2018 May: New Prime Minister of Malaysia’s Myanmar Politics Interview with ‘me’

2018 May: New Prime Minister of Malaysia’s Myanmar Politics Interview with ‘me’

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Tun Dr Mahathir: Myanmar Politics Interview

Source_Interview with Former Prime Minister of Malaysia: His Excellency Tun Dr Mahathir about Myanmar Politics from Perdana Leadership Foundation Library interviewed by Dr San Oo Aung

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Introduction 

We easterners look up at H.E. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with respect and praises and sometimes even jealously because Burma  lack a good leader with vision and ability like him.   H.E. Tun kindly allows Burma Digest to tap his Intellectual legacy and had given us some valuable advice on how to attain economic social and political progress of future Burma. Burma Digest hereby thanks Tun for being kind and generous enough to provide and share his huge invaluable thoughts, ideas and advises. Allowing Burma Digest to interview in spite of very tight schedules, meetings and interviews with world renowned journals and Broadcasting services and heated political battle he is facing at home means a great honour to us and he really  had taught us, the younger generation of Myanmar Intellectuals to understand the various aspects of politics. It is a great gift for the present Myanmar  Burmese scholars and thinkers of both side of the political divide. We hope Tun’s great intelligence and advice could help us to get a lasting peaceful resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to all the parties; present SPDC Military Junta, all the opposition groups and all the ethnic and religious minorities.

 

Born on 20 December 1925 in Alor Setar, the capital of the State of Kedah, Tun Dr. Mahathir did his early and secondary education in his home town. In 1947, he gained admission into the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. Upon graduation, he joined the Malaysian government service as a Medical Officer. He left in 1957 to set up his own practice in Alor Setar. Tun Dr. Mahathir has been active in politics since 1945. He has been a member of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) since its inception in 1946.

Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad became the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia on 16 July 1981 and towered over Malaysia’s politics for more than two decades. the ruling party Barisan Nasional (National Front) won landslide victories in the 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995 and 1999 General Elections.

His legacy is largely due to the economic development of the country, which by and large has benefited all races. Mahathir left behind a peaceful, prosperous, and self-confident Malaysia, for which he has been granted the soubriquet of Bapa Pemodenan (Father of Modernisation).

After 22 years in office, Mahathir retired on October 31, 2003, making him one of Asia’s longest-serving political leaders. Upon his retirement he was awarded a “Tun”-ship, Malaysia’s highest civilian honour. During his term in office, Mahathir turned Malaysia into a regional high-tech manufacturing, financial, and telecommunications hub through his economic policies.

 

H.E. Tun Dr Mahathir is credited with spearheading the phenomenal growth of the Malaysian economy, now one of the largest and most powerful in South East Asia. Growth between 1988 and 1997 averaged over ten percent and living standards rose twenty-fold, with poverty almost eradicated and social indicators such as literacy levels and infant mortality rates becoming on par with developed countries.

[Interview Start]

BURMA DIGEST: Good Morning Your Excellency Tun. Thank you very much for allowing us to interview you.

His Excellency Tun Dr Mahathir:  Good Morning.

Question:

Do you see any sign of possible changes in Burma in a near future?

Answer:

Burma is of course not a democratic country and is ruled by the Military Junta. When that happens, it is very difficult to change because the Junta will feel unsafe if they give up power, actions could be taken against them. This has happened in the case of Bangladesh when Ershad giveup power. He was jailed. It had happened in South Korea when Chun Doo-hwan gave in to the democratic process, he was charged and he was actually sentenced to death. And it also happened in Indonesia when Suharto agreed to the democratic process. Action had been taken to try and punish or to jail him. So these models do not encourage authoratian rulers from giving up their power easily. So it is going to be very difficult to change the political culture of Myanmar/Burma.

Question:

Do you want to recommend something to us, e.g. power sharing situations like Indonesia or South Africa. Do you believe that it will be able to achieve between Myanmar Military and the people e.s.p. with the opposition?

Answer:

It could. But one has to remember this takes a long time. In case of South Africa, it takes three quarters of a century to reach the understanding with the authoritarian government and even in Indonesia, it took a long time. So of course, those people who wish to see change in Burma will have to work and be very patient.

Question:

What is your view on the arresting of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

Answer:

That is very unfortunate. I don’t believe that is the kind of action that would bring about reconciliation. On the other hand of course Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also has to be more diplomatic. Perhaps too much dependence on foreign support is not very conducive to perusing the present régime to accept her.

Question:

When you were a PM before, you were one of the persons of the ASEAN, pushing for accepting of Burma as a member. So are there any changes after that?

Answer:

We are hoping that  through accepting Burma and having contact  with the government, we would be able to persuade them and indeed we tried to show that in Malaysia, democracy was not done us any harm. But we find that the response although initially it was quite good. Later on this form of tentative reforms that took place when (General) Khin Nyunt was the P.M., we were very hopeful. But as you know he was subsequently put under house arrest.

Question:

And what is the future of Burma in ASEAN. Can you say that, Burma is a thorn among the roses?

Answer:

Well, it is going to be a problem for ASEAN.  ASEAN does not want to interfere too much on the internal affair of a country. But ASEAN is feeling under strong pressure from the countries like US and Europe for the force to use for example to apply sanctions this and that. This can have a negative result also. So ASEAN is quite embarrassed by the situation because our own idea that by submission contact, we would able to be useful for changes to take place is not proven to be correct.

Question:

Recently you are sponsoring the meeting and negotiations for the unrest in Southern Thailand, between the Thai Government and Southern Muslim Rebels. Could you also help negotiate the peaceful transition to democracy in Burma?

Answer:

I don’t think so. In the case of Thailand, I was approached by the very senior Thai Politician, former PM. And he was the one who suggested that , what I explained to him should be conveyed to the (Thailand) King and also to the Thai government. So it came from within Thailand, not from outside.

Question:

So, incase, the political parties from Burma approached you?

Answer:

But it must include the (Myanmar Junta) government. See, in the case of Thailand, the initiation that came with the approval of the government.

Question:

And now we have a stalemate in Burma. The Military Junta refused to negotiate with the Democratic parties and opposition. What is your comment and advice? What should we do or happen? Should we go back to the elections like 16 years ago?

Answer:

Well it is very difficult to say. But you know people are very impatient. I just finished the biography of Nelson Mandela. He was in jail for 27 years. And yet he continued the struggle from within the jail. If other people, they would have given up. But he went on and on and he eventually, of course, he achieved success. So, those who wish to see Burma change and be more democratic may have to be very patient and may have to wait.

Question:

Let’s see what happen to Nelson Mandela. He is respected as the great leader even after he resigned as the president of South Africa. But that kind of trait is absent in Asian countries. In Burma we all see that we forget easily and ignore the. Independence General Aung San, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father. And your good long service to Malaysia is also ignored by some.

Answer:

I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi might just be able to show that kind of determination. And the kind of patience, that was shown by Nelson Mandela.

Question:

So she has to go through like all those 27 years?

Answer:

No! But it may be even longer. We don’t know. But the struggles of the nations take a long time. We want to be in a hurry. But in case of Malaysia, e.g. it took us 450 years to regain our independence. 450 years is a long time.

Question:

But as for Burma, could the Generals’ trend and approach soften towards the reconciliation sooner?

Answer:

I think the different Generals have a different attitudes. Presently, of course, the hardliners have the authority. People like the more accommodating one, those may be some still in the government and it is up to them.

Question:

The decision of a constructive engagement by ASEAN and the embargos of all sorts coming from the west. Are they helping?

Answer:

The (Burmese) people, I think are very resilient. They have put up with a lot of things over so many years. And of course sanctions might hurt them. Again if I may make reference to South Africa, it is the people of South Africa themselves who asked that there should be sanctions even if that meant they will suffer.

Question:

At this moment, both constructive engagement and the embargos are not helping. What ever it is, have the citizens of Burma started the wrong steps or wrong turn-up of events?

Answer:

Yes. Unfortunately it is so. But what is the answer? Do we disengage? Does it helps? Or if you lift the sanctions, would it help the people of Myanmar/Burma. It is yes or no. This cannot possibly project or predict exactly what is going to happen.

Question:

Is that because of the people, a kind of disengagement because the head of the people is put under house arrest. I think she should have a free movement and ability to talk.

Answer:

Well, that could be ideal of course, if she is able to talk. But as you know, when they had elections there, she won. And then I think this had frightened the Junta.

Question:

The (Myanmar) Military, as you can see has no mood of releasing the power they got hold of it. But in Malaysia, you had actually done it. You let go the power while you were still strong enough (to dodge your opponents). And you did not drive from the backseat. (Like in some countries.) You dare to let go the powers you have. But in Burma, the Generals, actually the term Generals meant the Military (As new generals would replaced the olds endlessly) would be there for a long long time. They should (instead) work together with the people for the betterment of the country and society.

Answer:

They might be (scared). (But) I have no fears. If I give up the power, I did not think, I would be arrested and throw into jail. But I think the situation is different in Myanmar/Burma because the (Myanmar) Generals feel that action would be taken against them. So, they are not going to give up. But one has to remember that even though they may be Generals, they may be authoritarians, they are still Burmese people. Some where along the line, they may feel for the Burmese people and for Burma. They (may) want to see Burma becoming the country where the people are happy and prosperous.

Question:

Yes for the Burmese people. But for the other Ethnic Minority Races, Muslims and Christians like Chins and Rohingyas are systematically chased out. So…

Answer:

So… well. This of course is a very unfortunate. We believed in being tolerance. And that has the best results. But sometimes people are sort of carried away by their religious believes. And they do what actually is not taught by their own religion. Buddhists should be tolerant of the people. But unfortunately some of them are extreme and they are not tolerant but it would not harm them to be tolerant. Besides it would do them a lot of good.

Question:

The neighboring countries like China and India, and Russia and both Koreas are bursting the embargo and are even helping with nuclear technology. Should ASEAN try to influence those super-power big countries to pressure or persuade Burma to change?

Answer:

Well, we are not in a position to stop the super-powers, to stop the big countries like China, India or Russia. For ASEAN to play a bigger role, ASEAN is not a monolithic set up. It is made up of 10 different countries, each one has a different attitude towards the problems in Burma. So it would be very difficult for them to formulate an aggressive campaign for intervening with Burma.

Question:

Is ASEAN becoming like EU and Integration and changing of the people of ASEAN possible?

Answer:

Well, it will take a long time. One is to remember that EU took more than 50 years to reach its present state. And there are less differences between the European countries than there are between the countries of South East Asia. So, for South East Asia to become, kind of unifying like Europian Union, it will take a very very long time. We are ethnically different, religiously different and of course our languages are different. So it is very difficult.

Question:

Can UN play a more effective role? Although not an OIC member, as there are 5-10 million Muslims there, could OIC play some role to pressure Burma to change?

Answer:

Yes, they can play the role but not necessarily to pressure and confrontation. May be to do with engagement. Whether it will work or not, I don’t know but I think confrontation and strong arm methods, it won’t work.

Question:

What do you want to comment about the present economic condition of Burma? Any advice to improve?

Answer:

It saddens me that a country that is, that has tremendous potential, very very rich should actually remained poor, because the government has not worked out a solution that would benefit the people of Burma. Do you know, Burma is very rich, a lot of minerals, a lot of precious stones. But wealth by itself, existence of wealth by itself, does not mean anything, until the wealth is mobilized. So the government can, even if it is an authoritarian, it still can work hard for the people.

Question:

Just one more question. Do you think that we all let by gone be by gone, forgive, forget and start a fresh new relationship for the benefit of all the people and the country?

Answer:

Well, I think, if that can be done, certainly, we have to forget the past. If we think in terms of taking revenge for what happened in the past, there will be no solution. But if you want to have a good relation, we have to deliberately forget the past. Because if you keep on thinking about the past, there is no end to the problem.

BURMA DIGEST:

Thank you very much for the time and trouble for our interview.

His Excellency Tun Dr Mahathir:

You are welcome.

BURMA DIGEST:

We are indebted to you for a long time since you were the Prime Minister of Malaysia, for the kindness and help for our people and country. We thank you again because Your Excellency Tun’s words are a great gift for the present Myanmar Burmese scholars and thinkers of both side of the political divide. We hope Your Excellency Tun’s great intelligence could help us to get a lasting peaceful resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to all the parties; present SPDC Military Junta, all the opposition groups and all the ethnic and religious minorities. We pray and wish for your long life and good health.

His Excellency Tun Dr Mahathir:

Insyallah (God willing). Thank you.

[Author’s Note: The facts or ideas in this interview may not represent the concepts of Burma Digest Team and some of the opposition groups may not be agreeable to all of these. We are just presenting the alternative views, facts and ideas of the third party, interested and trying to help our country.  H.E. Tun Dr M was a most powerful man in Malaysia and given up power voluntarily although his opposition was not strong enough to remove him at that time. So he definitely has a better understanding of the powerful rulers’ fear of losing power, repercussions, revenge legal actions, the new government’s differing change and style of administration of  the country,  and views on the opposition parties.We hereby thank H.E. Tun Dr M for opening our eyes to have an understanding of the SPDC Government so that we could formulate strategies to reassure and persuade them for a true dialogue leading to the National Reconciliation and power sharing agreement with the opposition.]

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