Two highly placed men met in Bangkok yesterday to recall their close friendship. The visitor was Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 93, and the host Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, 99.
Mahathir was in Thailand for two days, from Wednesday, at the invitation of his counterpart Prime Minister Prayut Chanocha. The fact that he stopped off at Prem’s residence yesterday came as a surprise to many, because his schedule was busy with bilateral meetings and negotiations.
Yet the Malaysian leader found time to meet the veteran statesman before heading to Chulalongkorn University to deliver a speech. Mahathir’s first stint as Malaysian prime minister from 1981 to 2003 coincided with Prem’s eight-year term as PM from 1980. Neighbours Malaysia and Thailand enjoy a close relationship, and the two leaders’ paths crossed often at Asean, Asian and world events.
Mahathir took the top job again in May after leading his Pakatan Harapan Party to a decisive victory, making him the world’s oldest sitting head of government.
Yesterday Prem welcomed his old friend warmly in the front yard of his Si Sao Thevet residence, before escorting him inside. Both appeared to be in good health despite their advanced age.
Though the reunion was happy, security was tight with the visible presence of police and soldiers. The two veteran leaders spent about 15 minutes recounting their friendship and exchanging souvenirs, before Prem saw Mahathir off at his car.
General Pissanu Puttawongse, who oversees the General Prem Tinsulanonda Statesman Foundation, told reporters that the two discussed many issues, including their health. Prem also congratulated Mahathir on his victory.
“General Prem said he was happy that Mahathir visited him and that he had become premier again. Prem had sent a personal note congratulating Mahathir through the Foreign Ministry when the Malaysian leader had been newly appointed,” he said.
He added that they also became close because Mahathir had called on Thailand to help solve problems with the Communist Party of Malaya, while Prem sought support from Malaysia to deal with violence in the deep South, among other things.
“They have not met for about 30 years,” Pissanu noted.