|Yang Amat Berbahagia Tun
|4th Prime Minister of Malaysia|
16 July 1981 – 31 October 2003
Mizan Zainal Abidin (Regent)
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
|Preceded by||Hussein Onn|
|Succeeded by||Abdullah Ahmad Badawi|
|4th Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia|
5 March 1976 – 16 July 1981
|Prime Minister||Hussein Onn|
|Preceded by||Hussein Onn|
|Succeeded by||Musa Hitam|
|21st Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement|
20 February 2003 – 31 October 2003
|Preceded by||Thabo Mbeki|
|Succeeded by||Abdullah Ahmad Badawi|
|Member of the Dewan Rakyat|
25 April 1964 – 10 May 1969
|Constituency||Kota Setar Selatan|
24 August 1974 – 21 March 2004
10 July 1925 |
Alor Star, British Malaya (now Malaysia)
|Political party||United Malays National Organisation|
|Alma mater||University of Malaya|
Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (Jawi: محضير بن محمد ;pronounced [maˈhaðɪr bɪn moˈhamad]; born 10 July 1925) is a Malaysian politician who was the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. He held the post for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, making him Malaysia's longest serving Prime Minister. His political career spanned almost 40 years.
Born and raised in Alor Setar, Kedah, Mahathir excelled at school and became a medical doctor. He became active in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysia's largest political party, before entering parliament in 1964. He served one term before losing his seat, before falling out with the then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman and being expelled from UMNO. When Abdul Rahman resigned, Mahathir re-entered UMNO and parliament, and was promoted to the Cabinet. By 1976, he had risen to Deputy Prime Minister, and in 1981 was sworn in as Prime Minister after the resignation of his predecessor, Hussein Onn.
During Mahathir's tenure as Prime Minister, Malaysia experienced rapid modernisation and economic growth, and his government initiated a series of bold infrastructure projects. He was a dominant political figure, winning five consecutive general elections and seeing off all of his rivals for the leadership of UMNO. However, his accumulation of power came at the expense of the independence of the judiciary and the traditional powers and privileges of Malaysia's royalty. He also deployed the controversial Internal Security Act to detain activists, non-mainstream religious figures, and political opponents including his sacked deputy, Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir's record of curbing civil liberties and his antagonism to western diplomatic interests and economic policy made his relationships with the likes of the US, Britain and Australia difficult. As Prime Minister, he was an advocate of third-world development and a prominent international activist for causes such as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the interests of Bosnians in the 1990s Balkans conflict.
Childhood and medical career
Mahathir was born at his parents' home in a poor neighbourhood of Alor Setar, the capital of the state of Kedah, British Malaya, on 10 July 1925.[N 1] His father was of mixed Malay and Malayali descent; his mother, Wan Tempawan, was Malay. Mahathir's non-Malay ancestry is a feature shared by Malaysia's six prime ministers. 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.[N 2] Mahatir's father was a school principal whose low socio-economic status meant his daughters were unable to enroll in secondary school, while Wan Tempawan Mahathir had only a distant relationship to Kedah's royalty. Both parents had been married previously; Mahathir had six half-siblings and two full-siblings.
Mahathir was a hard-working 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. With schools closed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II, he went into business, first selling coffee and later pisang goreng (banana fritters) and other snacks. 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 (now part of National University of Singapore). There he met his future wife, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, a fellow medical student. After he graduated, Mahathir worked as a doctor in government service before marrying in 1956. He returned to Alor Setar the following year to set up his own practice. He was the town's first Malay doctor and was successful. He built a large house, invested in various businesses, and employed a Chinese chauffeur to drive his Pontiac Catalina (most chauffeurs at the time were Malay). He and Siti Hasmah had their first child, Marina, in 1957, before conceiving three others and adopting three more over the following 28 years.
Early political career
Mahathir had been politically active since the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, when he joined protests against the granting of citizenship to non-Malays under the short-lived Malayan Union. 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. While practising as a doctor 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. 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 the retention of 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.
Elected to parliament in a volatile political period, Mahathir, as a government backbencher, launched himself into the main conflict of the day: the future of Singapore, 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. 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). 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). Large government losses in the election were followed by the race riots of 13 May 1969, in which 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 in which the prime minister was criticised for failing to uphold Malay interests. The letter, which soon became public, called for Abdul Rahman's resignation. By the end of the year, Mahathir had been sacked from UMNO's Supreme Council and expelled from the party; Abdul Rahman had to be persuaded not to have him arrested.
While in the political wilderness, Mahathir wrote his first book, The Malay Dilemma, in which 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". 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. Academics R. S. Milne and Diane K. Mauzy argue that Mahathir's relentless attacks were the principal cause of Abdul Rahman's downfall and subsequent resignation as prime minister in 1970.
Return to politics and ascent to premiership
Abdul Rahman resigned in 1970 and was replaced by Abdul Razak Hussein. Razak encouraged Mahathir back into the party, and had him appointed as a Senator in 1973. 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. 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. 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.
In 1975, Mahathir ran for one of the three vice-presidencies of UMNO. The contest was considered to be a battle for the succession of the party's leadership, with both Razak and his deputy, Hussein Onn, in declining 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. Each of 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. But Hussein's decision was not easy. Hussein and Mahathir were not close allies, and Hussein knew the choice of Mahathir 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.
Mahathir is regarded has having been a successful Minister for Education and then Minister for Trade and Industry (1978–1981). In the latter post, he implemented a "heavy industries policy", establishing a HICOM, a government-controlled corporation, to invest in the long-term development of manufacturing sectors such as an indigenous car industry. He spent much of his time in the ministry promoting Malaysia through overseas visits. However, Mahathir was not an influential Deputy Prime Minister. Hussein was a cautious Prime Minister who rejected many of Mahathir's bold policy proposals. While the relationship between Hussein and Mahathir 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.
Mahathir was sworn in as Prime Minister on 16 July 1981, at the age of 56. 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. Otherwise, he approached his first two years in the job with caution, knowing that he still had many enemies within his own party. He appointed his close ally, Musa Hitam, as Deputy Prime Minister.
Early years (1981–1987)
Mahathir exercised caution in his first two years in power, consolidating his leadership of UMNO and, with victory in the 1982 general election, the government. 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 in to either the elderly Idris Shah II of Perak or the controversial Iskandar of Johor. Mahathir had grave reservations about the two sultans. Both were activist rulers of their own states and Iskandar had only a few years earlier been convicted of manslaughter. 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 placed 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. When the public became aware of the impasse, and the Sultans refused to compromise with the government, Mahathir took the streets to demonstrate public support for his position in mass rallies. The press took the side of the government, although 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, but if he refused to assent to a bill, the bill would be returned to parliament, which could then override the Agong's veto.
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. 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. His government privatised airlines, utilities and telecommunication firms, accelerating to a rate of about 50 privatisations a year by the mid-1990s. 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. 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 car maker in Southeast Asia and a profitable enterprise.
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. Mahathir comprehensively defeated PAS at the polls in 1986, winning 83 seats of the 84 seats it contested, leaving PAS with just one MP.
Exerting power (1987–1990)
Any illusion that the 1986 election may have created about Mahathir's political dominance was short-lived. In 1987, he was challenged for the presidency of UMNO, 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, with Musa claiming 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 support of the press, most party heavyweights, and even Iskandar, now the Agong, although some significant figures, such as future prime minister Abdullah Badawi, supported Team B. In the election, held on 24 April 1987, Team A prevailed. Mahathir was re-elected a 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, while Team B refused to accept defeat and initiated litigation. In an unexpected decision in February 1988, the High Court ruled that UMNO was an illegal organisation as some of its branches had not been lawfully registered. 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 the leadership of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, with the support of both of Malaysia's surviving former prime ministers Abdul Rahman and Hussein, registered the party Semangat 46 instead.
Having survived the political crisis at least temporarily, Mahathir moved against the judiciary, fearing a successful appeal by Team B against the decision to register UMNO Baru. He steered an amendment to the Constitution through parliament to remove the general power of the High Courts to conduct judicial review. The High Courts could now only engage in judicial review where specific acts of parliament gave them the power to do so. The Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas, responded by sending 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 setup 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.
At the same time as the political and judicial crises, Mahathir initiated a crackdown on opposition dissidents with the use of the Internal Security Act. The appointment of a number of 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 "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 leader of the DAP, Lim Kit Siang, and nine of his fellow MPs. Three newspapers sympathetic to the opposition were shut down.
Mahathir suffered a heart attack in early 1989, 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 (Musa had since rejoined UMNO).
Economic development to financial crisis (1990–1998)
The expiry of the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1990 gave Mahathir the opportunity 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. The target would require average economic growth of approximately seven per cent of gross domestic product per annum. 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. The NDP achieved success in one of its main aims, poverty reduction. By 1995, less than nine per cent of Malaysians lived in poverty and income inequality had narrowed. 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 try to emulate Mahathir's policies. Much of the credit for Malaysia's economic development in the 1990s went to Anwar Ibrahim, appointed by Mahathir as Finance Minister in 1991. The government rode the economic wave and won the 1995 election with an increased majority.
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. To deliver the project, Mahathir and the local Barisan Nasional government selected a head contractor close to Mahathir without an open tendering process. The project subsequently suffered from environmental protests, conflicts between contractors, and opposition from the 10,000 residents who would be forcibly displaced from the Sarawak jungle. Work on the dam was eventually suspended due to the Asian financial crisis.
The financial crisis 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 and raised interest rates, which only served to exacerbate the economic situation. In 1998, 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 sacked Anwar as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and he could now claim to have rescued the economy in spite of Anwar's policies.
In his second decade in office, Mahathir had again found himself battling Malaysia's royalty. In 1992, Sultan Iskandar's son, a representative 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 his decision was criticised by a local coach, 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".
The final years and succession (1998–2003)
By the mid-1990s it had become clear that the most serious threat to Mahathir's power was the leadership ambition of his deputy, Anwar. 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. 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, although the media speculated that it related to lurid allegations of sexual misconduct circulated in a "poison pen letter" at the general assembly. 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.
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.
While Mahathir had vanquished his rival, it came at a cost to his standing in the 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". 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". 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. 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.
At UMNO's general assembly in 2002, Mahathir 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. Having spent over 22 years in office, Mahathir was the world's longest-serving elected leader when he retired. He remains Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister.
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During Mahathir's term, Malaysia's relationship with the West was generally fine despite his being known as an outspoken critic towards it. 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". Although the dispute was later resolved by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mahathir continued to emphasize Asian development models over contemporary Western ones... he particularly criticized the double standards of Western nations
Mahathir has always been an outspoken critic of the United States and yet the United States was the biggest source of foreign investment, 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 US Vice President Al Gore stated at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference hosted by Malaysia:
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.
Gore was asked to leave immediately after making this statement, possibly as a form of protest by Malaysia.
Gore and the United States were critical of the trial of Mahathir's former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, going as far to label it as a "show trial". US News and World Report called the trial a "tawdry spectacle." The government included the statements of the purported "victims" of Anwar's sodomy attacks, evidence that was widely considered to be tainted. Furthermore, the prosecution was unable to determine the date on which the alleged acts had occurred. The government originally contended that an act of sodomy had occurred inside a building that had not been constructed at the time of the alleged event. Mahathir himself went as far as to go on television to declare Anwar guilty of sodomy and homosexual acts, even as the trial still was under way. In response to widespread condemnation of the trial from human-rights groups and the Malaysian bar association, he ordered a crackdown on the media and opposition parties who protested the trial. Many of the "reformasi" supporters who were against Mahathir at that time were arrested by the FRU and Special Branch and were detained without trial under the ISA. Some of them were opposition supporters, and some of them were former academics.
Also, Anwar Ibrahim 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." Gore's endorsement for the reformasi (reformation) asking for (among other things) the ouster of Mahathir, was anathema to Mahathir, and he remarked that "I've never seen anybody so rude". This also summed up the Malaysian expectation that one who is a guest should not show such discourtesy to the host.
However, Mahathir's views were already firmly entrenched before this event. For example, before the ASEAN meeting in 1997, he made a speech condemning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling it an oppressive instrument by which the United States and other countries try to impose their values on Asians. He added that Asians need stability and economic growth more than civil liberties. These remarks did not endear him to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was a guest at the meeting.
The relationship was stormy both ways. Following Anwar's sacking and subsequent imprisonment, Madeleine Albright paid a visit to Anwar's wife.
Yet Mahathir has not hesitated to point to America for justification of 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."
At the other end of the spectrum, the United States government has previously criticised the Malaysian government for implementing the ISA, most recently in 2001 when President George W. Bush said "The Internal Security Act is a draconian law. No country should any longer have laws that allow for detention without trial." In 2004, however, Bush reversed his stance and claimed "We cannot simply classify Malaysia’s Internal Security Act as a draconian law."
In 2003 Mahathir spoke to the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, and as part of his speech, said:
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?[clarification needed]
Marie Huhtala, the American ambassador to Malaysia, responded with a statement: "These are not helpful statements by any standard, and I'm here to tell you that Washington does take note of them. They are bound to have a harmful effect on the relationship."
In spite of all this, Malaysia's relationship with the US has been strong. A 2003 house subcommittee hearing (Serial No. 108–21) on US policy towards South East Asia sums it up as "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."
Even after retirement, Mahathir was not hesitant about his criticisms of the United States. In 2004, (The Star, 18 October 2004), he was quoted as having said "The American people are, by and large, very ignorant and know nothing about the rest of the world.... Yet they are the people who will decide who will be the most powerful man in the world". In the same interview, he also correctly predicted George W. Bush's victory in the 2004 United States presidential election.
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, has 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. (It is thought that Keating's description was a linguistic gaffe, and that what he had in mind was "intransigent".)
Mahathir, along with other Malaysian politicians (and many other Asian leaders) also heavily criticized Keating's successor, John Howard, whom he believed had encouraged Pauline Hanson, whose views were widely perceived in Asia (and Australia) as racist. Australian politicians then pointed out Mahathir's farcical trial of Anwar Ibrahim, saying that the prosecution was using homophobic overtones.
Mahathir is an advocate of national sovereignty. This was articulated in the ASEAN policy of non-interference. In 2000, Mahathir was quoted as saying: "If Australia wants to be a friend to Asia, it should stop behaving as if it is there to teach us how to run our country. It is a small nation in terms of numbers and it should behave like a small nation and not be a teacher." He also said, "This country stands out like a sore thumb trying to impose its European values in Asia as if it is the good old days when people can shoot aborigines without caring about human rights".
Mahathir also made remarks to the effect that John Howard was trying to be America's 'Deputy Sheriff' in the Pacific region. This was in response to John Howard's statement that they would pursue terrorists over the borders of their neighbours.
His perception of Howard has not softened after retirement. In an interview, he stated: "They (accepted) Blair, and I am sure they will accept Bush. They have already accepted Howard who told a blatant lie", a reference to the "Children overboard" scandal during the run-up to the 2001 Australian elections.
Middle East and remarks about Israel and Jews
Under Mahathir, Malaysia was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, and established diplomatic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Israeli citizens remain banned from entering Malaysia and Malaysian citizens from Israel without special government permission.) In 1986, a major diplomatic row erupted with neighbouring Singapore when Chaim Herzog, the President of Israel, paid a state visit.
Mahathir's public remarks about Jews date back as early as 1970 when he wrote in his controversial book The Malay Dilemma: "The Jews for example are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively."
In 1997, during the financial crisis, he attributed the collapse of the Malaysian ringgit to a conspiracy of Jews against a prosperous Muslim state: "The Jews robbed the Palestinians of everything, but in Malaysia they could not do so, hence they do this, depress the ringgit." Under strong international criticism, he issued a partial retraction, but not in Malay-language media sources.
|“||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 [during the Holocaust]. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries. And they, this tiny community, have become a world power.||”|
He also named Israel as "the enemy allied with most powerful nations." Israel criticized the remarks and the speech was also condemned by several nations from the Western world. Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Dr Mahathir had employed "expressions that were gravely offensive, very strongly anti-Semitic and... strongly counter to principles of tolerance, dialogue and understanding'." At the same time, Mahathir's speech was defended by several Muslim leaders and politicians, including Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush considered the comments "reprehensible and hateful." The Muslim Public Affairs Council condemned Mahathir's remarks as "extremely offensive, anti-Semitic comments."
The criticism was ignored in Asia and Islamic countries, which felt that his remark had been taken out of context. Mahathir later defended his remarks, saying: "I am not anti-Semitic.... I am against those Jews who kill Muslims and the Jews who support the killers of Muslims."
He tagged the West as "anti-Muslim", for double standards by "protecting Jews while allowing others to insult Islam." He also said "But when somebody condemns the Muslims, calls my prophet, "terrorist", did the European Union say anything?"
Statements on the Holocaust and Israel
In January 2010, at The General Conference For The Support of Al Quds, Mahathir stated, regarding the Holocaust and Israel, that:
“The Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole Governments to ransom...Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, [Jews] survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world...The Holocaust failed as a final solution.”
Mahathir also stated that:
"Creating a state for them was thought to be a better solution. It could be if some European territory had been allocated to make a permanent ghetto for the Jews. But of course if this was done then the affected European state would rise in arms and kill all the Jews the way they had been doing before. So the debate was about creating an Israeli state in Uganda, Africa, or somewhere in Latin America or Palestine of course."
Following the Israeli court’s decision declaring the state blameless in the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, Dr Mahathir wrote in his blog in September 2012:
“I am glad to be labeled antisemitic [...] How can I be otherwise, when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies." 
Mahathir is an alumnus of the Medical College at the University of Malaya at that time located in Singapore under British Malaya [University of Malaya campus at Singapore has since been renamed National University of Singapore while the campus at Kuala Lumpur remains as University of Malaya]. He graduated as a physician from then King Edward VII Medical College in 1953, during British rule. He is held in high regard by his alma mater, and regularly attends reunions.
However, relations with Singapore under Mahathir's tenure have been stormy. Many disputed issues raised during his administration have not been resolved. Many of these international issues have been raised up under Mahathir's Premiership term, but no significant headway had been made then to resolve them bilaterally. Issues have included:
- the low price of raw water paid by Singapore to Malaysia (3 Malaysian cents (US$0.008) per 1000 gallons);
- the proposed replacement of the Causeway by a suspension bridge to improve water flow through the Straits of Johor (later cancelled by Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi);
- Singapore's land reclamation work, affecting shipping access to Port Tanjung Pelepas;
- the use of Malaysian airspace by Republic of Singapore Air Force jets;
- the status of Pedra Branca Island (also known as "Pulau Batu Putih"), was brought to the International Court of Justice and now belongs to Singapore; and
- the sovereignty of the railway line crossing Singapore and Points of Agreement regarding the matter.
Both sides had stubbornly refused to compromise, with the result of bilateral relations turning frosty. The absurdity of the whole situation was illustrated by Mahathir's proposal to replace the Malaysian portion of the Causeway with half a bridge, with the end result, a structure which would symbolise Singapore's uncompromising attitude. Under Prime Minister Abdullah, whose policy is to give in to almost every request, relations have begun to thaw, and inter-citizen relations have gone on much as they have before in that they are totally independent of political bickering. Many Singaporeans and Malaysians have relatives on the both sides of the Causeway, and despite the bickering of both governments over different issues, relations between citizens of both countries remained unaffected.
Recently, the issue of replacement of the Causeway with a bridge and the use of Malaysian airspace by the RSAF have been solved by Mahathir's successor Abdullah by giving in to the demands of the Singaporean government, an issue that has been heavily criticised by Mahathir.
People's Republic of China
Though an anti-communist in his early career, Mahathir highly approves of the new directions adopted by the People's Republic of China (PRC) after Deng Xiaoping's ascension to power. Malaysia and the PRC maintained a close relationship since the late 1990s, when doubts and suspicions of China's ambition in ASEAN region were cleared, and Mahathir and Chinese leaders found many common grounds in their authoritarian style of ruling and their opposition to Western interference in regional matters. Mahathir is keen that the rise of PRC could to some extent balance the American influence in Southeast Asia, as well as benefiting Malaysia from the PRC's economic prosperity.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mahathir has been noted as a particular ally and sympathetic co-religionist of that nation. He visited Sarajevo in June, 2005 to open a bridge near Bosmal City Center signifying friendship between Malaysians and Bosnians.
In February 2007, four non-governmental organizations: the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, the Congress of Bosniak Intellectuals, and two Christian organizations: the Serb Civil Council and the Croat National Council, nominated Mahathir for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work during the conflict.
On 22 June 2007, he made another visit to Sarajevo with a group of Malaysian businessmen to explore the investment opportunities in the country.
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, Dr. Haris Silajdžić.
Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Malaysia had relations with the Communist state. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Malaysian government and other Islamic states sided with the Mujahideen. Since Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 however, relations between Russia and Malaysia have improved significantly. Mahathir had met Gorbachev several times. In 2002 Mahathir made his visit to Moscow. He made the statement that Russia can be the rival to the United States and Israel and he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and his opposition to Western interference and democracy promotion.
Among some developing and Islamic countries, Mahathir is generally respected, particularly for Malaysia's relatively high economic growth as well as for his support towards liberal Muslim values. Foreign leaders, such as Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, praised him and have been trying to emulate Mahathir's developmental formulae. He was one of the greatest spokesmen on Third World issues, and strongly supported the bridging of the North-South divide, as well as exhorting the development of Islamic nations. He was dedicated to various Third World blocs such as ASEAN, the G77, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Nations, and most recently, the G22 at the latest World Trade Organization talks at Cancún.
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". He pledged to leave politics "completely", rejecting an emeritus role in Abdullah's cabinet. Abdullah immediately made his mark as a quieter and less adversarial premier. With much stronger religious credentials than Mahathir, he was able to 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. Mahathir became an adviser to flagship Malaysian companies, such as Proton and the oil company Petronas. 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, the company then sold one of the company's prize assets, the motorcycle company MV Agusta, which was bought on Mahathir's advice. Mahathir also criticised the awarding of import permits for foreign cars, which he claimed were causing Proton's domestic sales to suffer, and attacked Abdullah for cancelling the construction of a second causeway between Malaysia and Singapore. 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. He turned to the blogosphere in response, writing a column for Malaysiakini, a website sympathetic to the opposition, and starting his own blog. 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.
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 Tun Razak, in 2009, a move that Mahathir publicly supported. Mahathir immediately rejoined UMNO.
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.
11 September attacks
In 2006 he had a 2-hour talk with James W. Walter and William Rodriguez with regards to the US Government involvement in the 11 September attacks in 2001. He urged the world's 1.3 billion Muslims to boycott Dutch products following the release of the anti-Islam movie Fitna by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, it was reported on 30 March 2008. He also urged all Muslims to boycott the anti-Islam documentary Islam: What the West Needs to Know and called for the arrest of the film directors Gregory Davis and Bryan Daly.
Indigenous Orang Asli
Mahathir made controversial remarks regarding the Orang Asli, saying that Orang Asli were not entitled more rights than Malays even though they were natives to the land, he posted on his blog comparing the Orang Asli in Malaysia to Native Americans in the US, Maoris in New Zealand, and Aboriginals in Australia. He was criticized by spokespeople and advocates for the Orang Asli who said that the Orang Asli desired to be recognized as the natives of Malaysia and that his statement would expose their land to businessmen and loggers.
Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission
On 11 May 2012, Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo were found guilty of war crimes. "After the guilty verdict reached by five senior judges was delivered, Mahathir Mohamad said: 'Powerful countries are getting away with murder.'"
Mahathir's official residence, Sri Perdana, where he resided from 23 August 1983 to 18 October 1999, was turned into a museum (Galeria Sri Perdana). In keeping with the principle of heritage conservation, the original design and layout of the Sri Perdana has been preserved.
Mahathir has been a highly controversial figure, and a subject of harsh attacks by his critics. Former de facto Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim writes in his memoirs: "In my heart, I cannot accept allegations that Dr Mahathir personally was a corrupt man. Corrupt people are never brave enough to speak as loudly as Dr Mahathir. Wealth is not a major motivation for him. He only craves power."
Two of Mahathir's sons became active in politics: Mokhzani was a senior official of UMNO Youth (the party's youth wing) before leaving politics and focusing on his business career; Mukhriz was elected to parliament in 2008 and the following year, in a surrogate battle between his father and Abdullah Badawi, lost to Badawi's son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin in an election for the presidency of UMNO Youth. After Najib Tun Razak succeeded Badawi as Prime Minister, Mukhriz was appointed to Najib's ministry, while Khairy was dropped from the Cabinet. Mahathir's eldest daughter Marina is a prominent local writer and AIDS activist.
According to Wain, writing his biography of Mahathir in 2010:
Rising living standards, together with Dr. Mahathir's showpiece buildings and outspoken defence of Malaysia's interests, contributed to a sense of national identity, pride and confidence that had not existed before. He put Malaysia on the map, and most Malaysians were pleased about it.... [However], he would not be able to escape responsibility for many of the problems likely to plague Malaysian society in the future, from creeping Islamization to corruption and inequality. For while he held Malaysia together for 22 years, the political-administrative system atrophied and decayed under his personalized brand of governance.
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|Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
|Prime Minister of Malaysia
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
|Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi