FORMER Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was forced to pull out of a much anticipated talk at Melbourne University on Saturday because of “unforeseen health problems”.
Organisers broke the news an hour before the event.
Only a third of the 395 members of the public who registered for the Seminar Pembangunan Insan (SPI) turned up for the talk.
SPI master of ceremony Shamir Hameed said Tun Dr Mahathir, who arrived in Melbourne on Thursday, turned down the engagement “under the advice of his personal doctors”.
“At the age of 85, I’m sure we understand his situation,” Mr Hameed said.
Standing in for the former prime minister was Malaysian Minister of Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohamed, who shared his perspectives on the 1Malaysia policy and engaged in a frank and lively discussion with the audience.
Datuk Seri Mustapha said the 1Malaysia policy was a reiteration of an ideology that had been in existence since the nation’s founding.
“The majority of Malaysians agree with this concept,” he said.
He said unity was vital to achieving Malaysia’s vision of becoming a developed nation by 2020.
Questions raised by the audience after Datuk Seri Mustapha’s talk included concerns about the halal industry, whether the special rights of Malays had to be revoked in order for 1Malaysia to be a reality, the future of Malaysian car maker Proton, the quality of education in Malaysia, and media’s poor access in reaching the government for comment.
The prospect of meeting Tun Dr Mahathir had been the biggest draw card for many who signed up for the event. But despite their disappointments, students like Syamil Jalil and Sasidaran Krisnasamy said the talk exceeded their expectations.
Mr Jalil, 22, who flew in from Adelaide to Melbourne specially for the event, said he had been looking forward to hearing Tun Dr Mahathir speak.
“But ultimately, I came here because of the topic. I’m happy with Datuk Seri Mustapha’s speech and it was well worth it. I thought he was very very enlightening, and I guess it’s good to know the reality behind 1Malaysia and what is happening with the government,” Mr Jalil said.
Mr Krisnasamy, 22, said he appreciated Datuk Seri Mustapha’s frankness.
“Datuk Seri Mustapha actually voiced out the government’s views, how they are bringing on transformation for now,” Mr Krisnasamy said.
“He took the questions really well, which was good. His frankness and honesty was the best part of the seminar.”
Datuk Seri Mustapha also apologised for Tun Dr Mahathir’s absence.
“I spent an hour with him this morning,” Datuk Seri Mustapha said.
“He very much wanted to come. He fell sick when he was in China, and despite his state of health he decided to come (to Melbourne).
“But he has a slight cough and is resting in hospital.”
It is understood that Tun Dr Mahathir was hospitalised on Saturday morning with a chest infection.