Political Years


Post-political life and family


Mahathir bin Mohamad became the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia on July 16, 1981 and served for 22 years until he finally relinquished his post on 31st October 2003 to Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He is until now the longest serving Prime Minister of Malaysia. To Malaysians, he is commonly known as Dr. M or Mahathir.

Born on December 1925 in Alor Setar, Kedah (a state in Northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia), Mahathir was the youngest of nine children. His ancestors hailed from the state of Kerala and his father, Mohamad Iskandar was the first Malay headmaster of an English school (now Maktab Sultan Abdul Samad) in Kedah.  

At home, he was given the pet name “Che Det” which later became his pseudonym when he wrote articles for the Sunday Times after graduating from secondary school. At school, he was active in debates. Though when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia’s official name then) in 1942, all schools were closed and replaced by Japanese-medium schools. Mahathir attended the Japanese school at first but gave up soon after.

As the chances of furthering his studies were slim, he decided to look for work instead. At the beginning, he was rejected by a Chinese rubber trader who did not employ Malays, but he soon got a job selling goods in the market and was able to open his own coffee stall and later replaced it as a fruit trading business. It was during then when he realized the Malays were left behind economically compared to other races, which became the founding base of his later reflections and policies on Malay affairs.

The Literary and Debating Society of Sultan Abdul Hamid College in 1946.
Seated from left: Ahmad Nordin, Mohammad Khir Johari, Tiddemand (the Headmaster), Mahathir Mohamad, Zulkifli Hashim. [http://www.geocities.com/kedah_pages/sahc.html]

Soon after the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Mahathir resumed his studies at Sultan Abdul Hamid College. He was then awarded a scholarship to study medicine at Kind Edward VII Medical College in Singapore, where he met his wife-to-be, Siti Hasmah Ali.

After graduating from medical school, he started work as a physician at various General Hospitals in Penang, Alor Setar and the Langkawi Island. And in 1957, the same year when Malaysia achieved its independence, Mahathir decided to set up his own independent clinic – Maha Clinic in Alor Setar. At that time, his clinic was the only clinic owned by a Malay of all the five private clinics in Alor Setar.

Political Years

Mahathir’s political career began when in the 1964 election, he was elected into Parliament as a member of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). During that same year, he represented Malaysia at the World Assembly of Youth conference in Amherst, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Mahathir lost his Parliamentary seat in the 1969 elections, followed by the racial riots of May 13, 1969. The riots led Mahathir to write a letter to the first Prime Minister of Malaysia – Tunku Abdul Rahman asking for Tunku’s resignation based on the reason that Tunku did not handle racial matters adequately.

Consequently, he was expelled from UMNO on September 26, 1969. It was during the years of absence from politics when he published the book “Malays Dilemma”, and was then labeled as a ‘Malay Ultra’ for many years.

On March 7, 1972, Mahathir was readmitted into UMNO. Subsequently, he was appointed an UMNO Supreme Council Member and in 1973 he became a member of the Senate. He was also designated the Ministry of Education on September 6, 1974, and was elected as one of the vice presidents of UMNO in 1975. On March 6, 1976, Tun Hussein Onn - the third Prime Minister of Malaysia appointed Mahathir as the new Deputy Prime Minister. Later on, he was given the post of Minister for Trade and Industry in 1978 and represented the Prime Minister at the Islamic Nations Conference in Taif, in 1981.

[Lat, Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.]

"Tolong trim sikit..." - "Please shorten it'
[Lat, Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.]

As Tun Hussein Onn’s health deteriorated, he decided to retire. Thus, Mahathir became the Prime Minister of Malaysia on July 16, 1981 at the age of 55.

The Petronas Twin Towers (2nd tallest building in the world)
[Lat, Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.]

Under Mahathir’s leadership, Malaysia witnessed rapid economic growth and social changes that transformed the country from an agricultural-dependent economy into one of the most powerful economies in South-East Asia. Mahathir was also famous for his big budget projects, for instance the national car company– PROTON, the Kuala Lumpur Tower, the Petronas Twin Towers, the new capital city Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sepang International Circuit and ASTRO, a satellite television service. The SMART (Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel) tunnel was also planned at the time when he was Prime Minister. It was finally open to the public on 7th April 2007.  As an outspoken advocate of Asian values alongside Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, he introduced the “Look East Policy”.

During Mahathir’s rule, he was frequently criticized about his authoritarian policies and was labeled a dictator by certain parties. Though he is infamous for his criticisms against the Western World, Jews, Caucasians and certain aspects of Christianity, he too

criticized the Islamic World and Malaysians at the same time. Practically no one was exempted from his criticisms. He has written many books, one of which is a compilation of his speech titled “Malays Forget Easily”.

[Lat, Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.]

Mahathir and Siti Hasmah with their children and grandchildren.

Post-political life and his family
Although he has since retired from office, he remains active in the Malaysian political scene, ever willing to express his views. Within the past year, he has quit and rejoined UMNO to voice his discontent about the ex-Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi and his support for the new Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak.

Mahathir and Siti Hasmah have seven children – Marina, Mirzan, Melinda, Mokhzani, Mukhriz, Mazhar and Maizura, of whom three are adopted. Their eldest daughter, Marina Mahathir is the former head of the Malaysian AIDS council and has her own column in The Star newspaper. Mukhriz is the current Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry, whereas Mokhzani is the chairman of the Sepang International Circuit.

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Last Updated Wednesday, April 13, 2009   Contact me at teh20y@mtholyoke.edu
Copyright © 2009 Yen Ping, Teh