KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad has never lost an election campaign. He maintained that record and created another one on Thursday when, at 92, he was set to be sworn in as the world’s oldest elected leader.
“Yes, yes, I am still alive,” a sprightly looking Mahathir said at a 3 a.m. news conference in which he claimed victory over the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that has ruled the Southeast Asian nation since independence six decades ago.
Mahathir led the coalition as Malaysia’s prime minister for 22 years, starting in 1981. As one of the country’s most eminent leaders, he was pugnacious, uncompromising and intolerant of dissent, but turned Malaysia from a sleepy backwater into one of the world’s modern industrialized nations.
He was never far from the headlines in retirement, and two years ago he came back to active politics, this time in the ranks of the opposition, vowing to oust his protege Najib Razak from the prime minister’s chair over a financial scandal at the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
In his crusade, Mahathir eventually quit the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) party, which he had helped build, and ceded all his government advisory roles.