to be corrupt by Umno disciplinary committee. But of course, some of us ‘choose to forget’ about their corruption because we want to be ‘nice’ to them.
Is there a way that you somehow bring fresh faces into Umno post-election, to change the old guard?
The only one who can do that is the leader. The leader wishes to do that, I think we can do that. But if the leader doesn't want to do that, we cannot do that. Nobody below the leader can do anything in Umno.