Mahathir Mohamad, 92, the ex-Malaysian prime minister who is aiming to return to power, spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun about China, the current Malaysian regime, as well as an imprisoned man who he eventually wants to be the country's next leader.
On Jan. 26 in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir described the current Malaysian leader, Najib Razak, as being "too close to China." "We are no longer neutral," he lamented.
Mahathir, who was Malaysia's prime minister between 1981 and 2003, and who modeled his "Look East" policy on countries such as Japan, is looking to oust Najib in the Malaysian general election scheduled to be held in the first half of 2018.
In the interview, he said that he realizes the ruling party is widely considered to have the upper hand when it comes to elections, but unless one tries to compete against that, one can never win.
Of Najib, Mahathir said, "He sees China as a source of funds which he could borrow. But when you borrow and cannot pay, you are going to be in trouble," explaining that he wants to rectify Malaysia's borrowing issue in relation to China, should he win the election.
He also reflected on his previous time in power, stating, "Malaysia's policy was neutral. We were friendly with every country. Whether China or Japan or Korea or America. We were friendly. If they do something wrong, we feel we have the right to criticize them," He added, "We don't want to be aligned to anybody."
Despite being 92, Mahathir, who has been critical of Najib's suspected connection to political slush funds, has re-emerged on the political landscape on the strength of his reputation and previous performance. He was selected early this year as a joint candidate for prime minister in a four-party alliance of opposition parties.
However, he is realistic about his age, saying, "I can't stay for very long. At the most, I can last for two years." Nevertheless, he is up for the fight, explaining, "I decided to eventually form a party and this party needs to work with other opposition parties if it is going to contest against BN (the current ruling party) and all the opposition parties felt that I should take the lead."
Furthermore, he also touched on former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, 70, who is currently in prison. Mahathir revealed that he wants to hand over the role of prime minister to Anwar after his release from prison, assuming that he wins.
However, although Anwar is set to be released in June, he would not be allowed to put his name forward for an election for five years, having served five years in prison for a controversial sodomy conviction.
Anwar would first need a royal pardon from the King of Malaysia in order to run the country, and Mahathir will not give up on seeking one. "We will try. We will do our best to get a royal pardon," the former leader said. (By Mitsuhiro Hirano, Jakarta Bureau)