The Society’s first major event of the year saw us host Tun Dr Mahathir at the Hotel Maya in KL on the ostensible topic of ‘2020: Realistic or Idealistic?’ The Moderator (Oxbridge President, Mark Disney) began by explaining that this was a closed-door session (i.e. no press) and that all those with an overly-sensitive-easily-outraged-police-report-making-disposition were free to leave at their earliest convenience.

The 170 members and guests had time to meet, mingle and makan before TDM arrived at 8.20 for an 8.30-sharp start. At the age of 90 (and despite a bout of the ‘flu), the grand ‘Old Man’ of Malaysian politics still displays remarkable vim and vigour. Indeed, the event was on the brink of cancellation on the actual day but Tun defied doctor’s orders, endured an afternoon of police questioning, and still arrived with his customary 10 minutes to spare!

For half an hour, Tun gave his views on Vision 2020 and offered his take on the geopolitical challenges of the Middle East and China. The floor was then opened for comment, leading to a frank and thoughtful exchange of views on many of the ‘unmentionables’ currently swirling around the country. Topics included Tun’s reputation as an authoritarian, the TPPA, relations with Singapore, ASEAN’s culture of ‘impunity’, affirmative action and the NEP, the police, the judiciary, and why war should be illegal as well as immoral…

The event was videoed for the Society’s use, but in accordance with the ‘Chatham House Rule’ we are unable to post it publicly. The edited snippets below give a flavour of the proceedings…

Mark Disney: Tun, looking at the nine Vision 2020 goals, I can’t see how any of them are going to happen – a liberal, mature democracy, a psychologically liberated people, a fully caring society … Are we even close?
Tun Dr Mahathir: We have made progress in terms of economic development, from an agricultural to an industrialised country, but maybe not in others. Some of the liberal ideas of the West are fine for them – freedom of speech, the press, and moral attitudes – but we cannot adopt these 100%. Look at the West – marriages between men and men, women and women – which go against all our religious beliefs. We should not copy that…

You cannot have freedom to insult people – look at Charlie Hebdo – in a multiracial country like ours you cannot go beyond the limits. There must be some limit to your exercise of freedom. The most important freedom is the right to choose your own leaders.

MD: But Malaysia is the only country in the world that calls itself democratic yet has only ever had one party in power…
TDM: It’s the choice of the people. In Malaysia, we hit on a system where the BN (National Front) was accepted by the people. Some may say we are not that democratic but we have lost whole States to the Opposition. Look at Kelantan – we can win it back…

MD: Tun, you know what people say. They say that it was during your time in the late-80s that our institutions, especially the Judiciary, were undermined.
TDM: No, that is not right. I never undermined the Judiciary; I kept myself away from the Judiciary…

MD: You’re still Malaysia’s best-known international brand. What’s your take on the catastrophe of the Middle East and the coming challenge of China?
TDM: Nothing will be solved until the Israel-Palestine conflict is resolved. ISIS and the like are now using ‘shock and awe’ tactics to spread terror among those who oppose them… As for China, we have very strong and longstanding relations. I don’t see that we would ever be in serious conflict with them – we will always choose trade and cooperation over war…