I should not have acted against Anwar: Tun Mahathir

PETALING JAYA: Former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad says if he could turn back time and make choices afresh, he would probably not change any of the decisions he had made.

But out of political consideration, he would not have removed then deputy prime minister cum finance minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar was later jailed six and nine years respectively for abuse of power and for sodomy. However, in 2004, he appealed to the Federal Court which overturned his sodomy conviction.

Asked what decisions he had made wrong during his 22-year tenure as prime minister, Mahathir, who now heads the opposition Pakatan Harapan, told Sin Chew Daily in an interview published today that he should not have followed the law to the letter.

"I think I should not have acted against Anwar.

"From the political standpoint, I would not do that (act against Anwar), because when I became the prime minister, I promised myself not to do anything that would make people dislike me."

He said in the 1999 general election, he lost as many as 300,000 Malay votes.

The black-eye Anwar received in lock-up led many Malays to take up the reformasi call against Mahathir.

"But on certain matters, I had no choice but to make decisions that made people dislike me.

"I realise now that perhaps I should have put aside justice, and not do that (make decisions that make people dislike me) for political reasons.

"Many people are not particular about proper legal procedures; what they want is political benefits. I could have obtained political benefits.

"I could have had Anwar arrested under the ISA. The court case lasted for nine long months before he was convicted and jailed.

"Had I been a dictator, I could have sent him straight to jail.

"I was very unhappy with the police (then). I asked them why not put him on trial (right after Anwar was arrested)? Initially, they did not tell me, but eventually told me (they had) given him the 'black-eye'.

"I insisted he be taken to court."

Mahathir said the police at the time submitted evidence to him and he had no other choice (but to act against Anwar).

He recalled that he only sacked Anwar as the deputy prime minister cum finance minister but removing him from the party No. 2 post was a collective decision of the Umno supreme council.

He said he will not return to Umno even if Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak steps down or form a coalition government with Umno sans Najib.

On Anwar's advice to his wife and daughter to put the past behind them, Mahathir said he was grateful to Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Nurul Izzah for their magnanimity.

He said he has not forgotten that it was the Chinese support that "saved" him in the 1999 general election and that the Chinese have not forgotten he resolved the financial crisis facing Malaysia (in 1997-98).

The former premier also said some Malays still need government assistance to avoid too big a rich-poor gap, which would only divide the people.