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Malaysian Founder 'Disgusted' at Successor

...28 years ago
HENRY KAMM, Special to the New York Times
Published: July 8, 1988

Hypocrite in disguise
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, July 7— At 85 years of age, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who presided 31 years ago over the founding of independent Malaysia and later called himself "the happiest Prime Minister in the world," pronounced himself a disappointed man today.

"Disappointed is not the word," he continued. "Disgusted?" he said questioningly, as though seeking his interviewer's approval for the harsh word.

The horse- and golf-loving aristocrat, who was Prime Minister until he stepped down in 1970 and is revered by many as the father of the nation, was speaking of the intense political controversy over recent actions by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Five Justices Suspended

On Wednesday, acting in consultation with Dr. Mahathir, King Mahmood Iskandar suspended five Supreme Court justices for "gross misbehavior" and ordered them to appear before a special tribunal that will decide whether to remove them permanently.

Last May, the same step was taken against the Lord President, the highest justice of Malaysia. Also under Dr. Mahathir's leadership, the traditional solidarity of the party that has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957, the United Malay National Organization, has been shattered by a continuing, abrasive leadership struggle.

"You see, the whole trouble today is, when he took over, he was trying to make sure he would stay on in power," the Prince said, sitting at his desk in his traditional house in an elegant suburb of the capital. Throughout the interview, the Prince was at pains to avoid calling Dr. Mahathir by name.

"He then imposed his rule of despotism or tyranny on this country, at the expense of law and order," the Prince said. "They set up a dictatorship. To be a complete dictator, you've got to take control of everything. But the judiciary is still independent. There's only one thing blocking his way, the independent judiciary. Now he wants to compromise that independence."

The Prince, known throughout this nation simply as the Tunku - his title in Malay - spoke with a melodious Malay lilt to his English, in a vigorous voice that contrasted with his frail appearance. He suffered a heart attack earlier this year.

So deep is the Tunku's desire to oppose Dr. Mahathir's actions that a friend reported he told them after his illness, "I've got two doctors who keep me alive - my own and Dr. Mahathir." 'My Mind Is Clear'

"Unfortunately I'm crippled, more or less, but my mind is clear," Prince Abdul Rahman said. "I can't walk far, I can't see well - those are my handicaps. Otherwise I'd go everywhere. I fought for independence before. I'd say to the people as I said before - 'Fight for independence.' We've got to fight to restore democracy."

The Prince has stayed in the public eye in recent years through a weekly column in The Star, a newspaper that the Government banned last October. It has since resumed publication, but the Prince said press freedom was suffering "serious disruption."

"Even my paper won't publish my articles," he said. He is chairman of the publishing company. "They want to change it. Yes, yes, the last article wasn't published. They're asking for certain amendments."

The Tunku, a man of compromise, has submitted an amended article for next Monday's issue.

For a leading Government spokesman, Education Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Prince Abdul Rahman is a voice of the past, speaking for a style of politics that no longer exists. "A grand old man who has done his bit," he said in an interview. "But I don't know if he's even conscious of what he is saying."

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