by DASHVEENJIT KAUR / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — a name that needs no introduction to over 30 million Malaysians — will create a national and world history as the oldest prime minister in the world, who is also the first Malaysian to return to office 15 years after retirement.
The nonagenarian is the country’s seventh prime minister, a definitely amazing comeback, after serving as the country’s fourth prime minister for 22 years between 1981-2003.
This time, Dr Mahathir is leading Pakatan Harapan which consists of PKR, DAP, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Amanah.
The wave that Dr Mahathir brought onto some 14.97 million registered voters in the country was evident in the thousands who thronged Pakatan Harapan’s election campaigns nationwide in the last 11 days.
It certainly is a momentous moment in his illustrious career that began with him as an elected member of the Dewan Rakyat for Kota Setar in 1957.
He was also first elected to Parliament in 1964 as a member of Umno, the dominant party within the ruling governmental coalition.
In 1969, however, Dr Mahathir was expelled from Umno after his forceful advocacy of ethnic Malay nationalism brought him into conflict with then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Dr Mahathir rejoined Umno in 1970, was re-elected to its supreme council in 1972 and to Parliament in 1974. Later, in 1974, he was appointed as the minister of education.
In 1976, he became deputy prime minister and in June1981 was elected president of Umno.
He became prime minister in July that year, the first commoner to hold that office.
As prime minister, Dr Mahathir modernised the country’s economy and built landmark projects, including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which at one point, were the world’s tallest buildings.
The national car Proton, the administrative capital of Putrajaya and the Penang Bridge were among the other jaw-dropping projects executed under his tenure.
Cyberspace and even outer space have become realities for Malaysia. Who would have ever thought that the quiet agricultural enclave of Sepang would one day be home to one of the world’s best airports and a Formula One circuit.
During his tenure, the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Malaysia plans were launched, and light rail transit changed the face of urban transportation.
For almost a decade under his premiership, the economy grew at a dizzying rate of about 9% per year.
Vision 2020 was also launched by Dr Mahathir in 1990 as the New Economic Policy was coming to an end after 20 years.
When he stepped down on Oct 25, 2003, he caught everyone in this country of 21 million by surprise, including his closest political associates, foreign diplomats and even his wife, who seemed to gasp when she heard the words.
Dr Mahathir then chose Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to succeed him as prime minister and Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak as his deputy. By 2009, Abdullah stepped down and was replaced by Najib.
Dr Mahathir’s 22-year rule was as transformative, and now that he is back, more could certainly be expected.
In his last hours of campaigning before the election, Dr Mahathir made a rather emotional plea to citizens to vote for a change.
“This time, we are together to replace the government. The government has been there for more than 60 years. It is time it goes,” he said.
The man, who led Malaysia for decades with dagger-sharp rhetoric and increasingly autocratic ways, is 93 this July and in frail health.
However, it does not stop him from allying himself with Opposition figures he once repressed.
To most, he is the man who defined much of Malaysia’s political history.
Now, he is standing before both the country as a whole and the new Opposition allies he once persecuted, asking them to ignore the past.
The embattled fund that allegedly mishandled billions of dollars has been a clear target which Dr Mahathir claims was the main instigator for him forming his own party in 2015.
Without Dr Mahathir, analysts say, the four-party Opposition coalition has no leader who can unify its factions and appeal to rural, ethnically Malay voters, who make up a decisive voting bloc.
Admitting himself that he may not be liked by many, Dr Mahathir, with a hint of sarcastic edge, accepts that in politics, you get labelled by many.