On the day he turned 94, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad paid tribute to his late mother.
He described Wan Tempawan Wan Hanapi as the most influential individual in his life.
“She brought me up and taught me the way I should behave, the things I should do,” the Prime Minister told Bernama Radio in a special interview to mark the happy occasion yesterday.
Asked on the secret of his vitality, Dr Mahathir, who has the distinction of being the world’s oldest prime minister, said he did everything in moderation, including eating and keeping himself active.
“I watch my weight, meaning I am careful about what I eat.
“I also feel that we will become weak in mind and body if we are not active. When we are active, then everything functions well,” he said.
He added that when he had the time, he liked to read, write and exercise.
Recalling his younger years, Dr Mahathir said the world was much simpler then as his life merely revolved around school, his home and Alor Setar town, where he grew up in a multi-racial neighbourhood.
He recalled that besides a shop selling songket material and bronzeware, there was no other shop run by Malays at that time.
“I wanted to be proud of the achievements of the Malays, but I couldn’t find anything to be proud of as far as their position under British rule was concerned,” he said.He considered his inability to change the character of the Malays and their value system to be his biggest failure.
Dr Mahathir told the radio station that he had tried to change them so that they would be more compatible with progress, but the majority opted to stick to their established ways.
Asked which world leaders inspired him the most, he named Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid in South Africa.
He said he was also inspired by Peter the Great of Russia because “he changed a disorganised Russia into a world power”.
Asked about the characteristics of a leader, Dr Mahathir said the individual should know about the situation in the country as well as developments in the region and the world.
“We cannot isolate ourselves as though we are living alone, without any contact with neighbours and other countries,” he added.
On a lighter note, Dr Mahathir said his favourite local singer is Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza, that he preferred coffee to tea and counted Japan as one of his favourite countries he has visited.
Dr Mahathir, who is Malaysia’s seventh prime minister, was born on July 10, 1925, in Seberang Perak, Alor Setar, Kedah.
He was also the country’s fourth prime minister from 1981 to 2003.
In the interview, he counted the ability to lessen the pressure on Malaysia’s financial situation as a notable achievement of his Pakatan Harapan government so far.
He noted that not many countries facing a similar situation like Malaysia would be able to address the problem.
“I feel there are many problems that we can mitigate … and we are not pressured to the extent of having those who have given us loans making demands and pressuring us. That has not happened.
“We can handle the country’s financial situation. We can say
that this is an achievement,” he stressed.
Dr Mahathir also said the fundamentals of the country’s financial recovery plan had already been laid.
“I think that over the next three years, our problem will be reduced but not to the extent of recovering easily.
“It may take between 10 and 15 years for us to recover and become an Asian Tiger again.”