Former minister Nazri Aziz has recalled his days serving as a Cabinet member under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, especially what he describes as a “black notebook” which the former prime minister used to carry with him.
“He was known for his black notebook. Whenever he brought out his black notebook during Cabinet meetings, there would be fears as to who would get it this time,” Nazri, who has been an MP for more than 25 years, said in a wide-ranging interview on MalaysiaNow’s talk show programme Talk, Now.
Nazri served in various government and political posts during Mahathir’s first term in power, including as chairman of Mara and Umno Youth chief.
Under Mahathir, Nazri also served as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, deputy finance minister and minister for entrepreneur development.
He was among Mahathir’s most vocal opponents when the former prime minister led efforts to bring down the Najib Razak administration.
He was called insolent at the time for attacking the veteran leader but hit back at his critics, saying Mahathir himself had been rude to the late Tunku Abdul Rahman in the late 1960s.
“At that time I was 15 years old and as a youngster, it was a new phenomenon. I saw Mahathir differently so I followed him,” Nazri had told reporters just a month before the fall of the Barisan Nasional government in May 2018.
Interviewed by MalaysiaNow recently, the Padang Rengas MP said he remains an admirer of Mahathir despite their differences, adding that it was both easy and difficult to be a minister under him.
“He was prime minister for 22 years. I found it easy working with him, but also quite difficult because we had to be on our toes all the time,” Nazri said.
He said those in Mahathir’s Cabinet were expected to always be prepared and disciplined.
“So it was easy in the sense that if we did our work, he liked it. It was difficult because there was pressure, not from him, but through the aura he carried with him. He was over 60 years old, I was only 40 and already a minister, so we were in awe of him. So this made us afraid,” said Nazri.
He said if anyone gathered enough courage to speak out in front of Mahathir, they would not get into trouble.
“As long as you don’t say something that’s not right.”
He also recalled a piece of advice from Mahathir that as the government, they should be “whiter than white”.
“It means that for a politician, a mere accusation is enough for him to give up his post.
“He said why go around in dark-tinted cars? As deputy minister, you must be visible and transparent so that the public can see you,” said Nazri.
‘What you see is what you get’
Nazri said apart from the “black book”, Mahathir would also bring along a camera.
He said Mahathir would snap pictures during his visits, which would later serve as evidence to strengthen the notes jotted down in his book.
“So it was both easy and difficult because he was one man who was really strict. But we enjoyed it, not a problem.”
Nazri said he had learnt much from Mahathir, whom he began admiring as a student in the UK in the 1970s when Mahathir visited as education minister at the time.
“He came to deliver a speech at the Malaysia Hall in London and I would always listen to his speeches.”
But Nazri’s admiration for him is reserved for his forthrightness in airing his opinions.
“He is someone who speaks his mind. What you see is what you get. He does not put up an act,” he added.