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Not the Retiring Type
Malaysia's former leader, Mahathir Mohamad, is taking on his successor in a rancorous fight over the future of the nation
Interview: Mahathir Mohamad
"I'm being told you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister"
Extended Interview
TIME's extended interview with Mahathir Mohamad
Interview: Abdullah Badawi
Malaysia's Prime Minister responds

Malaysia Without Anwar
Dr. M battles protesters and his own deputy
I'll Do It My Way
Without Anwar or the global economy, Mahathir goes it alone
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AGGRIEVED: Mahathir says his legacy is being undermined

"I'm being told you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister"
TIME talks to former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad

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Posted Monday, October 30, 2006; 20:00 HKT
Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is 81 years old, but he was as combative as ever when he met recently with TIME's Hannah Beech and Baradan Kuppusamy in his plush office in Malaysia's administrative capital, Putrajaya. They spoke of his feud with his handpicked successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his legacy, and why the developing world needs a champion:

TIME: How will historians regard your 22 years as Prime Minister?
Mahathir: They would have noticed an acceleration in industrialization. The previous Prime Ministers had the same ideas. But they were unable to push it. When I became Prime Minister, I found ways and means to accelerate the process. So I suppose that period of very rapid [economic] growth from the 1980s to 2000 will be identified with me.

How do you compare that era with what's happening now?
[Abdullah] has discarded the policies and strategies we used during my time, claiming that they were not good for the country, particularly what were termed "megaprojects." We used the megaprojects to stimulate the economy. They put a stop to them, and when you put a stop to spending money, you don't generate wealth anymore ... I expect every Prime Minister to have his own imprint. [Abdullah] wants to be recognized as himself and not as a copy of somebody else. But when you try to do that, you may do better things or you may do worse things.

Downstairs you have a poster listing some of your accomplishments. Most are structures like Putrajaya and Petronas Towers. Do you feel your legacy as the builder of amazing things for Malaysia is being undermined?
Everything in the last 20 years has been my pet project, so if you touch anything, it's going to be touching my pet project. [But] all these things that I caused to be built are actually essential to this country. We need the infrastructure, we need Putrajaya. Imagine what Kuala Lumpur would be like if the government administration were still there. Planning means looking ahead. When I do things, I think very far ahead, not 10 years, 20 years, [but] 100 years ahead.

Looking back on your anointed successors, it seems they all disappointed you. Are you bad at choosing good leaders?
I'm not very good at it. I assume that people react to things as I would react. For example, if you are nice to people, they should be nice to you. If somebody is going against you, yet you are willing to forget and forgive and give them a place again in the government, they will be very grateful. But I find that the people I helped to reach certain heights actually turned against me.

Do you think Prime Minister Abdullah is ungrateful to you?
At least he should have noticed that I went out of my way to give him an opportunity.

Is he more afraid of dissent than you were?
He has made UMNO his personal party. They cannot say anything that he doesn't approve of. I'm being told, look, you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister because he is an institution, he is an UMNO president and therefore an institution. Yes, the UMNO president is an institution, but the incumbent is not. When I was there, he challenged me. Now he's not allowing anybody to say a word against him ... What I don't like is creating what would be called a police state. Nobody is allowed to organize any meeting and invite me to speak. If you do, the police call you up.

As Malaysia's Prime Minister, you saw yourself as the unofficial spokesman for the developing world. Is anyone taking up that role now?
Third World countries have got nobody to stand up for them. They either owe money to banks or they are receiving aid. We are much more free [in Malaysia]: we don't owe money, we don't ask for aid, and therefore we are in the position to speak up. If Malaysia gives up that role, it will be a very sad day because the strong countries will then steamroll over us. Thaksin [Shinawatra] said he wanted to be like me, but he did not [speak out], and Suharto is not around. So we have to wait for somebody ... Today, the tendency is to be associated with the big people. The [developing world wants] to be nice to President Bush, to praise Prime Minister Blair.

How do you view the Bush administration's efforts to build democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Democracy must be internally generated. You cannot force it from the top—it's not going to work.

A New Vision for Malaysia [Mar. 15, 2004]
Malaysians expected Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to be cautious, but he has quickly emerged as a bold reformer

Interview with Abdullah [Mar. 15, 2004]
"I Have a Different Style"

Not So Fast [Nov. 24, 2003]
Malaysia's new Prime Minister plays rough with his old boss' favorites

Regime Change [Oct. 13, 2003]
After 22 years in power, Mahathir Mohamad is stepping down. Can Malaysia thrive without him?

Malaysia Under Mahathir [Jul. 18, 2001]
TIME's Simon Elegant on the 20-year rule of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad

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