See More on Facebook

Analysis, Politics

Mahathir – The Comeback Kid?

Over a decade after stepping down, Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is back in politics – hand-in-hand with a former rival and at the head of the opposition.


Written by

Updated: February 1, 2018

On January 7, Malaysia’s opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, named Mahathir its candidate for Prime Minister should it win the General Election in August – on the condition that his jailed former rival Anwar Ibrahim will take over should he receive a royal pardon after his release from prison.

At 92, Mahathir may soon become the world’s oldest leader, but despite Malaysia’s period of economic growth under his leadership, not everyone relishes the thought of Malaysia’s strongman making a second bid for power.

Humble Beginnings

Born the son of a schoolmaster, Mahathir first entered parliament in 1964 as a member of Malaysia’s largest party, UMNO. Always outspoken, he endured a rocky start to his political career, serving until 1969 before being kicked out of UMNO by then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Undeterred, Mahathir returned to the party in 1972 following Abdul Rahman’s resignation in 1970. From there, he climbed the political ladder, becoming a member of parliament in 1974 and Deputy Prime Minister in 1976. In 1981, Mahathir became Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister.

Under Mahathir’s leadership, Malaysia underwent a period of modernisation and strong economic growth. Under his watch, Malaysia went from exporting tin and rubber to manufacturing electronic equipment, steel and cars, according to the BBC. The decade of growth experienced by Malaysia ended in 1997 with the onset of the Asian economic crisis, and Mahathir blamed foreign currency traders for Malaysia’s debt, the BBC reported.

His long reign as Prime Minister was also marred by controversy. Mahathir was criticised for favouring Malays over other ethnic groups in Malaysia, and drew flak for his incendiary comments targeting the West and Jews.

In 1998, he abruptly fired his heir-apparent Anwar Ibrahim over differences in economic policy and accused him of sodomy and corruption, a move which triggered street protests. Anwar was found guilty after a controversial trial and imprisoned for charges that he maintains were politically motivated.

Mahathir’s introduction of the Internal Securities Act in 2000 – which led to the imprisonment of suspected militants without trial – also drew criticism, with some accusing the Prime Minister of using the war on terrorism as an excuse to silence opponents, according to the BBC.

In 2003, Mahathir stepped down as Prime Minister, but has continued to play a role in politics.

Old School Crusader

When the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal came to light, Mahathir split from UMNO, now under the control of current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak,and set up his own political party.

He has since shocked Malaysia by teaming up with his former rival, Anwar, for shot at defeating the UMNO-led ruling coalition Barisan Nasional in the upcoming general election.

Still, Mahathir faces an uphill battle. Analysts believe the opposition alliance’s chances of victory are slim, and memories of Mahathir’s actions during his authoritarian rule are still fresh in the minds of Anwar supporters.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Nadia Chevroulet
About the Author: Nadia is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Politics

Opinion: One Belt, One Road: We must secure our interest

Shah Husain Imam argues in the Daily Star that Bangladesh must put its interests first in joining China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. The ancient Silk Road, of which the Belt and Road Initiative is a gigantic new avatar, dates back to the Chinese Han Dynasty’s westward expansion more than 2100 years ago. The Road derived its name from the lucrative silk trade along the routes through which it branched into what are today the central Asian countries Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, as well as present-day Pakistan and India to the south. These routes eventually spanned 4,000 miles to Europe. Interestingly, silk was regarded as more precious than gold as a commodity in those times as if to convey the misty romanticism with the old world charm about a fine fabric. At any rate, the Silk Road by no means offered silken smooth passage to travellers like Marco P


By Daily Star
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Politics

Abe wins 3rd term as president of ruling LDP

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reelected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for a third consecutive term on Thursday. “I will put all my strength and soul into fulfilling my duty,” Abe said after his victory. A total of 810 votes were cast in the LDP presidential poll, half by Diet lawmakers and half by rank-and-file party members. After securing the support of five LDP factions, led respectively by Hiroyuki Hosoda, Taro Aso, Fumio Kishida, Toshihiro Nikai and Nobuteru Ishihara, Abe won 329 of the 405 votes from LDP lawmakers, against 73 votes for Ishiba. Voting from rank-and-file party members closed on Wednesday. Abe won 224 votes of the 405 votes available from rank-and-file party members, while Ishiba won 181. At a press conference later on the same day, Abe said he intends to reshu


By The Japan News
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Politics

A land with no smiles

The Thai middle class’ Faustian bargain with the military is hampering true democracy in the country. Almost ten years ago, I met a protester on the streets of Bangkok. It was a time of protest and political instability with the drama between the government and protesters spilling out onto the streets. To protect his identity against possible military reprisal, let us call him Nadech. Nadech will unlikely be recorded in history books, he was not a political leader, nor a despotic general or any other archetype of Thai history. He was a simple junk-store hawker, an occupation that involves going from house to house and sorting garbage to sell. His family had done well enough through grit and hard work to open a small convenience store in his home province. Nadech had taken to the streets in 2010 because he had believed the promises that exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had made and had seen, fi


By Cod Satrusayang
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Politics

New airport construction adds to China’s influence in the Maldives

Maldives airport opened a new runway constructed by China this week, a sign of Beijing’s growing influence on the island nation. Maldives airport opened its newly developed Code F runway at the Velana International Airport on Tuesday after two years of construction by Chinese firms. According to Chinese state media, the new runway is a milestone project of the Belt and Road Initiative. The contract for the airport expansion, including the development of the fuel farm, a cargo terminal, and the new runway, was signed between China and the Maldives in 2014, Xinhua News Agency reported. Constructed by Beijing Urban Construction Group, a large international construction group based in China, the new runway is 3,400 meters long and 60 meters wide. It is the latest push by China to gain influence over the politically troubled nation. Earlier this year, Maldivian President Abdulla Y


By Cod Satrusayang
September 20, 2018

Analysis, Politics

Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif released from jail

Nawaz Sharif and his family were released from Adiala jail on Wednesday after the Islamabad High Court suspended their respective prison sentences in the Avenfield corruption case earlier in the day. PML-N Pr


By Dawn
September 20, 2018

Analysis, Politics

El Salvador ups pressure on Taiwan relations

Prosecutors in El Salvador to investigate the alleged graft of some $10 million in funds donated by Taiwan. El Salvador announced it would sever ties with Taiwan and switch its allegiance to Beijing on 21th August. The loss of the Central American country reduces the number of Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies to just 17. Now the current president of El Salvador, Sanchez Ceren, is accused that he won the election by relying on partial fund which was donated by Taiwan in 2014. Prosecutor Douglas Melendez said in a TV interview that Taiwan gave $38 million to El Salvador for various projects, but the fund was used in a partisan campaign by Mauricio Funes in election won by current President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the presidential candidate of the FMLN party in 2014. The FMLN party calling the accusations “baseless” and accusing Melendez of “attacking our candidate and o


By Asia News Network
September 20, 2018