Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said he was utterly frustrated that the Malay party he helped develop into Malaysia's dominant political force had become riddled with corruption and bribery.
"I feel very, very frustrated because this is something that is quite personal," Mahathir told The Star newspaper in the first of a two-part interview published today.
Dr Mahathir, an iconic Asian leader who stepped down as prime minister after 22 years in office on October 31, 2003, said "money politics" had already started seeping into the United Malays National Organisation in the 1970s when he rejoined the party.
"Money politics" refers to senior leaders paying huge sums of money to party members to vote for them to senior positions in party elections. This was reportedly widespread during the last UMNO elections last month, but no open allegations were made, and no UMNO leaders were punished.
"Unfortunately, everybody talks about money politics, everybody says it is rampant. But no-one wants to say who. And they know who," Dr Mahathir said, during the interview in his 86th floor office of the Petronas Twin Towers.
The 452-metre Petronas Twin Towers - the world's second-tallest office buildings - was one of the several mega-projects that Dr Mahathir instituted during his time in office. He is now adviser to Petronas, the national oil company, and has been given a high-tech office in the building.
Dr Mahathir said he encountered corruption in UMNO when he first contested party election for the vice-president's post in 1975.
"There were people who came to me ... and told me if I gave them money, they were prepared to give me a bloc vote," he said. "I said it was all right. If I don't win, I don't win. That's why I very nearly lost as vice president. I was number three, very far down."
Dr Mahathir dodged questions about whether his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, could do anything to end money politics.
Mr Abdullah could fix the problem only if "people are prepared to name names", he said.
Since retiring, Dr Mahathir said, he had kept himself aloof from politics, not interfering in Mr Abdullah's work.
Asked if Mr Abdullah ever sought his advice, Dr Mahathir said: "No, never, never. I have not been asked for any advice nor have I given any, except for one case." That was when Dr Mahathir wrote to Mr Abdullah asking him not to remove an official, he said without elaborating.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"