“I see this as a way to blacken my face. They know they cannot oust me very easily so they have painted a black picture of me. This is like old times …”
Those were the words of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Wearing an unimpressed look, it was a press conference the media savvy Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was clearly not looking forward to.
There stood the 93-year-old prime minister, announcing Malaysia will withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would prosecute perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
He blames it squarely on “political confusion” caused by people with vested interests.
“It’s the Cabinet’s decision.”
Dr Mahathir did not mince his words as he labelled the critics of the Rome Statute “cowards, who during the last regime saw (former Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) stealing money, doing all kinds of things and said nothing”.
“There were a lot of cowards who wanted to benefit from Najib’s misrule so that they can benefit. I’m saying this directly at them. Who they are, you can guess.”
Najib is facing allegations of corruption and abuse of power mainly over the controversial 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
“We made a decision we will not ratify the Statute of Rome. We still have time to withdraw and we will withdraw. Not because the Statute of Rome is harmful to us but because of the confusion, the political confusion raised by some people including some people who have some political ambition.
He added: “The Cabinet this morning decided that we will withdraw due to confusion .. not because it is going to be bad for us but the confusion created by one particular person who wants to be free to beat up people and things like that.
“If he beats up people again, I will send the police to arrest him. I don’t care who he is.”
Dr Mahathir said the move by the critics had “blackened the good name of this government”.
“I find this particular attempt to get the rulers involved so that they can get a leverage, or get the rulers to sign something against me, then I have to tell them they are not going to do it.”
When asked if he was referring to a “certain prince from the southern state”, Dr Mahathir replied: “You can make your guess. You’re welcome.”
Tunku Ismail Ibrahim, the Crown Prince of Johor, has been critical over the Rome Statute as seen in his series of tweets last month.
On March 23, the Sultan of Johor accused Putrajaya of violating the Federal Constitution by signing the Rome Statute.
Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar said the Rome Statute, and the attempt to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), had touched on the monarchy, Malay privileges, and the sanctity of Islam.
Dr Mahathir was quick to say regardless the decision made today, the world will condemn Malaysia if it did anything extreme or excessive.
“The fact is that, if there is no such threat rulers or members of the government might abuse the law, might be excessive like the previous government. But as you know the previous government when it was excessive, beyond reporting all over the world what did they do? Nothing.
“We had to overthrow that government through election. I made a petition to the rulers. One million people signed that petition but nothing happened. And the foreigners did not say anything about that. In fact they were quite happy to receive Najib and play golf with him.”
Najib enjoyed a game of golf with former US President Barack Obama in Hawaii in 2014, stressing it was for “diplomatic reasons”.
Perhaps the Dr Mahathir of the past would have pushed for the ratification of the Statute of Rome, regardless criticism. But the words he said upon winning last year’s May 9 elections echoes – he now has to look into the interests of not one but four parties with four different characteristics in the Pakatan Harapan government.
Questions, and speculations, will continue to linger as to who Dr Mahathir was accusing of creating political confusion and attempts to take action against him.
Those who know Dr Mahathir well will vouch that the prime minister will not let this U-turn decision, which has “blackened him and his government”, rest easily.