Mahathir Mohamad, known affectionately as Dr M, has led his coalition of opposition parties to victory in Malaysia’s election.
He was officially sworn in at Istana Negara on Thursday (10 May) after a stunning win in a hard-fought election, winning 113 seats to Barisan Nasional’s 79. But what’s the significance of Dr M becoming Prime Minister of Malaysia again?
Let’s take a look at a few facts about him that may shed a little light on his historic victory.
1. He’s the world’s oldest elected leader
At 92 years old (turning 93 on 10 June 2018), the nonagenarian politician has an impressive 39-year career has literally defined chapters in Malaysia’s political history.
Dr Mahathir is now the world’s oldest elected leader, after his opposition coalition toppled ruling party Barisan Nasional (BN) for the first time in 61 years.
2. Son of the first Indian-Malay headmaster in an English school
His father was the first Indian-Malay headmaster of an English school in Penang, while his mother was descended from a long line of Kedah royal courtiers.
3. Met his wife at medical school in Singapore
Love blossomed between Mahathir and his fellow classmate, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, when they attended medical school in Singapore.
Then known as ‘King Edward VII College of Medicine’, the college is now part of the National University of Singapore (NUS).
4. Wrote for The Straits Times in college
Writing under the pen name “C.H.E. Det”, Mahathir used to contribute essays to The Straits Times, even when he was a college student.
The articles appeared towards end-1948, in his third year of college, and were about:
- His observations of Malay customs
- Opinions on Malay issues
- Political views on nationality and royalty
5. 39-year political career begins afresh
He first assumed office in 1964, as a member of Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of parliament in Malaysia.
And quickly rose the ranks, taking on multiple positions in government.
- Minister of Education (5 Sep 1974 – 31 Dec 1977)
- Deputy Prime Minister (5 Mar 1976 – 16 July 1981)
- Minister of Trade and Industry (1 Jan 1978 – 16 July 1981)
- Minister of Defence (18 July 1981 – 6 May 1986)
- Minister of Home Affairs (8 May 1986 – 8 Jan 1999)
- Minister of Finance (5 Jun 2001 – 31 Oct 2003)
- 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia (16 July 1981 – 31 Oct 2003)
Although he officially left politics, he rejoined the opposition to run against his former protegé Najib Razak, after 1MDB-related corruption allegations.
6. 5th and 7th PM of Malaysia
Previously the 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir has just been sworn in as the 7th.
This comes after leading an alliance of opposition parties – Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) – to a resounding majority sweep of 113/222 seats in parliament against former protege and successor Najib Razak.
7. Participated in a ‘controversial’ election
Dr M’s coalition has highlighted multiple electoral controversies during the lead up to 2018’s election.
These mostly involved,
- A law redrawing election boundaries
- Gerrymandering accusations
- Controversy over a ‘fake news law‘
- Election Commission accused of ‘electoral crimes‘
However, in the wake of the electoral results, PM Najib has conceded he will adhere to the “will of the people” and that the “decision of the King” about the new Prime Minister will be respected.
8. Has ousted Anwar before
One of the rallying calls of Dr M’s 2018 election campaign was to seek a royal pardon for Anwar Ibrahim. The ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia was infamously sacked and accused of corruption in 1998.
Anwar was subsequently jailed on sodomy charges, despite being the designated successor for Mahathir, back in the day.
9. Plans to pardon Anwar & make him PM
Dr Mahathir has promised to secure a royal pardon for his ex-Deputy, clearing the way for him to claim his place as PM after an election. He quipped that he’ll only be PM for “two years” at most, as he may not be able to “stay for very long”.
There’s also been murmurings about appointing Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah, as the first female DPM of Malaysia, in the interim. Now that Mahathir is PM again, this will probably clear a path for an investigation into Mr. Najib’s alleged 1MDB misappropriation case.
10. Was PM Najib’s mentor
As head of the BN, Mahathir mentored current PM Najib, who succeeded him in 2008, however, due to constant allegations of corruption, and the eruption of the 1MDB scandal, the relationship soon soured.
In 2016, Mahathir promised a reckoning for PM Najib, and dramatically announced his leave from BN to join the opposition coalition. He claimed he was “embarrassed” at his ex-party, whom he deemed to have supported “corruption”.
In Jan 2018, he decided to run for the position.
Against his former party.
11. Famously bantered with LKY on many occasions
Dr Mahathir is famous for bantering with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on many political occasions.
12. Wrote a touching tribute upon LKY’s death
However, Dr M wrote a touching tribute to LKY upon his passing, entitled ‘Kuan Yew and I‘.
In his official capacity as Malaysia’s PM, he described his first call to Mr Lee,
“When I became PM in 1981, I paid a courtesy call on Kuan Yew. It was a friendly call and he immediately agreed to my proposal…I’m afraid on most other issues we could not agree.”
He also called Mr Lee’s passing,
“The end of the period when those who fought for independence lead their countries and knew [its] value.”
Finally, Dr M duly noted that ASEAN had “lost a strong leadership”, and expressed sadness at Mr Lee’s passing.
13. Last of the old guard
Dr Mahathir, President Suharto from Indonesia, and Mr Lee Kuan Yew made up the ‘old guard’ in our region.
He remains the last of the trio of generation-defining politicians surviving today.
A historic win for a political veteran
Love him or hate him, we can’t deny that Dr Mahathir’s indomitable spirit for his country is very admirable. No one could have guessed that he’d run – and win – an election despite being 92 years old.
Besides proving that age is but a number, Dr M’s historic election win will surely be a rousing story told for generations to come. We wish the incoming government of Malaysia, and Dr Mahathir, all the best in their new term.