See More on Facebook

Culture and society, Politics

Runner-Up: Mahathir Mohamad

The nonagenarian’s stunning victory changed the landscape of Malaysian politics and was a triumph for democracy in a region experiencing its decline.


Written by

Updated: December 27, 2018

Asia News Network will reveal its person of the year on December 28. For more on the finalists and runners up, please click this link here. 

It was perhaps the most stunning political upset of 2018. No one thought Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who had served as Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, could win the office again, especially competing as the chairman of the Patakan Harapan, a coalition of his former political foes.

But, win he did, at the age of 92.

He and his coalition have had a tough task before them. They took over at a time of shattered public confidence in Malaysia’s political system, thanks to a decades-long corruption scandal that went all the way to the top—to Mahathir’s successor himself, Najib Razak—and a staggering level of national debt.

They had big promises to keep. Mahathir and his coalition ran a campaign based on tackling that sky-high debt, eliminating rampant corruption and racism from Malaysian politics, and making tough institutional reforms.

But, this time around, Mahathir seems different. He appears to have left behind many of the autocratic tendencies that marked his previous tenure in the office, and to be embracing democratic institutions with new vigor. It’s clear he’s determined to make the most of this chance to rewrite his legacy.

From the beginning, Mahathir appeared unchained from the burden of national expectations for what his second premiership might look like.

His government has gone after his former party’s alleged corruption with vigor and zeal prosecuting everyone from Najib, to his wife and cronies. No one seems more surprised by this than Najib who was predicted to win the election with ease. Analaysts and critics alike remarked how the Najib machine seemed unstoppable before elections especially with their consolidation of power, altering media laws and gerrymandering to maintain power.

That Mahathir won was a testament to the democracy and democratic institutions of Malaysia. It is doubly important when placed in context of Malaysia’s neighbour where democracy has taken a back seat, especially in places like Thailand and Cambodia.

Mahathir has appointed a surprisingly meritocratic and multi-racial cabinet—he chose a non-Malay to serve as attorney general and tapped Lim Guan Eng, an ethnic Chinese, as finance minister. And, from the beginning, Mahathir seemed unafraid to speak his mind, for better or for worse.

Mahathir told Singapore their water deal with Malaysia was simply “too costly.” He seems to be trying to rewrite the long-standing Asean rule of non-interference by repeatedly calling out Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the role she has played in the Rohingya crisis.

And, most earth-shaking of all, Mahathir has thus far been unafraid to stand up to China’s growing influence domestically and in the wider region. He has made it clear that while his government sees China as a powerful trading partner, China should no longer expect an unmitigated relationship with Malaysia.

Mahathir took a stand against Chinese-backed projects that he said do too little to add value to Malaysia, thus far suspending more than $40 billion in Chinese infrastructure deals, including the $20 billion East Coast Rail Link project deal that had been inked by Najib. He went to bat against powerful developers in a bid to prevent the growth of luxury foreigner-only enclaves unaffordable to many of his countrymen. And he has been sharply critical of Chinese naval incursions into Malaysian waters.

No everyone sees Mahathir’s willingness to upset the status quo as refreshing, his critics have found his candor thus far concerning.

His unpredictability makes it hard to tell what 2019 will have in store for the prime minister—will he even pass the baton to Anwar Ibrahim after his second year as promised? Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to watch.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Quinn Libson
About the Author: Quinn Libson 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

Culture and society, Politics

After 19 yrs, polio back in PH

The anti-vaxxer movement has done it again. The Philippines is in the midst of a polio epidemic 19 years after it was declared polio-free, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced on Thursday. Polio is a crippling and at times fatal infectious disease. (See In the Know.) Duque said a single confirmed case signaled an epidemic in a once polio-free country. He said a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur was diagnosed with a vaccine-derived polio virus type 2. The Department of Health (DOH) is awaiting confirmation of a suspected case of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). Rabindra Abeyasinghe, country representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), noted that the type 2 polio virus had not been in circulation for many years and was certified eliminated in the Philippines. Metro Manila, Davao “[S]o the vaccination program that the DOH and other co


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 20, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

India bans e-cigarettes

The decision has been met with criticism and charges of favouritism. The Union Cabinet’s move on Wednesday clearing an ordinance for banning production, import, distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes and proposing a jail term and fine for its violators evoked mixed reactions among a section of Delhi doctors and other stakeholders. The Centre’s decision was slammed by trade bodies and certain stakeholders related to e-cigarettes, who reportedly alleged that it was a “draconian” move taken hastily in the interest of the conventional cigarette industry. They also charged that the government was depriving people of a safer alternative to smoking. Dr Gyandeep Mangal, senior consultant in Respiratory Medicine, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, said, “We are glad with the ban on e-cigarettes by Union Cabinet as these are as harmful as regular cigarettes. It is true that e-cigarette doesn


By The Statesman
September 19, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

Hey men, women don’t want to be told to be like a woman

Nepali women still grapple with sexist language and expressions that most men easily dismiss. Throughout her time as a Deputy Inspector General of Nepal Police, Bimala Thapa was referred to as “Sir” by her subordinates. She tried several times, during her initial days in the role, to explain to officers that she would prefer to be referred to as “madam”— not sir. But she eventually gave up and stopped correcting people. “It seemed futile to discuss the issue because even those who should have understood why it matters treated it lightly,” says Thapa, whose superiors would also acknowledge her as sir. “Many probably don’t see why this is demeaning, but it used to feel like they thought that those in power were always supposed to be men.” It’s no surprise that Nepali society s


By The Kathmandu Post
September 19, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

What happens when the Indus doesn’t reach the sea?

The Indus Delta was once prosperous, today, it is home to suffering, despondency and death. The Indus River, the vertebra of our country, runs 3,200 kilometres in total and, if cared for, is capable of providing sustenance to all, from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea. But without the release of freshwater into the Indus, the coastal region of Pakistan is running dry. The fifth-largest delta in the world is shrinking. A delta is formed at the mouth of a river, when the river sheds its sediment load, before meeting a slower moving water body such as an ocean, sea, lake and sometimes another river. The currents of a fast moving river eventually become weak, making it difficult for the river to carry its sediment load any further. The sediment is then dropped at a delta, making it a highly fertile area, before the river concludes its journey by joining another water body. The Indus Delta,


By Dawn
September 19, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

8 Coast Guard personnel found guilty in death of Taiwanese fisherman

The case stems from an incident in 2013. The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 15 has found eight members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) guilty in the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hong Shi Cheng off  Batanes in 2013. Found guilty were Commanding Officer Arnold Dela Cruz, Seaman 1st Class (SN1) Edrando Aguila, SN1 Mhelvin Bendo II, SN1 Andy Gibb Golfo, SN1 Sonny Masangcay, SN1 Henry Solomon, SN1 Richard Corpuz and Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Renold Aurelio. The incident strained the relationship between Taiwan and the Philippines.As a result of the incident, the Taiwanese government has stopped the issuance of visas to Filipinos workers seeking jobs in Taiwan. The Philippines sent a representative and delivered the government’s official letter of apology to soothe the strained relations. The PCG in 2013 said its personnel acted in self defense when it opened fire at Taiwanese fishing ve


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 18, 2019

Culture and society, Politics

Rohingyas in Voter List: EC staffers, fraud ring behind it

Electoral fraud sees Rohingya on voting list. A nexus of brokers and some dishonest staffers of the Election Commission’s Chattogram office provides forged national identity cards to Rohingyas, an EC investigation team has found. Three members of the syndicate were arrested on Monday. An EC laptop, used in the forgery, was recovered from their possession, EC Deputy Director (NID) Iqbal Hossain, head of the three-member team, told The Daily Star yesterday. The arrestees are Jainal Abedin, 35, office assistant of Double Mooring Election Office under the Chattogram EC office, Bijoy Das, 23, a driver, and his sister Sima Das alias Sumaiya Jahan, 26, said Mohammad Mohsin, officer-in-charge of Kotwali Police Station. Yesterday, Double Mooring Thana Election Officer Pallabi Chakma filed a case against five people, including the three, with the police station under the Digital Security Act, the OC said


By Daily Star
September 18, 2019