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Mahathir masters political art of quitting to assert power

Reuters

Published
Modified 25 Feb 2020, 4:57 pm

Having stunned Malaysia by resigning as prime minister on Monday as a power struggle erupted within the ruling coalition, 94-year-old Dr Mahathir Mohamad was immediately asked by the Southeast Asian nation's king to stay on as interim premier.

Mahathir also resigned as the chairperson of his own party, and on Tuesday, according to sources, he proposed forming a unity government, inviting lawmakers from rival parties to join a new coalition.

Here are some facts about Mahathir, who returned to power in 2018, having first stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in power.

  • Born on July 10, 1925. Mahathir hails from the Muslim ethnic Malay majority. He is the youngest of nine children. His father was a school headmaster in the northern state of Kedah.
  • A former doctor, Mahathir has been in politics for more than 70 years. Known for being outspoken, his acerbic, blunt style has at times upset his own people as well as foreign leaders.
  • He championed the economic empowerment of the Malays, which some say may have come at a cost for Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.
  • His first stint from 1981 to 2003 made him Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister. He was Malaysia's fourth and seventh premier.
  • At the age of 92, he re-entered politics to defeat his former protege Najib Razak and end the uninterrupted 60-year rule of Umno, the party he had once led.
  • He is credited with transforming Malaysia, a country of 32 million, into an industrial nation from a mainly rural one. The 88-storey Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the world's tallest twin structures, were built under his watch.
  • Critics say his first spell in office was tarnished by disregard for human rights, the jailing of political foes, and the weakening of institutions such as the judiciary.
  • Writing in a blog in 2018, Mahathir said: "Looking back now, I realise why, as prime minister of Malaysia, I was described as a dictator. There were many things I did which were typically dictatorial."
  • He has often spoken out against bigger countries, including the United States and India, over issues affecting the Muslim world. A recent row with India hurt Malaysia's exports of palm oil to the world's biggest buyer.
  • Mahathir is strongly critical of Israel and supports the Palestinian cause. Before stepping down in 2003, he delivered a controversial speech in which he said that Jews ruled the world by proxy and described them as "hook-nosed".
  • At 94, Mahathir is remarkably fit for his age. He told Reuters in December he has weighed 62kg for the past 30 or 40 years. "I don't eat very much, and I don't eat... when food tastes nice. I don't overeat," he said. 

- Reuters

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