PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says the Yasukuni Shrine is a delicate issue for China and that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs to pay attention to the feelings of neighboring countries.
“I think it’s a sensitive issue for the Chinese. He should take into consideration the sensitivities of other countries,” said Mahathir, who is seeking to become prime minister again as the opposition’s candidate in next week’s general election, in an interview on Monday.
“Whether you like it or not, Japan invaded China. In wars, you do a lot of bad things,” said Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia with a strong hand from 1981 to 2003, at his office in the federal administrative capital of Putrajaya.
Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo has been a source of friction with Asian countries that suffered from Japan’s militarism during World War II, as it honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals along with millions of war dead.
Mahathir also said that due to Abe being in power for more than five years, much longer than many of his predecessors, he has been able to “stabilize (Japan’s) economy much better.”
“Give him a chance, he can do a good job. Those are minor things,” he said, referring to a flurry of political scandals that have led to declining public support for Abe’s government. “All PMs do some little wrong things. If you change PM every now and then the country cannot move.”
Touching on the “Look East” policy that he launched in 1981, he said, “Japan still has a lot to teach Malaysia.”
“It’s not about FDI. It’s about learning work ethics of people of Japan, Korea and China. It’s the work ethics that determine if a country can do well,” he said.
The 92-year-old is leading a new party he founded called the Malaysian United Indigenous Party. It is part of the four-party opposition Alliance of Hope that seeks to end six decades of rule by the United Malays National Organisation.
Mahathir voiced confidence that his opposition alliance can win the May 9 general election, saying traditionally pro-UMNO ethnic Malay voters are swinging toward his side.
“I think we can win unless of course the government cheats,” he said. “There is a Malay tsunami … We don’t need many. We need a swing of only 20 percent. That is enough.”
In Malaysia’s race-based politics — where there is a tendency to vote along ethnic and religious lines — the ethnic Malay-Muslims, which make up more than 60 percent of the electorate, hold the key to power. The minority ethnic Chinese and Indians are still largely behind the opposition.
But the issue of whether there is a “Malay tsunami” as espoused by the opposition is debatable.
A survey conducted by independent pollster Merdeka Center between April 3 and 9 by telephone with 1,206 voters predicted only a 7.9 percent swing in Malay votes to the opposition, which it said is not enough to tip the scale.
“Because opposition votes will be split, it is not likely to be material enough to shift the outcome,” Merdeka Center Chief Executive Ibrahim Suffian said.
Mahathir, however, dismissed the survey, saying the opposition’s own internal polling using big data analysis pointed to a possible victory, or a hung parliament.
Mahathir is running in the northern island resort of Langkawi in his home state of Kedah, and is facing a three-way fight. But it is considered likely he will win handsomely as islanders feel indebted to him for transforming a backwater into the country’s premier tourist destination.
Mahathir turned Malaysia politics on its head when he ditched UMNO in 2016 and embraced his former critics on a crusade to bring down Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, 64, whom he labelled a thief and a criminal. Najib was Mahathir’s hand-picked successor but the two had a falling out over a corruption scandal that has ensnared the current leader.
In a video posted on his Twitter account on Sunday, Najib slammed Mahathir as unprincipled and accused him of colluding with his enemies.
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