Mahathir Mohamad: the man who ruled Malaysian politics

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Mahathir served as the country’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Mahathir Mohamad, 97, is a name that has dominated Malaysian politics for decades.

Mahathir served as the country’s prime minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003.

He is widely credited with contributing to Malaysia’s rapid economic development and transformation since the 1980s.

In 2018, he came out of retirement to try to overthrow former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds.

With support from his former rival Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir was re-elected prime minister, while Najib was charged with money laundering and abuse of power and ultimately jailed.

However, the alliance proved unable to withstand the weight of internal conflict, and Mahathir was ousted in February 2020 amid twists and turns that led to the collapse of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition.

However, the two-time prime minister remains an influential figure in the country, although his achievements are controversial.

humble beginnings

Mahathir joined the United Malays National Organization party at the age of 21 and ran a medical business in his home state of Kedah for seven years before becoming a member of parliament in 1964.

In 1969, he lost his seat and was expelled from the party after writing an open letter attacking then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

He later wrote a controversial book titled The Malay Dilemma. In it, he claimed that Malays in the country were being marginalized, while criticizing their indifferent acceptance of second-class status.

This struck a chord with the young UMNO leader, and he was invited back to the party, re-elected to parliament in 1974, and appointed Minister of Education. Within four years he became deputy leader of his UMNO, and in 1981 he became prime minister.

Under his rule, Malaysia transformed into one of the Asian economic tigers of the 1990s. Prestige projects such as the Petronas Twin Towers demonstrated the breadth of his ambitions.

His authoritarian but pragmatic policies won popular support at home, but this was undermined by his disregard for human rights.

black eye on democracy

Opposition politicians were jailed without trial under the much-criticized internal security law.

Most notoriously, in 1998, Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who campaigned for economic and political reform, was accused of corruption and sodomy and was removed from office, then imprisoned on the latter charges.

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Opposition party Pakatan Harapan’s logo is an eye – a reference to the black eye Anwar Ibrahim received while in detention

Mahathir’s frequent harsh comments against the West have also enhanced his reputation abroad. For example, days before he resigned in October 2003, he angered several foreign governments and Jewish organizations by claiming that Jewish cabals “rule the world.”

He said he resigned because he was “disappointed… because too little has been accomplished in the primary mission of making my race a successful and respected race.”

bitter medicine

Even after his retirement, he never left the political scene.

He has publicly criticized his successor, Abdullah Badawi, and left the party after the ruling coalition’s lackluster election results in 2008, which many saw as a way to pressure Abdullah to step down.

This paved the way for Najib to rise to power.

However, Mahathir’s initial support for Najib changed when corruption allegations against him over a heavily indebted national investment fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) surfaced.

He has garnered enough loyalty from supporters within UMNO to bring cases against him from within the party and government.

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Mahathir was one of the world’s oldest national leaders

On May 9, he won a historic victory, ousting his former allies who had been in power for more than 60 years.

He formed the Pakatan Harapan coalition with Mr. Anwar and several other parties and ruled the country for two years before collapsing.

Mahathir resigned in late February 2020, ending his alliance with Anwar and throwing domestic politics into turmoil.

After his resignation, he and Anwar actually reunited and announced that they had received majority support.

But the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who had the final say on who should form the government, chose Mr. Muhyiddin.

Muhyiddin, a former interior minister, once caused controversy when he described himself as “first and foremost Malay” and secondarily Malaysian.

He also did not stay in power for long, resigning in August last year after just 17 months in power, and losing his parliamentary majority to be replaced by current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

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