Malaysia's indigenous Malays are losing political influence and the country may become like neighbouring Singapore with a non-Malay prime minister in charge by the time the next election comes around, said former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad.
Speaking at a dialogue in Putrajaya alongside other guest politicians on Saturday (March 4), he said Malaysian Malays' "economic control has been gone for a long time" and they now risked losing their political power as well.
Malaysia could become like Singapore within the next two elections, Dr Mahathir said, according to Malaysian media.
He attributed this possibility to an unfounded claim he made that the current government could redefine electoral boundaries that would reduce the number of Malay-majority constituencies in the country.
"To some extent, this situation will change the pattern of the existing government in GE16 and the situation will become worse in GE17," he said, referring to the next two general elections due to take place over the next decade.
"There is no guarantee that the prime minister will be a Malay as anyone can be the prime minister. Even now, the Malay parties in the government are not in power and they are divided into three parties.
"I am sure that if we're not careful, the next election will come and if the votes get bought off, we'll elect people who are not good and they will mortgage our country."
The other guest speakers at the talk titled The Lost Struggle were two former Cabinet ministers. Tan Sri Noh Omar was unceremoniously sacked from Umno in January while Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin lost her deposit when contesting November's general election, Malaysia's 15th.
Now an adviser for Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra), Dr Mahathir, 97, frequently advocates for bumiputera (indigenous people) rights in Malaysia. Upon joining Putra, he said his "main struggle is for the unity of the Malay people, parties and organisations".
Some Malaysians welcomed Dr Mahathir's foretelling.
"Singapore has faster internet, better wages, better public transport, tight control over car ownership... Why yes, why can't we be like Singapore, Mahathir?" said journalist Erna Mahyuni.
A beauty blogger known as Paris B tweeted: "I hope Mahathir's prediction is right. Can't wait for Malaysia to finally be like Singapore (but with better food)."
Dr Mahathir also said Malaysia's unity government had failed to bring any major changes for the people and that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had not made any impact on the country in his first 100 days in charge.
Deputy Prime Minister Fadillah Yusof said he respected Dr Mahathir, the country's longest-serving prime minister over two spells, but called for unity between Malaysia's various political parties.
"I respect Tun Dr Mahathir as someone who has contributed immensely to the country and hope he will continue to help us," he said on Sunday. "Now, Malaysians need us to be united, as we cannot afford more politicking."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.
ALSO READ: At 97, Malaysia's Mahathir vows one final fight against graft-tainted government