On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A happy ending needs no tears

Hishammuddin, as an afterthought, then asked whether the
delegates would interrupt proceedings if Dr Mahathir cried, for this would be
his last general assembly as party president.

A more confident Idris assured Hishammuddin that the Umno members would control
their emotions better this time because they were prepared for Dr Mahathir's

An hour later, supreme council member Datuk Syed Hamid Albar walked in and told
pressmen that ''Dr Mahathir will cry.'' The Foreign Minister said this had been
an emotional meeting for everyone because ''it is a prelude to a long

But their fears were proven wrong. Dr Mahathir began his speech at 5.55pm with
a stinging attack against PAS, the archrival of Umno.

He went on to blast the West, in classic Mahathir style, and wrapped up his
speech with another advice to the Malays before calling the spirit of unity in
Umno to be maintained.

Not a teardrop was shed throughout the almost hour-long speech.

After all, the shock had come a year earlier when Dr Mahathir dropped a
bombshell at the end of his winding-up speech by announcing he was

There were tears of shock and disbelief then, as Umno leaders including
Hishammuddin rushed to the rostrum, putting a stop to proceedings. Dr Mahathir
never got to finish his speech.

On Thursday, when Dr Mahathir came to the end of his presidential speech, where
he thanked Umno members for their support and apologised for his shortcomings,
he was overcome with emotion.

For a while, it appeared as if tears would roll down but he controlled himself.
He took a few sips of water in an obvious effort to calm down.

But many could not control themselves. They wept openly even as Dr Mahathir
tried not to show his sadness, a point he was to make at a press conference
later, emphasising to reporters he certainly did not cry.

For the many mak cik and pak cik who sat at the lobby to watch the proceedings
via a huge screen, tears flowed freely.

These simple folk, including some who said they had never used an escalator,
had come all the way from their villages to bid farewell to their hero.

Without the status of a delegate or observer, they had no passes to enter Dewan
Merdeka, where the assembly was held, and certainly they would not benefit from
their display of emotions. No contracts or datukship will come their way. They
were there because they believe Dr Mahathir had done wonders for Umno and

Many of these village folk, in their 60s, had lived through the previous three
prime ministers and could easily relate how Dr Mahathir had done what his three
predecessors could not do during their tenure.

They speak in great admiration of Dr Mahathir and how he had brought so much
change to Malaysia in his 22 years as Prime Minister.

And these people came to the PWTC by the thousands, wanting to cry at the last
general assembly where Dr Mahathir will talk to them as Umno president.

Even as Dr Mahathir walked into the hall in the morning, tears had started to
flow among the delegates. The emotional atmosphere remained even when delegates
took part in the debates. Many of them stopped speaking briefly each time Dr
Mahathir's name was mentioned.

Most of those present at the PWTC over the weekend accepted that Dr Mahathir
would stick by his decision to quit, mindful of the fact that he had served
notice a year ago to the three million members and the people of

But we can be sure that we will continue to see and hear of Dr Mahathir even
after he steps down in October.

''God willing, I will be here next year as a delegate and sitting down below
with the others,'' he said.

It has been a nostalgic weekend for Umno members and for other Malaysians. More
than that, it has a happy ending.

As Dr Mahathir said, the party leadership will be passed onto the good hands of
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

From all of us, we can only say thank you very much Dr Mahathir for your
inspiration, understanding and leadership – and a very good 22 years.