Asia

After election loss, Malaysia’s Mahathir says he will focus on writing history

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad plans to focus on writing, he said Wednesday, days after just his second political defeat in a storied career that began in the 1960s.

In his first comments since losing the Langkawi parliamentary seat in Saturday’s election, the 97-year-old veteran politician said he was sad about the loss but that he accepted it.

Mahathir had contested the seat as a member of the Pejuang party, which he founded in 2020. He did not say whether he was stepping away from politics.

“I am sad as the chairman of Pejuang. But I accept the people’s choice,” Mahathir wrote on Facebook.

“I myself will focus on writing about history and activities in the country. Indeed, many events that happened in the country have not been recorded, including what happened in the British era,” he added, referring to when the country was a British colony.

Malaysia’s longest-serving politician, known as Dr. M, also said he was “open to being interviewed by an author.”

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A doctor by training, Mahathir served as prime minister for 22 consecutive years, from 1981-2003, winning four straight elections. He later returned to power in 2018 for a short-lived stint as PM.

In May 2018, when he was nearly 93, Mahathir became the world’s oldest serving prime minister after leading the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition to a shock victory in a general election against his former UMNO party.

The United Malays National Organization, which had ruled Malaysia since independence 61 years earlier, had become tainted by a massive corruption scandal, which implicated then-Prime Minister Najib Razak.

While campaigning on a platform of ridding government of corruption and removing Najib from power over the 1MDB financial scandal, Mahathir became an unlikely ally of his former protégés, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The duo’s parties joined forces with each other and other opposition groups in forming Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope. The bloc handed UMNO a drubbing at the polls, the likes of which the country’s predominant party had never seen.

“To be a great leader, one needs to have good strategies, be knowledgeable and able to predict the future,” Dr. M had said once.

Mahathir returned to office as a nonagenarian after forming a pact with Anwar, in which he agreed to hand over power to the younger politician after two years.

But infighting among Pakatan’s constituent parties and the question of Anwar taking over brought about the government’s collapse in February 2020, when Mahathir resigned as PM.

This time around, Mahathir again tried to bring the opposition together under one umbrella but failed.

Political observers said his loss in Saturday’s election almost certainly spelled the end of his political career.

But looking at Mahathir’s history, it may be foolish to write him off – even at 97.

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