Mahathir Mohamad, what a life…

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to navigationJump to searchIn this Malay name, there is no family name. The name Mohamad is a patronymic, and the person should be referred to by the given nameMahathir. The Arabic-derived word “bin” or “binti”/”binte”, if used, means ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’, respectively.

محضير محمد‎
4th and 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia
In office
10 May 2018 – 24 February 2020
Interim: 24 February 2020 – 1 March 2020
MonarchMuhammad VAbdullah
DeputyWan Azizah Wan Ismail
Preceded byNajib Razak
Succeeded byMuhyiddin Yassin
In office
16 July 1981 – 30 October 2003
MonarchAhmad ShahIskandarAzlan ShahJa’afarSalahuddinSirajuddin
DeputyMusa HitamGhafar BabaAnwar IbrahimAbdullah Ahmad Badawi
Preceded byHussein Onn
Succeeded byAbdullah Ahmad Badawi
1st Chairman of the
Homeland Fighters’ Party
Assumed office
12 August 2020
PresidentMukhriz Mahathir
Preceded byPosition established
1st Chairman of the
Malaysian United Indigenous Party
In office
7 September 2016 – 24 February 2020
PresidentMuhyiddin Yassin
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byMuhyiddin Yassin (acting)
5th President of the United Malays National Organisation
In office
28 June 1981 – 31 October 2003
DeputyMusa HitamGhafar BabaAnwar IbrahimAbdullah Ahmad Badawi
Preceded byHussein Onn
Succeeded byAbdullah Ahmad Badawi
Ministerial roles
1974–1978Minister of Education
1976–1981Deputy Prime Minister
1978–1981Minister of Trade and Industry
1981–1986Minister of Defence
1986–1999Minister of Home Affairs
1998–1999Minister of Finance
2001–2003Minister of Finance
2020Acting Minister of Education
Other roles
2003Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement
Personal details
BornMahathir Bin Mohamad [1]
10 July 1925 (age 96)
Alor SetarKedahUnfederated Malay StatesBritish Malaya (now Malaysia)
Political partyUMNO
(1946–1969, 1972–2008, 2009–2016)PPBM
(since 2020)
Other political
Barisan Nasional
(1946–1969, 1972–2008, 2009–2016)Pakatan Harapan
Spouse(s)Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali​​(m. 1956)​
Children7 (including MarinaMokhzani and Mukhriz)
RelativesIsmail Mohd Ali (brother-in-law)
ResidenceNo. 58, Mines Resort CitySeri KembanganSelangorMalaysia
EducationSultan Abdul Hamid College
Alma materNational University of Singapore (MBBS)
AwardsList of honors and awards
WebsiteOfficial website
Mahathir Mohamad on Parliament of Malaysia
Mahathir Mohamad
Faction represented in Dewan Rakyat
1964–1969Alliance Party
1974–2004Barisan Nasional
2018–2020Pakatan Harapan
2020Malaysian United Indigenous Party
2021–Homeland Fighters’ Party
Faction represented in Dewan Negara
1973–1974Alliance Party
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Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister of Malaysia
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Timeline of Mahathir Mohamad‘s life and career
4th and 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia10 July 1925: Born in Alor Setar, the capital of KedahBritish Malaya1930–1933: Begins his education at Seberang Perak Malay Boys SchoolDecember 1946: Completes Senior Cambridge exams and graduates from Sultan Abdul Hamid College1947–1953: Studies at King Edward VII College of Medicine (which is now part of the National University of Singapore). There, he meets another medical student, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, whom he will later marry.1954: Begins work as a trainee medical doctor in Penang General Hospital1956: Marries Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali1957: Begins his own practice in Alor Setar. Birth of Marina, eldest child of Mahathir and Siti Hasmah. Six more children follow: Mirzan, Melinda, MokhzaniMukhriz, Mazhar, and Maizura.1946–1964: Gains prominence in United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)1964: Elected to Parliament as representative for Kota Setar Selatan, Alor Setar1969–1973: Lost his Parliamentary seats and leaves UMNO’s Supreme Council in the 1969 election. During this time, he writes The Malay Dilemma. Prime Minister Abdul Rahman resigns in 1970 and his successor, Abdul Razak Hussein, persuades Mahathir to rejoin UMNO and Parliament.1973: Appointed as Senator for Kedah. Re-enters UMNO’s Supreme Council1974: Joins Razak’s Cabinet as Minister of EducationElected as representative for Kubang Pasu, Kedah1975: Elected to one of three UMNO vice-presidencies, along with Ghafar Baba and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah1976: Razak dies and is succeeded by the Deputy Prime Minister of MalaysiaHussein Onn. Hussein appoints Mahathir as his deputy.1981: Hussein retires; Mahathir takes office as Prime Minister on 16 July that year and appoints Musa Hitam as Deputy Prime Minister.1982: Gains power over UMNO and the government with the 1982 election1983: Mahathir has legislation passed to limit the power of Malaysia’s head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong: Parliament is enabled to override vetoes by the Agong. Mahathir also begins to seek the privatisation of government enterprises, and has the car company Proton established. He also establishes the International Islamic University of Malaysia to attract religious voters.1986: 1986 Malaysian general election1987: Mahathir runs for the presidency of UMNO with Ghafar Baba as his deputy, against the Cabinet member Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and his choice for deputy, former Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam. The high court declares UMNO to be illegal; Mahathir reregisters the party as UMNO Baru, while Razaleigh registers the new party Parti Melayu Semangat 46.1989: Suffers a heart attack1990: Barisan Nasional has a victory in the 1990 election.1991: Introduces the economic policy Wawasan 2020, seeking to make Malaysia a developed country, and the National Development Policy (NDP), which tried to cut economic inequality among Malaysians1998: Mahathir dismisses Anwar Ibrahim, his Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, from the Cabinet on 2 September. Anwar is arrested on 20 September and stands on trial for allegations of corruption and sodomy.2003: Retires as Prime Minister. He is succeeded by Abdullah Badawi.2008: Leaves UMNO after the 2008 Malaysian general election2009: Rejoins UMNO after Abdullah is succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak2016: Founds the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) in opposition to Najib, who is accused of corruption. PPBM is registered on 9 September with Mahathir as chairman.2017: Joins the Pakatan Harapan (PH), the opposition to Barisan Nasional (BN). Becomes its chairman on 14 July.2018: Pakatan Harapan gains victory in the 2018 general election and Mahathir is sworn in as Prime Minister on 10 May. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of Anwar Ibrahim, becomes Deputy Prime Minister.2020: Mahathir resigns as Prime Minister amid a political crisis. Mahathir’s membership from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia terminated, prompting him to form the Homeland Fighters’ Party.

Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (Jawi: محضير بن محمد‎; IPA: [mahaðɪ(r) mohamad]; born Mahathir bin Mohamad[1]; 10 July 1925) is a Malaysian politician, statesman, author, and doctor who served as the fourth and seventh prime minister of Malaysia. He held office from July 1981 to October 2003 and later from May 2018 to March 2020 for a cumulative total of 24 years, making him the country’s longest-serving prime minister. Before his promotion to the premiership, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and in other Cabinet positions. He has served as a member of parliament for Langkawi since May 2018, Kubang Pasu from August 1974 to March 2004, and Kota Setar Selatan from April 1964 to May 1969. His political career has spanned more than 75 years since he first joined a newly formed United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in 1946 opposing Malayan Union to forming his own political parties; the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU) in September 2016 and the Homeland Fighters’ Party (PEJUANG) in August 2020 till date.

Born and raised in Alor SetarKedah, Mahathir excelled at school and became a physician. He became active in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) before entering the Parliament of Malaysia in 1964. He served one term before losing his seat, subsequently falling out with Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and being expelled from UMNO. He wrote The Malay Dilemma during this period, which formed the basis of future ethnic Malay affirmative action policies in the country. When Abdul Rahman resigned, Mahathir re-entered UMNO and parliament, and was promoted to the Cabinet, where he served as Minister of Education from 1974 to 1978 and Minister of Trade and Industry from 1978 to 1981. He became Deputy Prime Minister in 1976. In 1981, he was sworn in as prime minister following the resignation of Hussein Onn.

During Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister, Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernization and economic growth, and his government initiated widespread industry privatisation and a series of bold infrastructure projects. Mahathir was a dominant political figure, winning five consecutive general elections and fending off a series of rivals for UMNO’s leadership. However, his power accumulation came at the expense of judicial independence and the Malaysian royalty’s traditional powers and privileges. He continued pro-bumiputera affirmative action policies, but in the 1990s introduced the Bangsa Malaysia policy that saw some political liberalisation. He used the controversial Internal Security Act to detain activists, non-mainstream religious figures, and political opponents in Operation Lalang (1987) and later his Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahimwhom he fired in 1998. Mahathir’s record of curbing civil liberties and his antagonism towards Western interests and economic policy made his relationships with Western nations difficult. As prime minister, he was an advocate of third-world development and a prominent international activist.

After leaving office in 2003, Mahathir became a strident critic of his hand-picked successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and later Najib Razak. In 2016, Mahathir quit UMNO in light of its support for Najib’s actions despite the 1Malaysia Development Berhad corruption scandal. Later that year, the Malaysian United Indigenous Party was officially registered as a political party, with Mahathir as chairman. He was announced as the Pakatan Harapan coalition candidate for prime minister in the 2018 general election, with a plan to pardon Anwar Ibrahim and hand over the premiership to him after an unspecified interim period if the campaign succeeded. Following a decisive victory for Pakatan Harapan in the election, Mahathir was sworn in as prime minister. He was the first prime minister not to represent the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition (or its predecessor, the Alliance Party), and the first prime minister to serve non-consecutive terms, or as a member of two different parties.

In 2020, Mahathir’s refusal to begin the process of handing over the role of Prime Minister to Anwar contributed to a political crisis, leading to the ousting of the Pakatan Harapan government and prompting Mahathir to resign.[2] At the time of his resignation, he was the world’s oldest serving state leader.


Early life and family[edit]

Mahathir was born at his parents’ home in a poor neighbourhood at Lorong Kilang Ais, Alor Setar, the capital of the Malay sultanate of Kedah, which was then a British protectorate, on 10 July 1925.[3][note 1] His mother, Wan Tempawan Wan Hanapi, was a Malay of Kedah. His father, Mohamad Iskandar, was a Penang Malay of Malay and Indian descent. Mahathir’s paternal grandfather had come from Kerala, British India (present-day, India) and married a Malay woman.[4] But another aspect of Mahathir’s birth set him apart from the other five: he was not born into the aristocracy or a prominent religious or political family.[5][note 2] Mohamad was the principal of an English-medium secondary school, whose lower-middle-class status meant his daughters were unable to enroll in a secondary school; while Wan Tempawan had only distant relations to members of Kedah’s royalty. Both had been married previously; Mahathir was born with six half-siblings and two full-siblings.[6] Currently, his house was converted as Mahathir Mohamad birth house complex and opened to the public.[8]

Mahathir was a hard-working school student. Discipline imposed by his father motivated him to study, and he showed little interest in sports. He won a position in a selective English medium secondary school, having become fluent in English well ahead of his primary school peers.[9] With schools closed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II, he started a small business, first selling coffee and later pisang goreng (banana fritters) and other snacks.[3] After the war, he graduated from secondary school with high marks and enrolled to study medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore.[10] In college he met his future wife, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, a fellow medical student. After graduating with an MBBS medical degree, Mahathir worked as a physician in government service before marrying Siti Hasmah in 1956, returning to Alor Setar the following year to set up his own practice. He was the town’s first Malay physician and a successful one. He built a large house, invested in various businesses, and employed a Chinese man to chauffeur him in his Pontiac Catalina (most chauffeurs at the time were Malay).[11][12] He and Siti Hasmah had their first child, Marina, in 1957, before conceiving three others and adopting three more over the following 28 years.[13][14]

Early political career (1959–1970)[edit]

Mahathir had been politically active since the end of Malaya’s Japanese occupation when he joined protests against citizenship granting to non-Malays under the short-lived Malayan Union.[15] He later argued for affirmative action for Malays at medical college. While at college, he contributed to The Straits Times under the pseudonym “C.H.E. Det” and a student journal, in which he fiercely promoted Malay rights, such as restoring Malay as an official language.[16] While practising as a physician in Alor Setar, Mahathir became active in UMNO; by the time of the first general election for the independent state of Malaya in 1959, he was the chairman of the party in Kedah.[17] Despite his prominence in UMNO, Mahathir was not a candidate in the 1959 election, ruling himself out following a disagreement with then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. The relationship between the two Kedahans had been strained since Mahathir had criticised Abdul Rahman’s agreement to retain British and Commonwealth forces in Malaya after independence. Now Abdul Rahman opposed Mahathir’s plans to introduce minimum educational qualifications for UMNO candidates. For Mahathir, this was a significant enough slight to delay his entry into national politics in protest. The delay did not last for long. In the following general election in 1964, he was elected as the federal parliamentarian for the Alor Setar-based seat of Kota Setar Selatan.[18]

Elected to parliament in a volatile political period, Mahathir, as a government backbencher, launched himself into the main conflict of the day: Singapore’s future, with its large and economically powerful ethnic Chinese population, as a state of Malaysia. He vociferously attacked Singapore’s dominant People’s Action Party for being “pro-Chinese” and “anti-Malay” and called its leader, Lee Kuan Yew, “arrogant”. Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in Mahathir’s first full year in parliament.[18][19] However, despite Mahathir’s prominence as a backbencher, he lost his seat in the 1969 election, defeated by Yusof Rawa of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).[20] Mahathir attributed the loss of his seat to ethnic Chinese voters switching support from UMNO to PAS (being a Malay-dominated seat, only the two major Malay parties fielded candidates, leaving Chinese voters to choose between the Malay-centric UMNO and the Islamist PAS).[21]

Large government losses in the election were followed by the race riots of 13 May 1969. Hundreds of people were killed in clashes between Malays and Chinese. The previous year, Mahathir had predicted the outbreak of racial hostility. Now, outside parliament, he openly criticised the government, sending a letter to Abdul Rahman. The prime minister was criticised for failing to uphold Malay interests. The letter, which soon became public, called for Abdul Rahman’s resignation.[22] By the end of the year, Mahathir had been fired from UMNO’s Supreme Council and expelled from the party; Abdul Rahman had to be persuaded not to have him arrested.[20][21]

While in the political wilderness, Mahathir wrote his first book, The Malay Dilemma. He set out his vision for the Malay community. The book argued that a balance had to be achieved between enough government support for Malays so that their economic interests would not be dominated by the Chinese and exposing Malays to sufficient competition to ensure that over time, Malays would lose what Mahathir saw as the characteristics of avoiding hard work and failing to “appreciate the real value of money and property”.[23] The book continued Mahathir’s criticism of Abdul Rahman’s government, and it was promptly banned. The ban was only lifted after Mahathir became prime minister in 1981; he thus served as a minister and deputy prime minister while being the author of a banned book.[20][24] Academics R. S. Milne and Diane K. Mauzy argue that Mahathir’s relentless attacks were the principal cause of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s downfall and subsequent resignation as prime minister in 1970.[25]

Rise to prominence (1970–1981)[edit]

Tunku Abdul Rahman resigned in 1970 and was replaced by Abdul Razak Hussein. Razak encouraged Mahathir back into the party and appointed him as a Senator in 1973.[26] He rose quickly in the Razak government, returning to UMNO’s Supreme Council in 1973, and being appointed to Cabinet in 1974 as the Minister for Education. He also returned to the House of Representatives, winning the Kedah-based seat of Kubang Pasu unopposed in the 1974 election.[20] One of his first acts as Minister for Education was to introduce greater government control over Malaysia’s universities, despite strong opposition from the academic community.[27] He also moved to limit politics on university campuses, giving his ministry the power to discipline students and academics who were politically active and making scholarships for students conditional on the avoidance of politics.[28]

In 1975, Mahathir ran for one of the three vice-presidencies of UMNO. The contest was considered a battle for the party’s leadership succession, with Razak and his deputy, Hussein Onn, declining in health. Each of Razak’s preferred candidates was elected: former Chief Minister of Melaka, Ghafar Baba; Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a wealthy businessman and member of Kelantan‘s royal family; and Mahathir. When Razak died the following year, Hussein, as his successor, was forced to choose between the three men to be deputy prime minister; he also considered the ambitious minister Ghazali Shafie. Mahathir’s rivals had significant political liabilities: Ghazali, having been defeated by the others for a vice-presidency, lacked the support of UMNO members; Ghafar had no higher education and was not fluent in English; and Razaleigh was young, inexperienced and, critically, unmarried. However, Hussein’s decision was not easy. Hussein and Mahathir were not close allies, and Hussein knew Mahathir’s choice would displease Abdul Rahman, still alive and revered as the father of Malaysia’s independence. After six weeks of indecision, Mahathir was, much to his surprise, appointed as Hussein’s deputy. The appointment meant that Mahathir was the anointed successor to the prime ministership.[29][30]

However, Mahathir was not an influential deputy prime minister. Hussein was a cautious leader who rejected many of Mahathir’s bold policy proposals. While Hussein and Mahathir’s relationship was distant, Ghazali and Razaleigh became Hussein’s closest advisers, often bypassing the more senior Mahathir when accessing Hussein. Nonetheless, when Hussein relinquished power due to ill health in 1981, Mahathir succeeded him unopposed and with his blessing.[31]

First term as prime minister (1981–2003)[edit]

Domestic affairs[edit]

Mahathir was sworn in as prime minister on 16 July 1981, at the age of 56.[32] One of his first acts was to release 21 detainees held under the Internal Security Act, including journalist Samad Ismail and a former deputy minister in Hussein’s government, Abdullah Ahmad, who had been suspected of being an underground communist.[33] He appointed his close ally, Musa Hitam, as deputy prime minister.[34]

Early years (1981–1987)[edit]

Mahathir exercised caution in his first two years in power, consolidating UMNO’s leadership and, with victory in the 1982 general election, the government.[35][36] In 1983, Mahathir commenced the first of a number of battles he would have with Malaysia’s royalty during his premiership. The position of Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Malaysian head of state, was due to rotate into either the elderly Idris Shah II of Perak or the controversial Iskandar of Johor, who had only a few years earlier been convicted of manslaughter. Thus Mahathir had grave reservations about the two Sultans, who were both activist rulers of their own states.[37][38] Mahathir tried to pre-emptively limit the power that the new Agong could wield over his government, introducing to parliament amendments to the Constitution to deem the Agong to assent to any bill that had not been assented within 15 days of passage by Parliament. The proposal would also remove the power to declare a state of emergency from the Agong and place it with the prime minister. The Agong at the time, Ahmad Shah of Pahang, agreed with the proposals in principle but baulked when he realised that the proposal would also deem Sultans to assent to laws passed by state assemblies. Supported by the Sultans, the Agong refused to assent to the constitutional amendments, which had by then passed both houses of Parliament with comfortable majorities.[39][40] When the public became aware of the impasse, and the Sultans refused to compromise with the government, Mahathir took to the streets to demonstrate public support for his position in mass rallies. The press took the side of the government. However, a large minority of Malays, including conservative UMNO politicians, and an even larger proportion of the Chinese community supported the Sultans. After five months, the crisis resolved, as Mahathir and the Sultans agreed to a compromise. The Agong would retain the power to declare a state of emergency. However, if he refused to assent to a bill, the bill would be returned to Parliament, which could then override Agong’s veto.[41]A 2012 prototype of the Proton Prevé Sapphire. Mahathir believed that an automotive industry could help turn Malaysia into becoming an industrial nation. His government used tariffs to support the development of the Proton as a Malaysian-made car and limited capital outflow of the ringgit to foreign countries.

On the economic front, Mahathir inherited the New Economic Policy from his predecessors, which was designed to improve the economic position of the bumiputera (Malaysia’s Malays and indigenous peoples) through targets and affirmative action in areas such as corporate ownership and university admission.[42] Mahathir also actively pursued privatisation of government enterprises from the early 1980s, both for the liberal economic reasons it was being pursued by contemporaries such as Margaret Thatcher, and because he felt that combined with affirmative action for the Bumiputera it could provide economic opportunities for Bumiputera businesses.[43] His government privatised airlines, utilities and telecommunication firms, accelerating to a rate of about 50 privatisations a year by the mid-1990s.[44] While privatisation generally improved the working conditions of Malaysians in privatised industries and raised significant revenue for the government, many privatisations occurred in the absence of open tendering processes and benefited Malays who supported UMNO. One of the most notable infrastructure projects at the time was the construction of the North–South Expressway, a motorway running from the Thai border to Singapore; the contract to construct the expressway was awarded to a business venture of UMNO.[45] Mahathir also oversaw the establishment of the car manufacturer Proton as a joint venture between the Malaysian government and Mitsubishi. By the end of the 1980s, Proton had overcome poor demand and losses to become, with the support of protective tariffs, the largest carmaker in Southeast Asia and a profitable enterprise.[46]

In Mahathir’s early years as prime minister, Malaysia was experiencing a resurgence of Islam among Malays. Malays were becoming more religious and more conservative. PAS, which had in the 1970s joined UMNO in government, responded to the resurgence by taking an increasingly strident Islamist stand under the leadership of the man who in 1969 had defeated Mahathir for his parliamentary seat Yusof Rawa. Mahathir tried to appeal to religious voters by establishing Islamic institutions such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia which could promote Islamic education under the government’s oversight. He also attracted Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), to join UMNO. In some cases, Mahathir’s government employed repression against more extreme exponents of Islamism. Ibrahim Libya, a popular Islamist leader, was killed in a police shoot-out in 1985; Al-Arqam, a religious sect, was banned, and its leader, Ashaari Mohammad, arrested under the Internal Security Act.[47] Mahathir comprehensively defeated PAS at the polls in 1986, winning 83 seats of the 84 seats it contested, leaving PAS with just one MP.[48]

Exerting power (1987–1990)[edit]

Any illusion that the 1986 election may have created about Mahathir’s political dominance was short-lived. In 1987, he was challenged for UMNO’s presidency, and effectively the prime ministership, by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Razaleigh’s career had gone backwards under Mahathir, being demoted from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Razaleigh was supported by Musa, who had resigned as deputy prime minister the previous year. While Musa and Mahathir were originally close allies, the two had fallen out during Mahathir’s premiership. Musa claimed that Mahathir no longer trusted him. Razaleigh and Musa ran for the UMNO presidency and deputy presidency on a joint ticket against Mahathir and his new choice for deputy Ghafar Baba. The tickets were known as Team B and Team A, respectively. Mahathir’s Team A enjoyed the press’s support, most party heavyweights, and even Iskandar, now the Agong. However, some significant figures, such as Abdullah Badawi supported Team B. In the election, held on 24 April 1987, Team A prevailed. Mahathir was re-elected by a narrow margin, receiving the votes of 761 party delegates to Razaleigh’s 718. Ghafar defeated Musa by a slightly larger margin. Mahathir responded by purging seven Team B supporters from his ministry. At the same time, Team B refused to accept defeat and initiated litigation. In an unexpected decision in February 1988, the High Courts ruled that UMNO was an illegal organisation as some of its branches had not been lawfully registered.[49][50]

Each faction raced to register a new party under the UMNO name. Mahathir’s side successfully registered the name “UMNO Baru” (“new UMNO”), while Team B’s application to register “UMNO Malaysia” was rejected. UMNO Malaysia, under Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s leadership and support of both of Malaysia’s surviving former prime ministers, Abdul Rahman and Hussein, registered the party Semangat 46 instead.[51] The Lord President of the Supreme CourtSalleh Abas, sent a letter of protest to the Agong. Mahathir then suspended Salleh for “gross misbehaviour and conduct”, ostensibly because the letter was a breach of protocol. A tribunal set up by Mahathir found Salleh guilty and recommended to the Agong that Salleh be dismissed. Five other judges of the court supported Salleh and were suspended by Mahathir. A newly constituted court dismissed Team B’s appeal, allowing Mahathir’s faction to continue to use the name UMNO. According to Milne and Mauzy, the episode destroyed the independence of Malaysia’s judiciary.[52]

At the same time as the political and judicial crises, Mahathir initiated a crackdown on opposition dissidents using the Internal Security Act. Mahathir later declared that it was only used to lock up people accused of riots, unlawful assembly, terrorism and those who have murdered police officers. The appointment of several administrators who did not speak Mandarin to Chinese schools provoked an outcry among Chinese Malaysians to the point where UMNO’s coalition partners the Malaysian Chinese Association and Gerakan joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in protesting the appointments. UMNO’s Youth wing held a provocative protest that triggered a shooting by a lone Malay gunman, and only Mahathir’s interference prevented UMNO from staging a larger protest. Instead, Mahathir ordered what Wain calls “the biggest crackdown on political dissent Malaysia had ever seen”. Under the police operation codenamed “Operation Lalang“, 119 people were arrested and detained without charge under the Internal Security Act. Mahathir argued that the detentions were necessary to prevent a repeat of the 1969 race riots. Most of the detainees were prominent opposition activists, including the DAP leader, Lim Kit Siang, and nine of his fellow MPs. Three newspapers sympathetic to the opposition were shut down.[53] Mahathir suffered a heart attack in early 1989,[54] but recovered to lead Barisan Nasional to victory in the 1990 election. Semangat 46 failed to make any headway outside Razaleigh’s home state of Kelantan.[55]

Economic development to financial crisis (1990–1998)[edit]

A view of Petronas Twin Towers and the surrounding central business district in Kuala Lumpur.

The expiry of the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1990 allowed Mahathir to outline his economic vision for Malaysia. In 1991, he announced Vision 2020, under which Malaysia would aim to become a fully developed country within 30 years.[56] The target would require average economic growth of approximately seven per cent of gross domestic product per annum.[57] One of Vision 2020’s features would be to gradually break down ethnic barriers. Vision 2020 was accompanied by the NEP’s replacement, the National Development Policy (NDP), under which some government programs designed to benefit the Bumiputera exclusively were opened up to other ethnicities.[58] The NDP achieved success out one of its main aims, poverty reduction. By 1995, less than nine per cent of Malaysians lived in poverty, and income inequality had narrowed.[59] Mahathir’s government cut corporate taxes and liberalised financial regulations to attract foreign investment. The economy grew by over nine per cent per annum until 1997, prompting other developing countries to emulate Mahathir’s policies.[60] Much of the credit for Malaysia’s economic development in the 1990s went to Anwar Ibrahim, appointed by Mahathir as finance minister in 1991.[61] The government rode the economic wave and won the 1995 election with an increased majority.[62]

Mahathir initiated a series of major infrastructure projects in the 1990s. One of the largest was the Multimedia Super Corridor, an area south of Kuala Lumpur, in the mould of Silicon Valley, designed to cater for the information technology industry. However, the project failed to generate the investment anticipated. Other Mahathir projects included the development of Putrajaya as the home of Malaysia’s public service and bringing a Formula One Grand Prix to Sepang. One of the most controversial developments was the Bakun Dam in Sarawak. The ambitious hydro-electric project was intended to carry electricity across the South China Sea to satisfy electricity demand in peninsular Malaysia. Work on the dam was eventually suspended due to the Asian financial crisis.[63]

In 1997, the Asian financial crisis, which began in Thailand in mid-1997, threatened to devastate Malaysia. The value of the ringgit plummeted due to currency speculation, foreign investment fled, and the main stock exchange index fell by over 75 per cent. At the urging of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government cut government spending. It raised interest rates, which only served to exacerbate the economic situation. In 1998, in a controversial approach, Mahathir reversed this policy course in defiance of the IMF and his own deputy, Anwar. He increased government spending and fixed the ringgit to the US dollar. The result confounded his international critics and the IMF. Malaysia recovered from the crisis faster than its Southeast Asian neighbours. In the domestic sphere, it was a political triumph. Amidst the economic events of 1998, Mahathir had dismissed Anwar as finance minister and deputy prime minister. He could now claim to have rescued the economy despite Anwar’s policies.[64]

In his second decade in office, Mahathir had again found himself battling Malaysia’s royalty. In 1992, Sultan Iskandar’s son, a representative field hockey player, was suspended from competition for five years for assaulting an opponent. Iskandar retaliated by pulling all Johor hockey teams out of national competitions. When a local coach criticised his decision, Iskandar ordered him to his palace and beat him. The federal parliament unanimously censured Iskandar, and Mahathir leapt at the opportunity to remove the constitutional immunity of the sultans from civil and criminal suits. The press backed Mahathir and, in an unprecedented development, started airing allegations of misconduct by members of Malaysia’s royal families. As the press revealed examples of the rulers’ extravagant wealth, Mahathir resolved to cut financial support to royal households. With the press and the government pitted against them, the sultans capitulated to the government’s proposals. Their powers to deny assent to bills were limited by further constitutional amendments passed in 1994. With the status and powers of the Malaysian royalty diminished, Wain writes that by the mid-1990s, Mahathir had become the country’s “uncrowned king”.[65]

The final years and succession (1998–2003)[edit]

Mahathir addressing the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2003

By the mid-1990s, it became clear that the most serious threat to Mahathir’s power was Anwar’s leadership ambition. Anwar began to distance himself from Mahathir, overtly promoting his superior religious credentials and appearing to suggest he favoured loosening the restrictions on civil liberties that had become a hallmark of Mahathir’s premiership.[66] However, Mahathir continued to back Anwar as his successor until their relationship collapsed dramatically during the Asian financial crisis. Their positions gradually diverged, with Mahathir abandoning the tight monetary and fiscal policies urged by the IMF. At the UMNO General Assembly in 1998, a leading Anwar supporter, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, criticised the government for not doing enough to combat corruption and cronyism. As Mahathir took the reins of Malaysia’s economic policy over the coming months, Anwar was increasingly sidelined. On 2 September, he was dismissed as deputy prime minister and finance minister and promptly expelled from UMNO. No immediate reasons were given for the dismissal. However, the media speculated that it related to lurid allegations of sexual misconduct circulated in a “poison pen letter” at the general assembly.[67] As more allegations surfaced, large public rallies were held in support of Anwar. On 20 September, he was arrested and placed in detention under the Internal Security Act.[68]

Anwar stood trial on four charges of corruption, arising from allegations that Anwar abused his power by ordering police to intimidate persons who had alleged Anwar had sodomised them. Before Anwar’s trial, Mahathir told the press that he was convinced of Anwar’s guilt. He was found guilty in April 1999 and sentenced to six years in prison. In another trial shortly after, Anwar was sentenced to another nine years in prison on a conviction for sodomy. The sodomy conviction was overturned on appeal after Mahathir left office.[69]

While Mahathir had vanquished his rival, it came at a cost to his international community and domestic politics. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended Anwar as a “highly respectable leader” who was “entitled to due process and a fair trial”.[70] In a speech in Kuala Lumpur, which Mahathir attended, US Vice-President Al Gore stated that “we continue to hear calls for democracy”, including “among the brave people of Malaysia”.[71] At the APEC summit in 1999, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien refused to meet Mahathir, while his foreign minister met with Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.[72] Wan Azizah had formed a liberal opposition party, the National Justice Party (Keadilan) to fight the 1999 election. UMNO lost 18 seats and two state governments as large numbers of Malay voters flocked to PAS and Keadilan, many in protest at the treatment of Anwar.[73]

In September 2001 debate was caused by Mahathir’s announcement that Malaysia was already an Islamic state.[74] At UMNO’s general assembly in 2002, he announced that he would resign as prime minister, only for supporters to rush to the stage and convince him tearfully to remain. He subsequently fixed his retirement for October 2003, giving him time to ensure an orderly and uncontroversial transition to his anointed successor, Abdullah Badawi.[75] In a speech made before the Organization of the Islamic Conference shortly before he left office, Mahathir claimed “the Jews rule the world by proxy: They get others to fight and die for them.”[76] His speech was denounced by President George W. Bush.[77] Having spent over 22 years in office, Mahathir was the world’s longest-serving elected leader when he retired.[78]

Foreign relations[edit]

Mahathir with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2003

During Mahathir’s term, Malaysia’s relationship with the West was generally fine despite being known as an outspoken critic.[79] Early during his tenure, a small disagreement with the United Kingdom over university tuition fees sparked a boycott of all British goods led by Mahathir, in what became known as the “Buy British Last” campaign. It also led to a search for development models in Asia, most notably Japan. This was the beginning of his famous “Look East Policy”.[80] Although the dispute was later resolved by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mahathir continued to emphasise Asian development models over contemporary Western ones. He particularly criticised the double standards of Western nations.[81]

United States[edit]

Main article: Malaysia–United States relations

Mahathir has been publicly critical of the Foreign Policy of the United States from time to time, particularly during the George W. Bush presidency.[82] Nevertheless, relations between the two countries were still positive. The United States was the biggest foreign investment source and was Malaysia’s biggest customer during Mahathir’s rule. Furthermore, Malaysian military officers continued to train in the US under the International Military Education And Training (IMET) program. The BBC reported that relations with the United States took a turn for the worse in 1998 when Al Gore, Vice President of the United States, gave a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference hosted by Malaysia.[83] Gore stated that:Mahathir greeting US Secretary of Defense William Cohen in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 during Pacific Dialogue Conference

Democracy confers a stamp of legitimacy that reforms must have in order to be effective. And so, among nations suffering economic crises, we continue to hear calls for democracy, calls for reform, in many languages – People Power, doi moi, reformasi. We hear them today – right here, right now – among the brave people of Malaysia.[84]

Gore and the United States were critical of the trial of Mahathir’s former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, going so far as to label it as a “show trial”. US News and World Report called the trial a “tawdry spectacle.”[85] Also, Anwar was the preeminent Malaysian spokesperson for the economic policies preferred by the IMF, which included interest-rate hikes. An article in Malaysia Today commented that “Gore’s comments constituted a none-too-subtle attack on Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and more generally on governments, including Japan, that resist US demands for further market reforms.”[86]

During the ASEAN meeting in 1997, Mahathir made a speech condemning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, suggesting its revision. He said that in Asia, the society’s interests are more important than an individual’s interests. He added that Asians need economic growth more than civil liberties. These remarks did not endear him to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was a guest at the meeting[87] and paid a visit to Anwar’s wife following his firing and subsequent imprisonment.[88]

The United States government has previously criticised the Malaysian government for implementing the ISA, and Mahathir has not hesitated to point to the United States to justify his own actions. In speaking of arbitrary detention without trial of prisoners of conscience in Malaysia, he said: “Events in the United States have shown that there are instances where certain special powers need to be used in order to protect the public for the general good.”[89] In 2003, Mahathir spoke to the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur. He blamed Western nations and Israel for a global rise in terrorism: “If innocent people who died in the attack on Afghanistan and those who have been dying from lack of food and medical care in Iraq are considered collaterals, are the 3,000 who died in New York and the 200 in Bali also just collaterals whose deaths are necessary for operations to succeed?” He also said: “If we think back, there was no systematic campaign of terror outside Europe until the Europeans and the Jews created a Jewish state out of Palestinian land.”[90] A 2003 house hearing by the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific of the U.S. House International Relations Committee (now called the House Committee on Foreign Affairs) summarises the relationship between the United States and Malaysia as follows: “Despite sometimes blunt and intemperate public remarks by Prime Minister Mahathir, U.S.-Malaysian cooperation has a solid record in areas as diverse as education, trade, military relations, and counter-terrorism.”[91]


Mahathir’s relationship with Australia (the closest country in the Anglosphere to Malaysia and the one whose foreign policy is most concentrated on the region) and his relationship with Australia’s political leaders have been particularly rocky. Relationships between Mahathir and Australia’s leaders reached a low point in 1993 when Paul Keating described Mahathir as “recalcitrant” for not attending the APEC summit. The Malaysian government threatened trade sanctions as a response, while the Australian government claimed that Keating’s description was a linguistic gaffe, and that what he had in mind was “intransigent”.[92]


Mahathir is an alumnus of the National University of Singapore. He studied at the university’s King Edward VII College of Medicine between 1947 and 1953. When the university granted him and his wife honorary degrees in November 2018, he said, “I will always value my stay in Singapore for nearly six years.” Singapore’s long-time prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was also a student at the National University of Singapore.[93] However, relations with Singapore under Mahathir’s tenure were stormy. Many disputed issues raised during his administration have not been resolved.[94] Issues have included:

On Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March 2015, Mahathir wrote a blog entitled “Kuan Yew and I”. He expressed his sorrow and grief at the loss of Lee. He said that he often disagreed with the veteran Singaporean leader but bore him no enmity for the differences of opinion on what was good for the newborn nation to thrive. He wrote that with Lee’s death, ASEAN had lost the strong leadership of both Lee as well as President Suharto of Indonesia, who had died earlier in 2008.[95] Many political analysts believe that with Lee’s death, Mahathir is the last of the “Old Guard” of Southeast Asia.[96]

In April 2016, the 1st Anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew’s death. Mahathir told the media that Singaporeans must value Lee Kuan Yew’s contributions because he industrialised Singapore. He said: “That is one achievement that we need to recognise.” With Lee, Mahathir “had no problems.” He said that he does not view Lee “as an enemy and all that, but as a Singapore leader who had his own stand that was not the same with the stand of Malaysia.”[97]

Bosnia and Herzegovina[edit]

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mahathir has been noted as a particularly significant ally of that nation. He was influential in the establishment of an OIC summit in Karachi in 1993 to discuss the need for weapons for Bosnia during the Bosnian War. Mahathir also opened the bridge of the Malaysian-Bosnian and Herzegovinian friendship in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.[98] On 11 November 2009, he also chaired closed-door meeting of leading investors at the Malaysia Global Business Forum – Bosnia, which was also attended by then-president Haris Silajdžić.[99]

Developing world[edit]

Among developing and Islamic countries, Mahathir is generally respected.[79] This is particularly due to Malaysia’s relatively high economic growth as well as Mahathir’s support towards liberal Muslim values.[100] Malaysia has good relations with Indonesia,[101] and has maintained strong relations with Kazakhstan.[102]


Portrait of Mahathir and Siti Hasmah

Mahathir at National Day celebrations in August 2007

On his retirement, Mahathir was named a Grand Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm, allowing him to adopt the title of “Tun”.[103] He pledged to leave politics “completely”, rejecting an emeritus role in Abdullah’s cabinet.[104] Abdullah immediately made his mark as a quieter and less adversarial premier. With much stronger religious credentials than Mahathir, he could beat back PAS’s surge in the 1999 election and lead the Barisan Nasional in the 2004 election to its biggest win ever, taking 199 of 219 parliamentary seats.[105]

Mahathir was the CEO and Chairman, and hence a senior adviser, for many flagship Malaysian companies such as ProtonPerdana Leadership Foundation and Malaysia’s government-owned oil and gas company Petronas.[106] Mahathir and Abdullah had a major fallout over Proton in 2005. Proton’s chief executive, a Mahathir ally, had been sacked by the company’s board. With Abdullah’s blessing, Proton then sold one of its prise assets, the motorcycle company MV Agusta, which was bought on Mahathir’s advice.[107] Mahathir also criticised the awarding of import permits for foreign cars, which he claimed were causing Proton’s domestic sales to suffer,[108] and attacked Abdullah for cancelling the construction of a second causeway between Malaysia and Singapore.[109] Mahathir complained that his views were not getting sufficient airing by the Malaysian press, the freedom of which he had curtailed while prime minister: he had been named one of the “Ten Worst Enemies of the Press” by the Committee to Protect Journalists for his restrictions on newspapers and occasional imprisonment of journalists.[110] He turned to the blogosphere in response, writing a column for Malaysiakini, an online media news website, and starting his own blog.[111] He unsuccessfully sought election from his local party division to be a delegate to UMNO’s general assembly in 2006, where he planned to initiate a revolt against Abdullah’s leadership of the party.[112] After the 2008 election, in which UMNO lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, Mahathir resigned from the party. Abdullah was replaced by his deputy, Najib Razak, in 2009, a move that prompted Mahathir to rejoin the party.[113]

Mahathir established the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalise War Forum in an effort to end war globally,[114] as well as the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to investigate the activities of the United States, Israel and its allies in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.[115] He has also suggested that the September 11 attacks of 2001 might have been staged by the United States government.[116]

Mahathir underwent a heart bypass operation in 2007, following two heart attacks over the previous two years. He had undergone the same operation after his heart attack in 1989. After the 2007 operation, he suffered a chest infection. He was hospitalised for treatment of another chest infection in 2010.[112][117]

Return to politics (2015–2018)[edit]

Mahathir repeatedly called for Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.[118] On 30 August 2015, he and his wife, Siti Hasmah, attended the Bersih 4 rally, which saw tens of thousands demonstrating for Najib’s resignation.[119] In 2016, Mahathir ignited several protests that culminated in the Malaysian Citizens’ Declaration by himself with the help of Pakatan Harapan and NGOs to oust Najib.[120][121] Najib’s response to the corruption accusations has been to tighten his grip on power by replacing the deputy prime minister, suspending two newspapers and pushing through parliament a controversial National Security Council Bill that provides the prime minister with unprecedented powers.[122][123]

Mahathir left UMNO in 2016, forming the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (BERSATU).[124][125] The new party was officially registered on 9 September 2016, and Mahathir became its chairman.[126] By 2017, he had officially joined the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan. He was proposed as a possible chairman and prime ministerial candidate of Pakatan Harapan.[127] He assumed the position of chairman on 14 July 2017.[128] [129]

Controversial speech on Bugis people[edit]

On 14 October 2017, referencing the 1MDB scandal, Mahathir said of Najib; “a prime minister who came from ‘Bugis pirates’ is now leading Malaysia”. He remarked, “go back to Sulawesi”, which aroused discontent from the Bugis descendants in Malaysia and Indonesia who protested against him.[130] It also disappointed the Sultan of Johor and the Sultan of Selangor, who are both of Bugis descent.[131] On 8 February 2018, Mahathir’s Darjah Kerabat Al-Yunusi (DK Kelantan) was revoked by the Kelantan royal house, alongside two of his Pakatan Harapan colleagues, with no reason given.[132]

2018 candidacy[edit]

On 8 January 2018, Mahathir was announced as the Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance’s prime ministerial candidate for the election to be held on 9 May 2018, seeking to oust his former ally Najib. Wan Azizah, wife of his former political enemy Anwar, ran as his deputy.[133] According to the election results disclosed on 10 May 2018, Pakatan Harapan had claimed victory, thus successfully propelling him to the prime ministerial seat once again.[134] He would then seek a pardon for Anwar, in order to allow him to take over the leadership.[135][136]

Second term as prime minister (2018–2020)[edit]

Mahathir meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2018Mahathir and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, 15 July 2018

Following the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan’s historic victory, Najib was successfully ousted from the incumbent prime ministerial seat. Mahathir hoped to be sworn in as the new prime minister by 5 pm.[137]

Concerns for a smooth power transition emerged as Najib, although admitting the defeat of his party and coalition during a press conference at 11 am, declared that no party has achieved a simple majority win (due to the fact that the opposing coalition were competing as allied individual parties, and was not successfully registered as a single unit by the Electoral Committee, who was believed to be under Najib’s heavy influence during his power), thus leaving the appointment of the office to the hands of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.[138] Nevertheless, the National Palace of Malaysia had promptly issued a royal statement, confirming Mahathir Mohamad will be sworn in as the prime minister at 9:30 pm, on the same day (10 May 2018), and had strongly refuted any claims of delaying the appointment.[139] At 10 pm, Mahathir was officially sworn in as prime minister.[140]Mahathir and President of IndonesiaJoko Widodo in Putrajaya, 9 August 2019Mahathir and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, 26 October 2019

Mahathir became the oldest currently serving state leader in the world (aged 92 years, 304 days at the time).[141] As proposed in the original plan of Pakatan Harapan, Wan Azizah ran as his deputy, and therefore became the first female deputy prime minister of Malaysia.[142] Following his appointment as prime minister, Mahathir promised to “restore the rule of law”, and would make elaborate and transparent investigations on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal possibly perpetrated by the ex-prime minister, as Mahathir told the press that if Najib has done something wrong, he would face the consequences.[143]

Domestic affairs[edit]

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LGBT rights[edit]

See also: LGBT rights in Malaysia

During an October 2018 lecture to university students in Bangkok, Thailand, Mahathir expressed resistance to Western nations’ handling of LGBT issues and suggested they had devalued family and marriage.

“We do not accept LGBT but if they want to accept, that is their business. Don’t force it on us. … The institution of marriage, the institution of the family has now been disregarded in the West. Why should we follow that? Our value system is as good”.[144]

2019 World Para Swimming Championships controversy[edit]

In 2017, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) granted hosting rights of the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships to Malaysia, who fought off competition from Great Britain.[145] This was done with the understanding that they would permit all qualified athletes to compete. In 2019, as part of a solidarity move with the Palestinian National Authority, Malaysia announced that they would ban Israeli athletes from the event in a move that was supported by 29 Malaysian non-governmental organizations.[146] The Malaysian Paralympic Council claimed they were following government policy, as Malaysia bans Israeli passport holders from entering the country.[147] Mahathir said that Israel is “a country which does not obey international laws” and that the world always follows what Israel says.[148] On 27 January 2019, Malaysia was stripped of their hosting rights because of the decision, and on 15 April 2019 London was announced as the replacement host.[149]

Extradition policies[edit]

Mahathir’s refusals to extradite Zakir Naik, an Indian Islamic preacher who has been accused of money laundering and hate speech by Indian authorities,[150] has led to domestic and international criticism. Local critics have been sceptical of Mahathir’s motives in his protection of Naik because the preacher will not receive a fair trial in India.[151] Critics of Zakir Naik have accused him of misquoting religious texts and preaching which borders on hate speech and even defending terrorism, which resulted in some Malaysian ministers calling for his expulsion.[152] Naik has also come under fire recently for making comments against both the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians, and was questioned for 10 hours by Malaysian police for a speech in August 2019 where he said that Hindus in Malaysia had “100 times more rights” than Muslims in India and that Chinese Malaysians were only guests of the country. Naik who received permanent residence in Malaysia, a multi-racial country, later apologized for his remarks.[153]

Sceptics claim that Mahathir is merely using Naik as a political pawn, given that Mahathir has extradited others from Malaysia in similar situations, including Turkish national Arif Komis and his family in August 2019.[154] The Malaysian government did not halt the return to Turkey of Komis who was holding a UNHCR refugee card, with his family with young children. Amidst protests by human rights groups, Malaysian federal minister, Khalid Samad, informed reporters that police had evidence showing that Komis was involved in “terrorism”.[155] Komis was charged by the Turkish government of being a member of an armed terrorist organization, Fetullah Terrorist Organization, of which its US-based leader, Fetullah Gullen, a Turkish cleric, was accused of the failed coup in 2016 which left 251 people dead and nearly 2,200 injured.[156]

Foreign relations[edit]

North Korea[edit]

Mahathir welcomed the 2018 North Korea–United States summit. He said “the world should not treat North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with skepticism and instead learn from his new attitude towards bringing about peace”.[157] In a joint press conference in Tokyo with Japan, Mahathir said: “We hoped for a successful outcome from the historic meeting”,[158] adding that “Malaysia will re-open their embassy in North Korea as an end to the diplomatic row over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam last year”.[159]

China and Hong Kong[edit]

Mahathir said about China‘s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, “We can condemn [China] but the fact is that the condemnation alone would not achieve anything.”[160]

Mahathir said he is in the opinion that Carrie Lam should resign as the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, fearing a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He added that Lam already knew “the consequences of rejecting [the extradition] law” as she was in a dilemma when she has to obey her Mainland masters.[161][162]

Killings of Jamal Khashoggi and Qasem Soleimani[edit]

Main article: Killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Mahathir has stated that the killing of a Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was unacceptable. Malaysia, he said, does not support the killing of government critics. “This is extreme cruelty, and it is not acceptable. We too have people that we do not like, but we don’t kill them.”[163]

On 3 January 2020, Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by the United States, which heightened the existing tensions between the two countries. Mahathir compared the assassination of Soleimani with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and said it was “illegal” and “immoral”.[164]


Main article: 2020 Malaysian political crisis

On 23 February 2020, political parties such as BERSATU, PAS and UMNO, and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), as well as a faction from within the People’s Justice Party led by Azmin Ali held extraordinary meetings at various locations in the country. The high-level meetings which were held concurrently fueled speculation that there was an ongoing attempt to form a new governing coalition.[165] Once the BERSATU meeting had ended, Mahathir organised a gathering at his house attended by Azmin Ali as well as party leaders from PAS, UMNO, Warisan, and GPS. In the evening, Azmin Ali, together with leaders of the parties that had previously gathered at Mahathir’s residence, sought and were granted an Agong audience. Later in the night, some 131 MPs including various opposition party leaders gathered at Sheraton Hotel, Petaling Jaya for a dinner party celebrating a “consensus” among MPs.[166][167] The same night, Anwar Ibrahim confirmed to party supporters at his residence after a religious event that there was indeed an attempt to create a new governing coalition by BERSATU and a faction of the PKR.[168][169]

On the morning of the next day, Anwar Ibrahim together with the Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah IsmailAmanah President Mat Sabu, and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng met Mahathir at his residence to seek clarification regarding the attempted formation of a new governing coalition that involved BERSATU.[170] It was later revealed by Anwar that Mahathir had said he had nothing to do with the attempt to form a new governing coalition.[171] In the afternoon, reports surfaced that Mahathir had submitted his resignation to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.[172][173] The Agong accepted Mahathir’s resignation, but appointed him as interim prime minister.[174][175][176] Anwar later stated that Mahathir had resigned despite his appeals because he refused to work with UMNO, who would be a component party of the new coalition.[177] On 29 February, the Agong appointed Muhyiddin Yassin, the president of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party, as prime minister, determining that he was “most likely to have received the trust of the majority” of MPs. Muhyiddin was sworn in as prime minister the following day.[178] In response to Muhyiddin becoming prime minister, Mahathir formed a new party, Homeland Fighters’ Party (PEJUANG), in August 2020. Four other MPs have joined the new party, including Mahathir’s son Mukhriz Mahathir. The party is registered as an official party as of 8 July 2021.[179][180]

Controversies and issues[edit]

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Allegations of antisemitism[edit]

“We (Muslims) are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them”.[181]

A strident critic of Israel, Mahathir has been accused of antisemitism[182] since at least as far back as in The Malay Dilemma in which he wrote that “Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively”.[183] On August 12, 1983, Mahathir claimed in a speech that Jews control the international media.[184] In March 1994, he banned the screening of Schindler’s List on the grounds that it was anti-German, pro-Jewish propaganda.[184] During the collapse of the ringgit and the economic crisis in 1997, he made a series of remarks blaming Jews, a Jewish “agenda,” and “an international Jewish conspiracy” attempting to destroy the economies of Muslim countries.[184][185] During an Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit held in Kuala Lumpur in 2003, he accused Jews of “ruling the world by proxy” and getting “others to fight and die for them”.[186] In 2012 he claimed he was “glad to be labeled antisemitic”[187] and in a 2018 BBC interview he repeated similar statements, as well as disputing the number of Jews killed in The Holocaust.[188] In 2019, when asked why he had previously claimed that Jews are “inclined towards money” he responded that he had Jewish friends, and that “they are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends.”[189][190][191] Mahathir has defended his comments about Jews as an exercise of free speech, and by claiming that “the Jews do a lot of wrong things which force us to pass comment.”[192][193][194]

New World Order conspiracy theory[edit]

In March, 2015, Perdana Global Peace Foundation held a conference called “The New World Order: Recipe for War or Peace” where he stated the core concept of New World Order is that an elite would rule the planet and that to achieve one world government they would have to exterminate billions of humans.[195][196] In the same conference he claimed the USA and its allies fabricated war on terror to achieve global hegemony.[197]

2020 Nice stabbing and the murder of Samuel Paty[edit]

On 29 October 2020, in the aftermath of the 2020 Nice stabbing, Mohamad posted controversial remarks on his blog. Regarding the murder of Samuel Paty, Mahathir said it was against “the teachings of Islam”,[198] and “the killing is not an act that as a Muslim I would approve”.[199] He also said: “The French in the course of their history has killed millions of people. Many were Muslims. Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past. But by and large the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feeling.”[198] Mahathir’s post was later circulated on his Twitter account.[200][201] His tweet was latter labeled by Twitter for “glorifying violence”.[202][201]

Mahathir was also criticized for stoking tensions and hatred by the former Australian ambassador to France Brendan Berne, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, and French secretary of state for digital affairs Cédric O; the latter of whom called for the suspension of Mahathir’s Twitter account. Berne also demanded context regarding Mahathir’s comments and stated that Mahathir comments do not represent Muslims.[203] Malaysian cleric and politician Fathul Bari Mat Jahya condemned Mahathir’s remarks, calling them “reprehensible tribalism” and declaring that they contradicted Islamic teachings. He also urged Mahathir to take heart the lesson behind the Christchurch mosque shootings.[204][205] Former Prime Minister Najib Razak opined that Mahathir’s words had been taken out of context but advocated removing Mahathir’s social media accounts “before he does more damage.”[206]

Mahathir responded that his comments were taken out of context and he was not “promoting massacre of the French.” After Facebook and Twitter removed his posts, Mahathir criticised the social media platforms’ decision to remove his posts, accusing them of shielding those who had offended Muslims and made fun of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Jemut Masing, United States Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, and Australian High Commissioner in Malaysia Andrew Goledzinowski also criticised Mahathir’s remarks as unrepresentative of Malaysia and for advocating violence.[207][208]

Election results[edit]

YearConstituencyVotesPctOpponent(s)VotesPctBallots castMajorityTurnout
1964Kota SetarMahathir Mohamad (UMNO)12,40660.22%Ahmad Shukri Abdul Shukur (PAS)8,19639.78%21,4404,21082.8%
1969Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)12,03248.03%Yusof Rawa (PAS)13,02151.97%25,67998978.6%
1974Kubang PasuMahathir Mohamad (UMNO)NoneNoneUnopposed
1978Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)18,19864.64%Halim Arshat (PAS)9,95335.36%N/A8,24578.36%
1982Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)24,52473.67%Yusof Rawa (PAS)8,76326.33%34,34015,76178.79%
1986Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)25,45271.48%Azizan Ismail (PAS)10,15428.52%36,40915,29874.21%
1990Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)30,68178.07%Sudin Wahab (S46)8,61921.93%40,57022,06277.51%
1995Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)24,49577.12%Ahmad Mohd Alim (PAS)7,26922.88%33,01017,22673.61%
1999Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO)22,39963.22%Ahmad Subki Abd. Latif (PAS)12,26134.61%36,10610,13878.62%
2018LangkawiMahathir Mohamad (BERSATU)18,95454.90%Nawawi Ahmad (UMNO)10,06129.14%34,5278,89380.87%

Honors, awards and recognitions[edit]

Main article: List of honors and awards received by Mahathir Mohamad



  1. ^ Mahathir’s birth certificate gives his date of birth as 20 December. He was actually born on 10 July; his biographer Barry Wain explains that 20 December was an “arbitrary” date chosen by Mahathir’s father for official purposes.[3]
  2. ^ Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Abdul Razak were members of the royalty or had royal ancestry,[6] as is Abdul Razak’s son Najib. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s father and grandfather were prominent religious figures.[7]


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