Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad returns at 92 to lead the party he once opposed

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor
The Times, London
January 8 2018

He is a figure from another era, a contemporary of Thatcher and Reagan who was supposed to have retired from politics 15 years ago. Yet Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former prime minister of Malaysia, is once again in the running to lead his country, this time for the opposition he battled against for so many years.

At a convention of its four constituent parties, Dr Mahathir was chosen to lead the opposition into a general election that must be held by August. It will pitch him against the United Malays National Organisation, the party that he led as prime minister for more than two decades.

It puts him in direct competition with the prime minister, Najib Razak, who is embroiled in a multibillion-pound fraud scandal and under investigation by the US Justice Department. Most remarkably of all, it places him in alliance with the family and supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, the man who would almost certainly be leader of the opposition if he were not in prison for sodomy, an accusation first brought against him 20 years ago by his former friend and mentor, Dr Mahathir.

“Our great focus is to save our beloved country,” Dr Mahathir said on Sunday. “It wasn’t easy for the parties that were my enemies before to accept me — but they are aware of the importance of bringing down the current government.”

Until his retirement in 2003, Dr Mahathir was a towering presence in southeast Asia. He, more than anyone else, shaped the modern Malaysian state. Malaysians grew accustomed to his rants against the West and liberal democracy but even they are shaking their heads at the ironies of his attempted comeback.

After coming to power in 1981 he was unassailable, goading Malaysians into unprecedented economic achievement. Malaysia was a democracy but an authoritarian one in which the press agreed with almost everything the government said and those who spoke out were liable to find themselves locked up without trial.

Mr Najib has vehemently denied claims first made in 2015 that he stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad, which he founded.

Lawsuits filed by the US Justice Department describe a money-laundering scheme in which huge sums of state money were transferred to senior government officials via shell companies.

  1. #1 by good coolie on Thursday, 11 January 2018 - 12:30 pm

    “… but they are aware of the importance of bringing down the current government.” Yep, Good Dr. You hit the nail on the head. If you can pull this through, we owe you much thanks. And this, even though there is much about you that we dislike.

    Shakespeare has been proven right: that misery makes strange bed-mates.

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