My Ultimate Guide To The Prime Ministers: In The End, Who Got My Vote?

They may no longer be at the helm, but the country was once their domain (Part 1)


I have no intention to write a memoir, although that seems to be the trend these days. I am not famous enough to generate interest into a book detailing my adventures. But I think some of these adventures are what have given me a better insight into three of Malaysia’s former Prime Ministers – namely Tun Mahathir, Tun Abdullah Badawi and Datuk Sri Najib Razak. Most of my interactions with them were from my time as a journalist and a public relations practitioner. Except for Najib Razak, whom I interacted with personally after he left the premiership in 2018.” – Hasnah Abdul Rahman, Editor-in-Chief, New Malaysia Herald.

As many of my friends are aware, I was brought up in Singapore and stayed there for 24 years. Thereafter I moved to Kuching in 1983 during an extended holiday that lasted seven years and it changed my life completely. And in 1990 I moved to Kuala Lumpur to take up the post of reporter with the New Straits Times.

When I first moved to Kuching for that really extended holiday, I thought I would expand on my love for writing. I wrote a couple of feature articles and my brother, Wahab, who was back from London for his summer vacation, introduced me to the late Raymond Adai, who was the editor of the Sarawak Tribune then. I worked there for seven years before moving to Kuala Lumpur to take up the post of reporter with the New Straits Times (NST).

I have always loved writing and had been doing quite a bit of freelance work while in Singapore. In fact, my teacher in Anderson Secondary School, Singapore, had written in my Leaving Certificate: Her interest is towards journalism. After all, I was a writer for the school’s journal at that time. After I completed my ‘A’ Levels, I thought I would apply to work as a journalist in the Singapore Straits Times instead of going to university, thus getting a better headstart than my friends who would be going through four years of university. Yes, I was very much a free-spirit, I let my interests take me where I wanted to be and even my parents could not tell me what to do. I did apply for university, but was rejected as the application for arts courses were full then and I did not make the quota for arts’ applicants (there’s more to this story, but let’s leave it for another time). But I did continue with my tertiary education at UiTM as an off-campus student while still working with NST.

My Fascination For Mahathir Mohamed

While in Kuching, I had the opportunity to interview the then Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad a few times, during press conferences and at events. And then I became the first journalist from Sarawak to have won the MPI Journalist of the Year Award. That was quite a momentous occasion for me.  Winning the award and flying to Kuala Lumpur was the fun part. But receiving the award from the then Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, made me starstruck. I flew to KL, had my hair washed at the salon, borrowed my sister’s dress and went up on stage to receive my award, that was it. I had my fangirl moment, a scroll and cash money to make it one of the highlights of my life.

My interaction with Mahathir, however, became more interesting after I started work with the New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur in 1990. That’s when I started to cover his press conferences and interviews. Let’s put it this way, whether you love him or hate him, he is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to handling the media.

Whether it is 11 am or 3 am after a gruelling day and night of waiting for the election results, he would still be as sharp as a razor. Even at 93 years, he still has wit and sarcasm to share with the reporters. And he has that skill of panning the room and speaking to all the reporters, instead of focusing on that particular reporter who had asked the question. This is a skill not many politicians have because by doing that, he does not single out any particular reporter, thus no favouritism and no one will feel excluded. Unlike his Deputy then, Anwar Ibrahim. The latter will look at the reporter who asked the question, look into her eyes if its a woman, and answers her question directly. I think that’s a skill only ‘players’ have, female reporters were mostly disconcerted to see his eyes boring into you and all the other reporters were equally uncomfortable.

In this Feb. 22, 2020, photo, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, gesture as he speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia after he tendered his resignation to the King. Photo credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian.

Meanwhile, my fascination with Mahathir continued. I would have been the first to defend him should anyone take a swipe at him then. When I travelled overseas, all I had to say was: I am from Malaysia. And the immediate response would be: Ahhh, Dr Mahathir. Yes, he was that larger than larger than life personality then. But the shine on his star dimmed after the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim from his Cabinet. At first it was about Anwar being an agent of the US, and then it was because he had a sexual affair with his male driver, and then with his secretary who is the wife of his friend, then a call-girl from China, and god knows what else. In the end, of all us were so confused by the reasons for his sacking that it was just easier to believe them, despite with a pinch of salt.

That, however, is vintage Mahathir. He could make us believe anything. Heck, I think the saying that a good salesman can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo was coined after him. Fast forward many years later, specifically the last couple of years, we saw the man for what he really was: A good salesman who could not only sell his saliva for a million bucks, but he was the ultimate divide and rule chief, a throwback to when the Colonialists ruled the country. If he is given two whole pies, he cuts one into eight parts, then 16, then 32, until at the end, we are only left with crumbs while his family members and his cronies get to devour the whole pristine pie among themselves. For stories about the wealth of his children and who his cronies are, do refer here and here.

Most Malaysians who live during the tenure of Mahathir as the Prime Minister for 22 years and then as the PM for 22 months are perplexed at this difference in characteristics of the man during both tenures. Quite a number of Mahathir loyalists said the old man was never like that before and that for 22 months under PH, he was under the thumb of DAP who had more seats in the government than Mahathir’s own 13 seats. However, many of my friends who are realists said they know him for what he was, nasty and practically evil, but not many people could say much then, as he had full control of the media with equity in most of the media conglomerates via his proxies.

At the same time, there were also those who benefitted from his administration as there were a lot of mega projects during his time. However, there were plenty of flaws in these projects, especially those under his cronies, which ultimately the government had to bail out these businesses, much to the consternation of the citizens.

Now at 95, he may look a tad frail, but obviously his bark and bite are still deadly as he has been said to be squeezing the balls of some of those in the courts and those in positions in power, including the current Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin. Whether that is true, is left to be seen. I guess we can only know the truth after his demise when his loyal henchmen may ultimately tell all. After all, he has been known as the PM-slayer – bringing down all the Prime Ministers that did not agree with him, even himself when he emerged as the Prime Minister again, this time under Pakatan Harapan and 22 months later he resigned, making way for the fall of the PH government led by him then.

Tomorrow, I will share my thoughts and impressions of Pak Lah – The People’s Gentleman and on Friday, we will meet The Transformer – Najib Razak and you will then get to vote on who in your mind was the best Prime Minister. – New Malaysia Herald

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