Two 'maha' (greats) walked into the Malaysiakini's premises last night: a 91-year-old former premier dubbed 'mahafiraun' (great pharaoh) by his past critics, and a 24-year-old 'mahasiswa' (student) fighting for change.
The mahafiraun, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and mahasiswa Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof, shared a stage to talk about student protests.
While they were united in opposing “MO1” - the unnamed 'Malaysian Official 1'alleged to have taken US$731 million in 1MDB funds - their 67-year age gap showed in their differing ideologies.
Dr Mahathir expressed repeatedly throughout the night that students belong in the classroom, and that he only supported student protests now because he believed other avenues to seek redress - such as the police and Parliament - were no longer functioning.
Anis Syafiqah on the other hand said it is because she is a student that she needs to stand up and protest.
“I do things like this (protest) because I realise that a student's role is not just to study… it is also to serve the community,” she said.
She said the difference between politicians and students was the reason they took to the streets.
“The difference is that students fight for the people based on their conscience, without any interests, and transparently because they want to serve the community,” she said.
Dodging UUCA abolition
The student activist also called for the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to be abolished, so that students would not be stifled if they get involved in political activities.
Mahathir, however, was unrepentant about his past use of the UUCA against student protesters as prime minister.
He also brushed off questions from students at the forum, who repeatedly pressed him on whether he would support efforts to repeal the Act.
The veteran politician stressed it was pointless to make such demands, as long as Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is in power.
“Tell me what you can do. You can shout, you can demonstrate, (and) Najib would smile. Let’s be realistic la,” a visibly frustrated Mahathir said.
The former premier however did have some light-hearted moments, such as when he talked about how his former opponents were now his allies.
“I forget about the past, some of (my past opponents) came and apologised, (but I said) there's no need to apologise.
“The opposition's role is to demonise the government… They called me mahafiraun, mahazalim (the cruelest) and other things... but that is the opposition,” he said.
But despite his jovial moments, the night ended with the students divided on how they felt about the nonagenarian.
Some, including the organisers, were clamouring to get selfies and autographs from Mahathir.
Others however were deeply disappointed, and believed the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) chairperson was only using Anis Syafiqah for his own gain.- Mkini