- Reuters, The Straits Times
If he could turn back time, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would not have gotten rid of his then-deputy Anwar Ibrahim the way he did.
In a Sin Chew Daily interview, the 92-year-old told the Chinese language paper that it was a “mistake” to have dealt with Anwar by “complying fully with the law”.
“The mistake was complying fully with the law. I think I shouldn’t have taken action against Anwar,” Mahathir was quoted as saying.
“From a political point of view, I should not have done so because when I was prime minister, I promised myself not to do anything that would make people hate me,” Mahathir added.
Anwar, now 70, was in 1998 fired by Mahathir. Later, he was arrested and charged with corruption and sodomy. The following year, he was sentenced to six years in jail for corruption, and in 2000, he was given a nine-year sentence for sodomy, which was to be served consecutively to his earlier jail term.
In 2004, after his sentence for corruption was shortened and completed, his conviction on sodomy charges was overturned. But in 2008, a former aide of Anwar accused him of sodomy again, and he was later jailed.
In the Sin Chew interview, Mahathir admitted that the incident involving Anwar caused him to lose votes in the 1999 election, but added that in that situation, he had “no choice but to make decisions that caused people to hate him”.
“Now I know, perhaps I should have put justice behind for political reasons,” Sin Chew quoted him as saying.
But he said that he was left with no choice as police had presented him with evidence.
Adding that he was upset with the police, who later told him that Anwar had been given a black eye, Mahathir recounted that he insisted Anwar be given a trial.
Mahathir also said that while he had the power to sack Anwar from his cabinet, it was not his decision to also sack him as Umno’s deputy president.
Recalling a Supreme Council meeting that was held till 4am, Mahathir said: “They unanimously expressed that they did not want Anwar to be deputy president and they also didn’t want him to remain in the party.”
“It was the council’s decision. It was not my decision.”