Addressing the ‘My Voice My Nation Malaysia 2019’ edutainment concert here last night (June 26), the 93-year-old Dr Mahathir underscored important points regarding leadership, respecting time, education, the importance of discipline, freedom as well as his 63-year marriage to Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.
In a 20-minute speech peppered with appreciative applause, he said one aspect of leadership that was sometimes overlooked was the ability to feel for the ordinary people.
He noted that sometimes when leaders were aristocratic and of royal lineage, the tendency of not understanding the sufferings of the ordinary people was prevalent.
“The crux of the matter is that leaders have been known to be so detached that sufferings that could be resolved are allowed to perpetuate,” he said at the event held at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil.
“It can be argued that ordinary men who went on to become leaders have been known to ignore the sufferings of the ordinary citizens but that is not due to ignorance but due to apathy,” Dr Mahathir said.
The prime minister said he also believed in the need for people to work hard to pull themselves out of poverty and difficulties.
In citing his own experience of selling pisang goreng (banana fritters) during the Japanese occupation, Dr Mahathir drove home the point that there were always opportunities if people looked around hard enough.
“When I got into the position of power, I realised that not everyone is capable of finding the opportunity and sometimes those with power should assist them in finding their footing. But the principle of giving them the rod instead of the fish always stands,” he said.
Dr Mahathir also recalled how strict his father was especially when it concerned education and that, in hindsight, he believed that what he was today was the result of that discipline and uncompromising stance on the importance of education.
Speaking about punctuality and respecting time, Dr Mahathir said: “If I want others to work hard, I must work hard if not more. Similarly, if I want people to turn up on time, then I must be punctual.”
All of this might sound petty, he said, but respecting time was of the essence.
Dr Mahathir also paid tribute to his wife for being with him all these years as Dr Siti Hasmah rewarded him with a big smile.
“And she being a doctor as well is definitely a bonus as I am assured, especially at this stage in life, that I have a doctor by my side at almost all times,” he quipped.
On a more serious note, Dr Mahathir said it was his fervent hope that Malaysians, especially the younger generation, would be able to see and realise why the nation stood up against colonialism and fought for its independence.
“I was lucky, or maybe unlucky, to witness how our people were mistreated and subjected to all kinds of indignity by the colonisers,” he said.
“They came into our homes, told us how to behave and made us do things for their benefits and left us with crumbs. They know what is best and we’re forced to let them do the thinking. They take away our wealth and we’re supposed to smile and help them do the plundering,” he said, not mincing his words on this subject matter.
In describing the present day Malaysians as a lucky lot, Dr Mahathir said: “I truly hope that Malaysians will never again go through such indignities. But freedom is not a given. You have to work for it, defend it and nurture it.”
Besides Siti Hasmah, present at the event were Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi.
AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes also shared his motivational life story at the event inspired by ‘My Voice My World’, a variety television show aired on China’s Jiangsu Television.
It also witnessed a special appearance by the national Paralympic squad and the launch of the Para Athletes Charity Donation.