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Mahathir Mohamad
محاضير محمد
Mahathir in 2018
4th and 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia
In office
10 May 2018 – 24 February 2020
Interim: 24 February – 1 March 2020
DeputyWan Azizah Wan Ismail
Preceded byNajib Razak
Succeeded byMuhyiddin Yassin
In office
16 July 1981 – 31 October 2003
Preceded byHussein Onn
Succeeded byAbdullah Ahmad Badawi
Political offices held
1st Chairman of the Homeland Fighter's Party
In office
12 August 2020 – 17 December 2022
PresidentMukhriz Mahathir
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition vacant
1st Chairman of Pakatan Harapan
In office
14 July 2017 – 24 February 2020
PresidentWan Azizah Wan Ismail
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byAnwar Ibrahim
Chairman of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party
In office
7 September 2016 – 28 May 2020[note 1]
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
  • Musa Hitam
  • Ghafar Baba
  • Anwar Ibrahim
  • Abdullah 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
Mahathir bin Mohamad

(1925-07-10) 10 July 1925 (age 99)
Alor Setar, Kedah, Unfederated Malay States
Political party
  • UMNO (1946‍–‍1969, 1972‍–‍2008, 2009‍–‍2016)
  • BERSATU (2017‍–‍2020)
  • PEJUANG (2020‍–‍2023)
  • PUTRA (since 2023)
Other political
  • BN (1946‍–‍1969, 1972‍–‍2008, 2009‍–‍2016)
  • PH (2017‍–‍2020)
  • GTA (2022‍–‍2023)
  • Independent (1969‍–‍1972, 2008‍–‍2009, 2016, 2020, 2023)
(m. 1956)
Children7, including Marina, Mokhzani and Mukhriz
RelativesIsmail Mohamed Ali (brother-in-law)
Residence(s)No. 58, Mines Resort City, Seri Kembangan, Selangor, Malaysia
EducationSultan Abdul Hamid College
Alma materKing Edward VII College of Medicine (MBBS)
  • Politician
  • author
  • doctor
AwardsFull list

Mahathir bin Mohamad (Jawi: محاضير بن محمد;[1] IPA: [mahaðɪ(r) bɪn mohamad]; born 10 July 1925) is a Malaysian politician, author, and doctor who served as the fourth and seventh Prime Minister of Malaysia. He held office from 1981 to 2003 and later from 2018 to February 2020 for a cumulative total of 24 years, making him the country's longest-serving prime minister. Before becoming premier, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and in other cabinet positions. He was a Member of Parliament for Langkawi from 2018 to 2022, Kubang Pasu from 1974 to 2004, and Kota Star Selatan from 1964 to 1969. His political career spanned more than 75 years, from joining protests opposing citizenship policies for non-Malays in the Malayan Union in the 1940s to forming the Gerakan Tanah Air coalition in 2022.

Born and raised in Alor Setar, Kedah, 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. In 1970, he released the book The Malay Dilemma. When Abdul Rahman resigned, Mahathir re-entered UMNO and parliament, and was promoted to Minister of Education from 1974 to 1978 and Minister of Trade and Industry from 1978 to 1981. He became deputy prime minister in 1976 before being sworn in as prime minister in 1981, succeeding Hussein Onn.

During Mahathir's first tenure, Malaysia underwent modernisation 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 several rivals for UMNO's leadership. He centralised power through undermining judicial independence and supporting a constitutional amendment to remove legal immunity for royalty. He continued pro-bumiputera policies, and oversaw Malaysia's relatively fast recovery from the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In 1987, he detained various activists and religious figures under Operation Lalang, and in 1998 had his deputy Anwar Ibrahim arrested. His record of authoritarianism and curtailment of civil liberties strained relationships with the West. As prime minister, he was an advocate of Asian values and development models, and was particularly prominent across the Muslim world.

Mahathir unexpectedly stepped down in 2003, but remained politically influential and was critical of his successors. He quit UMNO over the 1MDB corruption scandal in 2016, joining BERSATU and leading the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition to victory in the 2018 general election. During his second tenure as prime minister, he pledged to investigate the 1MDB scandal, combat corruption, and cut spending on large infrastructure projects. He also secured the pardon and release of Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir resigned in 2020 amidst a political crisis.[2][3] Despite losing his parliamentary seat in the 2022 general election, he remained active in politics and shifted party affiliation several times.

Mahathir's political views have shifted throughout his life, and are shaped by his Malay nationalism and Islamic religious beliefs. Initially, he was aligned with Third-Worldism in the 1980s and later advocated for "Asian values" and globalization. He has consistently maintained Islamic political views. He has been a longstanding critic of neoliberalism and Western influence, and has also been accused of antisemitism throughout this career. He has also advocated for a balance between natural resource extraction and environmental protection.

Early life and education[edit]

Mahathir's birthplace in Alor Setar

Mahathir was born at his parents' home in a poor neighbourhood at Lorong Kilang Ais, Alor Setar, in the capital of the Malay sultanate of Kedah under a British protectorate, on 10 July 1925.[4][note 2] Mahathir's mother, Wan Tempawan Wan Hanapi, was a Malay from Kedah. His father, Mohamad Iskandar, was from Penang of Malay and Indian descent. Mahathir's paternal grandfather had come from Kerala, British India. He was the first prime minister that was not born into the aristocracy or a prominent religious or political family.[5][6] Mohamad Iskandar was the principal of an English-medium secondary school, whose lower-middle-class status meant his daughters were unable to enrol in a secondary school. 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.[7] His childhood home, with a single shared bedroom and no electricity supply, was later converted to a tourist attraction and opened to the public.[8][9]

Mahathir began his education at Seberang Perak Malay Boys School in 1930.[9] Mahathir was a hard-working student. Discipline imposed by his father motivated him to study, and he showed little interest in sports. Having become fluent in English well ahead of his primary school peers, including editing the English student newspaper and winning a series of language awards,[10] he won a position in a selective English-medium secondary school Government English School in 1933.[9][11] With schools closed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II, he started a small business, selling coffee and snacks such as pisang goreng (banana fritters).[4]

After the war, Mahathir graduated from secondary school with the highest rank and enrolled to study medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore.[12] Mahathir studied medicine at what was then called University of Malaya, later renamed University of Singapore.[13] When the university granted him an honorary degree in November 2018, he said "I will always value my stay in Singapore for nearly six years."[14]

Mahathir married Siti Hasmah in 1956, the two having met in medical college. He returned to Alor Setar in 1957 to establish his practice, Maha Clinic.[9] 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).[15][16]

Early political career (1959–1970)[edit]

After World War II ended and the Japanese withdrew, the British grouped the Malay states and the Straits Settlements into the Malayan Union, and granted citizenship to non-Malays. This caused major backlash from Malays and a wave of Malay nationalism swept across the country. Mahathir became politically activated by these changes, joining protests and activism against the new citizenship policies.[17] Mahathir 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 calling for the restoration of Malay as an official language.[18] 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.[19]

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. Their relationship had been strained since Mahathir had criticised Tunku's agreement to retain British and Commonwealth forces in Malaya after independence. Tunku 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. He contested in the following general election in 1964, and was elected as the federal parliamentarian for the Alor Setar-based seat of Kota Setar Selatan.[20]

Elected to parliament in a volatile political period, Mahathir, as a 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.[20][21] Despite Mahathir's prominence, he lost his seat in the 1969 election, defeated by Yusof Rawa of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).[22] 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.[23]

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. In 1968, Mahathir had expressed concern over escalating racial tensions in two newspaper articles, and feared preventative measures would be needed to avoid violence. Outside parliament, he openly criticised the government, also sending an open dissenting letter to Tunku for failing to uphold Malay interests and calling for his resignation.[24] By the end of the year, Mahathir was fired from UMNO's Supreme Council and expelled from the party. Tunku had to be persuaded not to have him arrested.[22][23]

Expelled from UMNO, 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 government support for Malays, so that their economic interests would not be dominated by the Chinese, and exposing Malays to sufficient competition. Mahathir saw Malays as typically avoiding hard work and failing to "appreciate the real value of money and property", and hoped this balance would rectify this.[25] Mahathir criticised Tunku's government in the book, which led to it being banned in Malaysia. The ban was only lifted in 1981 under Mahathir's premiership.[22][26] 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.[27]

Rise to prominence (1970–1981)[edit]

Tunku's successor Tun Abdul Razak encouraged Mahathir to return to UMNO and appointed him Senator for Kedah in 1973.[28] Mahathir rose quickly in the Abdul Razak government, returning to UMNO's Supreme Council in 1973. He was appointed to Cabinet in 1974 as the Minister for Education. He returned to the House of Representatives in the 1974 election, winning the Kedah-based seat of Kubang Pasu unopposed.[22] 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.[29] He 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.[30]

In 1975, Mahathir ran for one of the three vice-presidencies of UMNO. The contest was regarded as a struggle for the party's leadership succession, as the health of Abdul Razak and his deputy, Hussein Onn, waned. Each of Abdul 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, had to choose between the three men, alongside the Minister of Home Affairs Ghazali Shafie, to be deputy prime minister.[31][32]

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. Razaleigh was young, inexperienced and unmarried. However, Hussein and Mahathir were not close allies, and Hussein knew Mahathir's choice would displease Abdul Razak. 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.[31][32]

Mahathir did not have much influence as deputy prime minister. Hussein was a cautious leader who rejected many of Mahathir's bold policy proposals, such as a freeway the length of Peninsular Malaysia and heavy industries cooperation. Hussein remained distant from Mahathir while keeping Ghazali and Razaleigh as his close advisors, who often outmanoeuvred Mahathir to reach Hussein. Nonetheless, when Hussein relinquished power due to ill health in 1981, Mahathir succeeded him unopposed and with his blessing.[33]

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

Early years (1981–1987)[edit]

Mahathir on a state visit to the United States in 1984

Mahathir was sworn in as prime minister on 16 July 1981, at the age of 56.[34][35] One of his first acts was to release 21 detainees held under the Internal Security Act. This included journalist Samad Ismail and Abdullah Ahmad, who was a former deputy minister in Hussein's government but suspected of being an underground communist.[36] He appointed his close ally, Musa Hitam, as deputy prime minister.[37]

Mahathir exercised caution in his first two years in power, consolidating UMNO's leadership and, with victory in the 1982 general election, the government.[38][39] In 1983, Mahathir undertook one of the first challenges he had with Malaysia's royalty. 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. Mahathir had grave reservations about the two Sultans, who were both activist rulers of their own states.[40][41]

Mahathir tried to pre-emptively limit the power that the new Agong could wield over his government. He introduced 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 removed 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 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 passed both houses of Parliament with comfortable majorities.[42][43]

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. 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 was resolved, as Mahathir and the Sultans agreed to a compromise. The Agong retained the power to declare a state of emergency. However, if he refused to assent to a bill, the bill would return to Parliament, which could then override Agong's veto.[44]

The 2012 Proton Prevé
A 1989 model of the Proton Saga. 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—via targets and affirmative action in areas such as corporate ownership and university admission.[45] Like many of his economic liberal contemporaries such as Margaret Thatcher, Mahathir actively pursued privatisation of government enterprises from the early 1980s. Mahathir believed this would provide economic opportunities for bumiputera and their businesses.[46] His government privatised airlines, utilities and telecommunication firms, accelerating to a rate of about 50 privatisations a year by the mid-1990s.[47]

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.[48] Mahathir oversaw the establishment of the car manufacturer Proton as a joint venture between the Malaysian government and Mitsubishi. By the end of the 1980s, with the support of protective tariffs, Proton became a profitable enterprise and the largest carmaker in Southeast Asia.[49]

In Mahathir's early years as prime minister, Malaysia experienced a resurgence of Islam and conservatism among Malays. PAS, which had joined UMNO in government in the 1970s, responded to the resurgence by taking an increasingly strident Islamist stand under the leadership of 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 government oversight.[50]

He managed to draw Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), into the ranks of 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, was arrested under the Internal Security Act.[50] Mahathir comprehensively defeated PAS at the polls in 1986, winning 83 seats of the 84 seats it contested, leaving PAS with just one Member of Parliament (MP).[51]

Power struggles (1987–1990)[edit]

In 1987, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who had been demoted from Finance Minister to Trade and Industry Minister, challenged Mahathir for UMNO's presidency, and effectively the prime ministership. Razaleigh's bid was supported by Musa, who had resigned as deputy prime minister the previous year. While once close allies with Mahathir, both fell out 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.[52][53]

Mahathir's Team A enjoyed the press's support, most party heavyweights, and even Iskandar, now the Agong. However, other prominent 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.[52][53]

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. Nevertheless, UMNO Malaysia registered the party as Semangat 46 instead under Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's leadership and with the support of Malaysia's surviving former prime ministers – Abdul Rahman and Hussein.[54] The Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas, sent a letter of protest to the Agong, which criticised the prime minister for his comments on the judiciary and called for them to be stopped. 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.[55]

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.[56]

UMNO's Youth wing held a provocative protest that triggered a shooting by a lone Malay gunman. 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 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.[56]

Mahathir suffered a heart attack in early 1989.[57] He 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.[58]

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

A view of Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which was built under his tenure.

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.[59] The target would require average economic growth of approximately seven per cent of gross domestic product per annum.[60] 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.[61]

The NDP achieved one of its main aims — poverty reduction. By 1995, less than nine per cent of Malaysians lived in poverty, and income inequality had narrowed.[62] Mahathir also introduced the Bangsa Malaysia policy, which aimed to facilitate greater representation of non-Malay ethnicities in Malaysia.[63] 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.[64] Much credit for Malaysia's economic development in the 1990s went to Anwar Ibrahim, appointed by Mahathir as finance minister in 1991.[65] The government rode the economic wave and won the 1995 election with an increased majority.[66]

Mahathir initiated a series of major infrastructure projects in the 1990s. One of the largest was the Multimedia Super Corridor, a new information technology district south of Kuala Lumpur modelled after Silicon Valley. 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.[67] The 1997 Southeast Asian haze, the worst haze event in history caused by Indonesian forest fires, was a major air pollution crisis for the country; Mahathir launched a cross-border firefighting operation in response.[68]

In 1997, the Asian financial crisis threatened to devastate Malaysia's economy. 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, Mahathir went against the advice of IMF and Anwar by increasing government spending and fixing 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, taking credit for the economy's recovery despite Anwar's policies.[69] Anwar led the reformasi movement against Mahathir's government in response.[70]

In the 1990s, Mahathir found himself at odds with Malaysian royalty over conflicting economic interests. In response to conflicts between Malaysian royals and prospective business leaders, Mahathir's government passed a resolution on royal activities. In the 1992 Gomez Incident, 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 took 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.[71]

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".[71] His policies during his first premiership were later described as "authoritarian" by the BBC.[72]

Final years and succession (1998–2003)[edit]

Mahathir addressing the United Nations General Assembly, September 2003

According to biographer Ian Stewart, by the mid-1990s Anwar's leadership ambition was the most serious threat to Mahathir's power. Anwar began to distance himself from Mahathir, overtly promoting his superior religious credentials and suggesting loosening the restrictions on civil liberties that had become a hallmark of Mahathir's premiership.[73] However, Mahathir continued to back Anwar as his successor until the collapse of their relationship during the Asian financial crisis, with Mahathir abandoning the tight monetary and fiscal policies urged by the IMF. Anwar refused to bail out Malaysian International Shipping Corp, in which Mahathir's son Mirzan had interests.[74]

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.[75] 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.[76]

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.[77]

Anwar's conviction drew criticism from the international community and led to a loss in domestic support for the ruling coalition. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended Anwar as a "highly respectable leader" who was "entitled to due process and a fair trial"[78] and met with Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.[79] At the APEC summit in 1999, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien refused to meet Mahathir, while his foreign minister also met with Wan Azizah.[80] Wan Azizah had formed a liberal opposition party, the National Justice Party (Keadilan) to contest in the 1999 election. UMNO lost 18 seats and two state governments as large numbers of Malays voted for PAS or Keadilan in protest of Anwar's treatment.[81]

In September 2001, debate aroused after Mahathir announced that Malaysia was already an Islamic state;[82] this caused uneasiness among non-Muslims in Malaysia, whilst the opposition DAP launched a campaign characterising this as a violation of the social contract and constitution.[83] 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.[84] Having spent over 22 years in office, Mahathir was the world's longest-serving elected leader when he retired.[85]

Foreign relations[edit]

Mahathir with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2003

During Mahathir's term, Mahathir maintained a collaborative relationship with the West, despite him being an outspoken critic[86] and prioritised development models and collaboration from elsewhere in Asia.[87] Early during his tenure, a small disagreement with the United Kingdom over university tuition fees led to a boycott of all British goods led by Mahathir, in what became known as the "Buy British Last" campaign.[88][87] Mahathir successfully negotiated with Suharto for the 27-year Ligitan and Sipadan dispute with Indonesia be resolved at the International Court of Justice.[89] In a shift from his predecessors, Mahathir frequently condemned Israel and ensured Malaysian support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, although toned down his criticisms after the Oslo Accords were agreed.[90]

Mahathir's relationship with Australia and its political leaders was particularly rocky. Although Malaysia-Australia relations were collaborative, Mahathir was publicly critical of the country's colonial history and close relations with the United States.[91] Relations 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 was prominent at the 1992 Earth Summit, arguing against an international forest conservation treaty over what he saw as the undue impact on the development of poorer Global South countries.[93] He had previously threatened to pull Malaysia out of the summit if environmentalists intended to criticise logging in the country.[94] In 2003, Mahathir spoke to the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, where he blamed Western nations and Israel for a global rise in terrorism.[95]

"Look East" policy[edit]

On 21 May 2002, Mahathir and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Japanese Prime Minister's Official Residence

Mahathir announced a "Look East" policy in 1982.[87] Under "Look East", Mahathir particularly prioritised relations with Japan, hoping this would bolster Malaysia's economy and that Japanese work ethic, values and moral norms would have a positive influence on Malaysians.[87] Mahathir also strengthened political and economic cooperation with China, whilst maintaining diplomatic ambivalence on security issues to avoid escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He openly criticised China's involvement in Malaysia's communist insurgency, but downplayed any military threat from China after the Cold War ended.[96] Amidst the Asian financial crisis, Mahathir also led several large delegations to China and Russia to seek regional economic cooperation.[97]

United States[edit]

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.

Al Gore at the 1998 APEC Summit in Malaysia[98]

The United States was the biggest foreign investment source and one of Malaysia's closest allies during Mahathir's rule.[99][100] 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."[101] Mahathir was publicly critical of the foreign policy of the United States, particularly during George W. Bush's presidency.[102]

In 1998, US vice-president Al Gore gave a speech expressing sympathy for the Reformasi movement at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference hosted by Malaysia, infuriating Mahathir and other ministers.[103][98] Analysts interpreted Gore's comments as criticism of Anwar's imprisonment.[104][105][103] Anwar was the preeminent Malaysian spokesperson for the economic policies and reforms preferred by the IMF.[106]

The United States government also criticised the Malaysian government for its use of the Internal Security Act. Mahathir pointed to the United States to justify his 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."[107]


Relations with Singapore under Mahathir's tenure were often tense, and he clashed with prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.[108] Singapore's requests to Malaysia to move its railway immigration checkpoint away from Tanjong Pagar and disputes over water payments were major disagreements between the two countries.[109][110] The Points of Agreement of 1990 set out the terms for developing land for a Rapid Transit System, although disputes still continued throughout the following decade.[111] Mahathir and Singaporean counterparts also oversaw a dispute over the ownership of Pedra Branca, several islets between the two countries, with an agreed exchange of documents to settle ownership of the islets in 1981 being delayed until at least 1992.[112] The 1997 Asian financial crisis further escalated tensions, with Singapore offering high interest rates for ringgit deposits leading to cash flow issues in Malaysia.[109] Many disputed issues raised during his administration were still not resolved as of 2018.[113]

On Lee Kuan Yew's death in March 2015, Mahathir wrote an entry on his blog, expressing grief at the news. Although he often disagreed with Lee, Mahathir wrote that he bore him no enmity for the differences of opinion on the direction of Singapore's development, and that ASEAN had lost the strong leadership of both Lee and Soeharto of Indonesia, who had died in 2008.[114] Some analysts observed that with Lee's death, Mahathir was the last of the "Old Guard" of Southeast Asia.[115] On the anniversary of Lee's death, Mahathir told the media that Singaporeans must recognise Lee's contributions towards industrialising Singapore. 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".[116]

Bosnia and Herzegovina[edit]

In 2020, a monument dedicated to Mahathir was erected in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.[117]

Mahathir was a prominent international advocate for Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina during his tenure. His government permitted Bosnians to come to Malaysia without a visa during the Bosnian War.[118][117] He was influential in the establishment of an OIC summit in Karachi in 1993 to discuss the need for weapons for Bosnia during the War.[117] Malaysia sent UN Peacekeeping forces to Bosnia and was part of the Contact Group advocating for Bosnia at the UN.[117]

Interim years (2003–2018)[edit]

Retirement from politics (2003–2015)[edit]

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".[119] He pledged to leave politics "completely", rejecting an emeritus role in Abdullah's cabinet.[120] Abdullah immediately made his mark as a quieter and less adversarial premier. With stronger religious credentials than Mahathir, he 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.[121]

Mahathir was the CEO and Chairman, and hence a senior adviser, for many flagship Malaysian companies such as Proton, Perdana Leadership Foundation and Malaysia's government-owned oil and gas company Petronas.[122] Mahathir and Abdullah had a major fallout over Proton in 2005. While Abdullah was attempting to reform the company and implemented high import tariffs on foreign cars, Mahathir accused Abdullah's government of cronyism in relation to import licences.[123] 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.[124]

Mahathir criticised the awarding of import permits for foreign cars, which he claimed were causing Proton's domestic sales to suffer,[125] and attacked Abdullah for cancelling the construction of a second causeway between Malaysia and Singapore.[126]

Mahathir complained that his views were not getting sufficient airing by the Malaysian press.[127] In response, be began writing a column for Malaysiakini and starting his own blog.[128] 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 challenge to Abdullah's leadership.[129] After the 2008 election, in which UMNO lost its two-thirds majority in parliament, Mahathir resigned from the party. When Abdullah was replaced by his deputy Najib Razak in 2009, Mahathir re-joined the party.[130]

Mahathir established the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalise War Forum in an effort to end war globally,[131] 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.[132] In March 2015, Mahathir attended a conference where he stated his belief in a "New World Order", where an elite would attempt rule the planet in a single world government, and exterminate billions of humans.[133][134]

Return to politics (2015–2018)[edit]

Mahathir repeatedly called for prime minister Najib Razak to resign over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.[135] On 30 August 2015, he and Siti Hasmah attended the Bersih 4 rally, a mass protest organised in response to the scandal.[136] In 2016, Mahathir chaired the Malaysian Citizens' Declaration, which brought together several political figures and non-governmental organisations in calling for Najib's resignation.[137][138]

Mahathir left UMNO in 2016, and formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (BERSATU).[139][140] The new party was officially registered on 9 September 2016, and Mahathir became its chairman.[141] By 2017, he had officially joined the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan. Negotiations then took place between different factions of the coalition for Mahathir to become the chairman and prime ministerial candidate.[142] He assumed the position of chairman on 14 July 2017, despite reservations from supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, who could not contest in polls himself while imprisoned.[143][144]

In 2017 Mahathir referred to Najib as "a prime minister who came from 'Bugis pirates'" and remarked, "go back to Sulawesi". Bugis people in Malaysia and Indonesia criticised his language and protested against him.[145]

In early 2018, Mahathir was announced as Pakatan Harapan's prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming general election. Wan Azizah, wife of his former political enemy Anwar, ran as his deputy.[146] Mahathir's election promise was to seek a pardon for Anwar, in order to allow him to take over as prime minister after an interim period.[147][148]

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

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

Pakatan Harapan defeated Barisan Nasional in the 2018 general election.[149][150] Concerns for a smooth power transition emerged as Najib declared that no party had achieved a majority.[151] The National Palace of Malaysia subsequently confirmed Mahathir would be sworn in as Malaysia's seventh prime minister, refuting any claims of delaying the appointment.[152][153]

Mahathir became the world's oldest serving state leader (aged 92 years, 304 days at the time), and the first Malaysian prime minister not to represent UMNO.[154] His deputy, Wan Azizah became the first female deputy prime minister of Malaysia.[155]

In April 2019, Mahathir was listed among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.[156][157]

Domestic affairs[edit]

Mahathir promised to "restore the rule of law", and reopen investigations into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, telling the press that Najib would face consequences if found guilty of corruption.[158] Mahathir instructed the Department of Immigration bar Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor from leaving the country after they attempted to fly to Indonesia.[159]

Mahathir formed his seventh cabinet of 29 ministers in June 2018.[160] He abolished the unpopular Goods and Services Tax, reducing it from six to zero per cent.[161] Mahathir also vowed to cut fiscal spending by firing thousands of civil servants, cancelling an expensive Kuala Lumpur–Singapore high-speed rail link and cutting back on large infrastructure projects initiated under Najib.[162] Malaysia's freedom of the press improved slightly under Mahathir's tenure, and the country's rank rose in the Press Freedom Index.[163] The government announced palm oil cultivation would be limited to 6.55 million hectares by 2023, and began a lobbying campaign to improve palm oil's reputation abroad.[164]

On 20 June 2018, Mahathir met the father of murdered Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu and agreed that the case of her murder should be reopened.[165][166]

A year into his term, Mahathir's approval ratings had fallen as the economy slowed and several planned reforms, such as abolishing capital punishment and the Sedition Act 1948, were not realised amid divisions in the coalition.[167] Mahathir announced the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 in October 2019, which set out for Malaysia to become a high income country by 2030.[168][169] Another priority of his administration was a more transparent approach to defence. The government prepared the country's first defence policy white paper outlining long-term plans for the country.[170]

Foreign relations[edit]

Indonesia President Joko Widodo receiving Mahathir at Bogor Palace, 29 June 2018

Early in his second tenure, Mahathir visited Japan and Indonesia to reaffirm good relations, and reignited a water dispute with Singapore.[171] By the end of 2018, several disputes over maritime and airspace borders with Singapore had continued.[113] Mahathir met twice with president Rodrigo Duterte in his first year in office to strengthen cooperation with the Philippines on a broad range of security, economic and political issues.[172] Mahathir again prioritised relations with Japan[173] and strengthened economic and defence ties with Russia.[174] He visited Vladivostok for a meeting of the Eastern Economic Forum in late 2019, where he cast doubt on the Joint Investigation Team's findings related to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.[174] Mahathir called the murder charges brought to four Russians related to the flight "ridiculous", calling it "a political issue on how to accuse Russia of wrongdoing".[175] Malaysia launched a foreign policy framework in late 2019.[176] In response to European Union regulations phasing out palm-oil based biofuels, Mahathir discussed bringing a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization or a case to the European Court of Justice with Indonesian president Joko Widodo.[177]

Mahathir condemned the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018[178] and the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the United States in 2020.[179]

Mahathir was supportive of the 2018–19 Korean peace process.[180][181] He also indicated that Malaysia would re-open its embassy in North Korea, which had remained closed since the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong-nam.[182]


Mahathir's administration committed to retaining good relations with China,[183] but promised to review all Belt and Road Initiative projects in Malaysia that were initiated by the previous government. He characterised these as "unequal treaties". His government suspended work on the East Coast Rail Link,[183][184] which recommenced after terms had been renegotiated.[185] Mahathir cancelled approximately $2.8 billion worth of deals with China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau altogether, citing high repayment costs.[184][186]

On 13 February 2020, Mahathir spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping to express solidarity and discuss cooperation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.[187][188]

2020 political crisis and resignation[edit]

By late 2019, disagreements emerged within Pakatan Harapan about Mahathir's planned handover of power to Anwar Ibrahim, eventually culminating in a political crisis in 2020. Mahathir and a faction of the coalition felt that Anwar would be unable to command a parliamentary majority.[2] MPs supporting Anwar demanded a timeframe for Mahathir's resignation and handover of power.[2]

In February 2020, MPs opposed to Anwar taking over met and agreed to form a new government.[2][189][190][191] Anwar told the media that he had been "betrayed".[192][193] Anwar and Mahathir met to clarify the situation, where Mahathir insisted he had no involvement in a new government.[2][194][195]

Mahathir, refusing to work with UMNO leaders, submitted his resignation to the Agong, Abdullah of Pahang, on 24 February 2020.[196][197] The Agong appointed him interim prime minister until a replacement could be agreed.[198][199][200] BERSATU President Muhyiddin Yassin declared the party's withdrawal from Pakatan Harapan; Mahathir also resigned from the party in response.[2]

On 29 February, the Agong appointed Muhyiddin prime minister, determining that he was most likely to be able to hold the support of a majority in parliament.[201] Mahathir unsuccessfully attempted to challenge this with the Agong, but eventually left the prime minister's office an hour before Muhyiddin was sworn in.[2][202]

Post-premiership (2020–present)[edit]

Mahathir meets with United States Ambassador to Malaysia Brian D. McFeeters on 22 November 2021

Mahathir formed the Homeland Fighter's Party (PEJUANG) in August 2020. Four other MPs joined the new party, including Mahathir's son Mukhriz Mahathir. The party was registered in July 2021.[203][204] In August 2021, Mahathir and other MPs protested in Merdeka Square, calling for Muhyiddin's resignation over the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after being blocked from entering parliament by police.[205][206]

In April 2022, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi filed a defamation lawsuit against Mahathir.[207][208][209] In June 2022, Mahathir made irrendentist comments by stating that Singapore and the Riau Islands of Indonesia was once owned by Johor, and argued the state should claim them as part of Malaysia.[210]

In September 2022, Mahathir said he was open to becoming the prime minister for a third time if there were no other suitable candidates.[211][212] Having previously said he would not defend his Langkawi parliamentary seat,[213][214] he announced he would contest the 2022 general election.[215][216] In the election on 19 November, Mahathir lost his seat and election deposit, marking his first defeat in 53 years.[217] No candidate from PEJUANG or Gerakan Tanah Air secured a seat.[218][219] He later said that his party's plans "had to be dropped" and he would shift his focus to writing about Malaysian history.[220][221]

In February 2023, Mahathir and 13 other members of PEJUANG (leaving his own son as the sole leader of that party) left the party and joined Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra).[222][223] Later in 2023, Mahathir began promoting a "Malay Proclamation", aimed at uniting Malays. He met with PAS and PN leaders to garner support for the 12-point document listing political, economic and social issues.[224][225][226] Mahathir was questioned by police over this campaign under the Malaysian Penal Code, for carrying out "activities that undermine parliamentary democracy".[227] Mahathir also left GTA, criticising the coalition for its poor performance in the election.[228] He supported Perikatan Nasional, the coalition that had ousted him in 2020, in six state elections and was named its "unofficial adviser" for the four state governments under its control.[229]

In January 2024, Mahathir again made controversial remarks, this time on the Malaysian Indians, claiming that they were not completely loyal to Malaysia as they still identify themselves with their country of origin India. He argued that they have to identify themselves as Malays and speak Malay instead of Tamil to have the right to call Malaysia the country their own. He further added that non-Malays must assimilate and 'become Malays'. The remarks drew sharp criticisms from various politicians and organisations, notably Minister of National Unity Aaron Ago Dagang, Minister of Digital Gobind Singh Deo, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bagan Lim Guan Eng and Member of the Johor State Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Puteri Wangsa Amira Aisya Abdul Aziz.[230][231]

In January 2024, Mahathir's eldest son Mirzan and second son Mokhzani were summoned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for multiple corruption and abuse of power cases respectively. On March 11, 2024, the MACC announced that the investigation involved the Pandora Files and the Panama Papers. Related figures include Mahathir’s two sons, Mirzan and Mokhzani.[232][233][234] On March 26, 2024, Bloomberg reported that the purpose of the MACC's investigation of Mirzan and Mozani was to investigate whether Mahathir had corruption and abuse of power during his administration. And on the 31st of the same month, it was confirmed by Mukhriz. On April 16, 2024, Mahathir responded on his blog that the MACC claimed that he had violated the law, but so far it has not been able to produce any evidence. any relevant evidence. "If there is evidence from the Anti-Corruption Commission, please show relevant evidence." On April 25, 2024, Azam Baki, Chairman of the MACC, confirmed that Mahathir was investigated by the agency due to property declaration.[235]

Political positions and views[edit]

Mahathir speaking about "The Future of Democracy in Asia" in Chatham House, United Kingdom

Mahathir's political views have shifted during his lengthy career. During the 1980s, he was a supporter of Third-Worldism, while during other periods he has been a proponent of "Asian values" and globalisation.[236] A Muslim thinker, he holds Islamic political views.[236] In 2002, he characterised himself as an Islamic fundamentalist.[83] Mahathir is generally respected in developing and Islamic countries,[86] particularly due to his oversight of Malaysia's economic growth and his support of liberal Muslim values.[237]

Mahathir has been described as a proponent of Malay nationalism.[236] In The Malay Dilemma, he argued that the Malay race had been marginalised, and voiced his support for affirmative action policies for them.[72] Upon his first resignation, he expressed his disappointment at the progress made towards his "principle task" of supporting the Malay race.[72] In 2021, Mahathir said he did not believe in "Ketuanan Melayu", calling it a "fantasy", and said instead that he believed in the concept of "Bangsa Malaysia",[238] but later clarified in 2023 that his vision of Bangsa Malaysia meant the assimilation of non-Malay people into Malay culture and argued against multiculturalism.[239] He has been described as anti-royalist by Libération, owing to his efforts to oppose immunity for members of Malaysia's monarchies.[240]

Mahathir is a vocal critic of neoliberalism[236] and the Western world.[241][86] In 2011, Mahathir suggested that the September 11 attacks might have been staged by the United States government.[242][243] Mahathir condemned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1997, suggesting it be revised to place greater importance on economic growth over civil liberties.[244]

Mahathir has advocated for a balance between environmental protection and natural resource use for economic growth in developing countries.[245] He referred to the outcomes of the Earth Summit as "eco-imperialism", arguing that Global North countries put an undue burden on Global South countries for environmental degradation.[246] In response to international scrutiny, he said in 2019 that linking palm oil production to deforestation was "baseless, unfair and unjustified" and that the Malaysian palm oil sector had developed sustainably.[164]

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.

–Mahathir Mohamad, 2003[247]

A strident critic of Israel, Mahathir has been accused of antisemitism throughout his political life.[248][241] In The Malay Dilemma, he wrote that "Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively".[249] In August 1983, Mahathir claimed in a speech that Jews control the international media.[90] In March 1994, he banned the screening of Schindler's List on the grounds that he viewed it as anti-German, pro-Jewish propaganda.[90] During the collapse of the ringgit and the economic crisis in 1997, he made a series of remarks blaming Jews, in particular George Soros, a Jewish "agenda", and "an international Jewish conspiracy" attempting to destroy the economies of Muslim countries.[90][250][251]

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".[247][252] His speech was denounced by President George W. Bush.[253] In 2012, he claimed he was "glad to be labelled antisemitic".[254] In a 2018 BBC interview he repeated similar statements, as well as disputing the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.[255] 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."[256] 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."[257][258][259]

LGBT rights[edit]

Mahathir opposes an expansion of LGBT rights in Malaysia.[260][261] In 2001, Mahathir said that any homosexual ministers from the United Kingdom would be barred from entering Malaysia.[262] During an October 2018 lecture to university students in Bangkok, Mahathir contrasted Malaysian values with those of Western nations and cited "the institution of marriage [and] the family" in his opposition to LGBT.[260]

Comment about 2020 Nice stabbing[edit]

The French in the course of their history have 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.

–Mahathir Mohamad, 2020

In the aftermath of the 2020 Nice stabbing and murder of Samuel Paty, Mahathir posted remarks on his blog. Mahathir said that the attacks were wrong and against Islam, but also argued that Muslims had a right to be angry and kill French people for past massacres committed by the French. Mahathir's post was later circulated on his Twitter account, where it was labelled for "glorifying violence".[263]

Mahathir was criticised 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.[264] Malaysian cleric and politician Fathul Bari Mat Jahya also condemned Mahathir's remarks.[265][266]

Mahathir responded that his comments were taken out of context and he was not "promoting massacre of the French". Facebook and Twitter later removed his posts.[267]

Personal life[edit]

Mahathir's hobbies include sailing, horse riding and carpentry. He has built a functioning steam train and a boat.[10] Mahathir attributed his longevity to disciplined eating habits, reading newspapers daily, exercising and maintaining upright posture.[268] His favourite song is "My Way".[269] An avid reader, his favourite authors are Wilbur Smith and Jeffrey Archer.[270]

Mahathir and Siti Hasmah with Rodrigo Duterte and his partner Honeylet Avanceña

Marriage and family[edit]

In college, he met his future wife, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, a fellow medical student. They were married in 1956. He and Siti Hasmah had their first child, Marina, in 1957, before conceiving four others, Mirzan, Mokhzani, Melinda, and Mukhriz, as well as adopting two more, Maizura and Mazhar, over the following 28 years.[271][272]


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.[273] After the 2007 operation, he suffered a chest infection. He was hospitalised for treatment of another chest infection in Australia in October 2010.[129][274][275][276]

In December 2021, Mahathir was admitted to the National Heart Institute (IJN) for a medical check-up and observation.[277][278][279] He was discharged after several days.[280][281][282] In January 2022, Mahathir underwent an unspecified elective medical procedure at the IJN.[283][284] He was readmitted later the same month, and placed in the coronary care unit.[285][286][287][288] He continued rehabilitation and treatment after being discharged.[289][290][291]

In August 2022, Mahathir tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the IJN for observation.[292][293] He was discharged after receiving treatment.[294][295][296]

In August 2023, Mahathir was hospitalised with an infection, he was discharged days later.[297] In January 2024, he was again hospitalised due to an infection.[298]

Election results[edit]

Parliament of Malaysia[299]
Year Constituency Candidate Votes Pct Opponent(s) Votes Pct Ballots cast Majority Turnout
1964 P008 Kota Star Selatan, Kedah Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 12,406 60.22% Ahmad Shukri Abdul Shukur (PAS) 8,196 39.78% 21,440 4,210 82.8%
1969 Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 12,032 48.03% Yusof Rawa (PAS) 13,021 51.97% 25,679 989 78.6%
1974 P004 Kubang Pasu, Kedah Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) Unopposed
1978 Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 18,198 64.64% Halim Arshat (PAS) 9,953 35.36% N/A 8,245 78.36%
1982 Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 24,524 73.67% Yusof Rawa (PAS) 8,763 26.33% 34,340 15,761 78.79%
1986 Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 25,452 71.48% Azizan Ismail (PAS) 10,154 28.52% 36,409 15,298 74.21%
1990 Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 30,681 78.07% Sudin Wahab (S46) 8,619 21.93% 40,570 22,062 77.51%
1995 P006 Kubang Pasu, Kedah Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 24,495 77.12% Ahmad Mohd Alim (PAS) 7,269 22.88% 33,010 17,226 73.61%
1999 Mahathir Mohamad (UMNO) 22,399 63.22% Ahmad Subki Abd. Latif (PAS) 12,261 34.61% 36,106 10,138 78.62%
2018 P004 Langkawi, Kedah Mahathir Mohamad (BERSATU) 18,954 54.90% Nawawi Ahmad (UMNO) 10,061 29.14% 35,250 8,893 80.87%
Zubir Ahmad (PAS) 5,512 15.96%
2022 Mahathir Mohamad (PEJUANG) 4,566 9.62% Mohd Suhaimi Abdullah (BERSATU) 25,463 53.63% 48,123 13,518 71.10%
Armishah Siradj (UMNO) 11,945 25.16%
Zabidi Yahya (AMANAH) 5,417 11.41%
Abd Kadir Sainudin (IND) 89 0.19%

Awards and honours[edit]



  • The Malay Dilemma (1970) ISBN 981-204-355-1
  • The Challenge (1986) ISBN 967-978-091-0
  • Regionalism, Globalism, and Spheres of Influence: ASEAN and the Challenge of Change into the 21st century (1989) ISBN 981-303-549-8
  • Mahathir, Great Malaysian Hero (1990) ISBN 983-9683-00-4
  • The Asia That Can Say No[note 3][note 4] (1994) ISBN 433-405-217-7
  • The Pacific Rim in the 21st century (1995)
  • The Challenges of Turmoil (1998) ISBN 967-978-652-8
  • The Way Forward (1998) ISBN 0-297-84229-3
  • A New Deal for Asia (1999)
  • Islam & The Muslim Ummah (2001) ISBN 967-978-738-9
  • Globalisation and the New Realities (2002)
  • Reflections on Asia (2002) ISBN 967-978-813-X
  • The Malaysian Currency Crisis: How and why it Happened (2003) ISBN 967-978-756-7
  • Achieving True Globalization (2004) ISBN 967-978-904-7
  • Islam, Knowledge, and Other Affairs (2006) ISBN 983-3698-03-4
  • Principles of Public Administration: An Introduction (2007) ISBN 978-983-195-253-5
  • Chedet.com Blog Merentasi Halangan (Bilingual) (2008) ISBN 967-969-589-1
  • A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (2011) ISBN 9789675997228
  • Doktor Umum: Memoir Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad[note 5] (2012) ISBN 9789674150259
  • Blogging to Unblock (Book 2): A Citizen's Rights (2013) ISBN 9789679696288
  • Dr. M: Apa Habaq Orang Muda? (2016) ISBN 9789671367995
  • Capturing Hope: The Struggle Continues for a New Malaysia (2021) ISBN 9789672923183

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Disputed with Muhyiddin Yassin from 24 February to 28 May 2020
  2. ^ 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.[4]
  3. ^ Japanese:「NO」と言えるアジア
  4. ^ In collaboration with Shintaro Ishihara
  5. ^ This book was the BM version of his best-selling memoir, A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.


  1. ^ "Mahathir Mohamad: Malaysia needs more competitive investment policies". Malaysia National News Agency (Bernama) – Arabic (in Arabic). 20 June 2022. Archived from the original on 30 October 2022. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Malaysian machinations: How Southeast Asia's veteran leader lost the plot". Reuters. 6 March 2020. Archived from the original on 16 September 2021. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  3. ^ "Malaysia's 94-year-old PM Tenders His Resignation". Voice of America. 24 February 2020. Archived from the original on 13 January 2022. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Wain 2010, p. 8
  5. ^ Wain 2010, pp. 5–6
  6. ^ Perlez, Jane (2 November 2003). "New Malaysian Leader's Style Stirs Optimism". New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2011.
  7. ^ Wain 2010, pp. 4–5
  8. ^ "Mahathir's Birthplace or 'Rumah Kelahiran Mahathir'". Tourism Malaysia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
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Cited texts[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Federal Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Preceded by Federal Minister of International Trade and Industry
Succeeded by
Preceded by Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
Succeeded by
Musa Hitam
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Succeeded by
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Preceded by Federal Minister of Defence
Preceded by
Musa Hitam
Federal Minister of Home Affairs
Preceded by Federal Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Daim Zainuddin
Federal Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Preceded by Prime Minister of Malaysia
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement
Succeeded by
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Party political offices
Preceded by
Hussein Onn
Deputy President of the United Malays National Organisation
Succeeded by
Musa Hitam
President of the United Malays National Organisation
Succeeded by
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
New title Chairman of Pakatan Harapan
Succeeded by
Anwar Ibrahim