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Mahathir stresses need for rule of law amid EJKs in PH

MANILA, Philippines – Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad stressed the need for rule of law to attract investors, as he said extrajudicial killings (EJKs) make people "feel frightened."

Mahathir also said the police "should not be too free with using lethal weapons."

Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister was answering a question about his views on President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. 

The 92-year-old* statesman paused – then smiled, laughed, and closed his eyes – before answering the question, in a country where the President lambasts anyone who challenges his bloody drug war.

Turning serious, Mahathir answered: "I think you should have the rule of law. It's the only thing that makes people comfortable. They feel they are protected."

"But if you have extrajudicial killings, then people feel frightened that they might be wrongly identified or something like that," Mahathir said in a press conference on Friday, October 13, on the sidelines of the Finex Annual Conference in Makati City.

Mahathir clarified that he is "very much against drug distribution," and in fact the sentence for drug distribution in Malaysia "is death by hanging."

"But of course it goes through a proper trial," he said, emphasizing that "everybody has a right to be fairly tried."

"I'm not saying anything against President Duterte, but I'm saying that in Malaysia, we would not allow that kind of thing, that there should be extrajudicial executions and things like that," Mahathir said.

The Malaysian leader was also asked about his views on policemen killing drug suspects who allegedly resisted arrest. (READ: Half of Filipinos don't believe cops' 'nanlaban' line – SWS survey)

Mahathir said: "Police people should not be too free with using lethal weapons. That is a last resort. You have to prove that you have been attacked."

Investors and rule of law

Mahathir was the longest serving prime minister of Malaysia, holding office for 22 years, from 1981 to 2003. 

A doctor by training, Mahathir is known for boosting Malaysia's economy. At the same time, he himself admits he was a dictator, remembered for curbing dissent when he was prime minister.

In fact, when he spoke in Manila in June 2012, Mahathir issued a warning against "too much democracy." 

He has also "challenged the notion that human rights are universal," according to BBC.  

Mahathir, along with Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, promoted "Asian values," where "obligations to society and the rights of the wider community are more important than the rights of the individual," the BBC said.

In Friday's press conference, Mahathir explained that he was "always very critical of Europe and the Western world." 

"I like to say things which are nasty. I even boycotted Britain for some time," Mahathir told Filipino journalists.

"But the investments came in," he said. "Why is this? Because the investors, the business people, they want to invest and make money."

Referring to investors, he said, "They don't care about your politics. Provided you give a country that is stable, and the rule of law applies, they will come."

While Mahathir said that investors do not care about politics, the Philippines under Duterte is plagued with rule of law problems. 

More than 14,000 people have died in both police operations and vigilante-style killings since Duterte launched his war on drugs in July 2016.

Critics accuse the Philippine National Police of a number of abuses, including the killings of teenagers that fueled public outrage against Duterte's anti-drug campaign. –

Editor's Note:

In an earlier version of this story, we reported that former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is 91. This was based on an entry in Encyclopedia Brittanica, as well as news outlets such as CNN, saying he was born on December 20, 1925. 

His biography Malaysian Maverick said Mahathir's birth certificate "showed he was born on December 20, 1925." The same book said Mahathir, however, later "discovered from notes written by his father in the back of a dictionary" that "he was actually born 5 months earlier."  Mahathir's father "had given all the boys arbitrary December birth dates, while recording the correct dates in the dictionary."

Born in 1925, Mahathir marks July 20 as his birthday, according to Malaysiakini, making him 92 years old by now. 

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at