Mahathir, mentor of the Malaysian prime ministers


The end of the 2018 Malaysian election underscored several important events in the country. Mahathir Mohamad, at the age of 92, came out victorious and would soon be appointed as Prime Minister. A few days later, on May 16, 2018, Anwar Ibrahim, a Malaysian politician and opposition figure, was released from prison for the second time.

Mahathir was the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, who served for 22 years and led the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which had ruled since Malaysia's independence from the United Kingdom. Anwar was the former Deputy Prime Minister from 1993 to 1998.

Anwar immediately celebrated his freedom by breaking the fast of the first day of Ramadan with about 500 supporters at his residence in Segambut. Previously, under the Najib Razak regime, Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison on February 10, 2015, on charges of sodomy. If Mahathir kept his word, in two years, Anwar would sit in the Prime Minister's chair.

In the 2018 Malaysian election, both Mahathir and Anwar were in the ranks of the Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance which contained a combination of parties against Najib, the incumbent Malaysian Prime Minister from UMNO who had been in power since 2009. Mahathir himself was no longer sitting at UMNO.

Anwar's closest agenda was to ensure a position in parliament so that he could accept the mandate to be the Prime Minister's successor. Mahathir was like a father to Anwar. Mahathir opened the road to power by overthrowing Najib. Mahathir also played a role in lobbying Muhammad V of Kelantan to forgive Anwar and release him from prison.

Mahathir's relationship with Anwar and Najib was once good. Even Najib's rise to become Prime Minister in 2009 was also due to Mahathir's role. Previously, the post of Prime Minister was held by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, which, again, thanks to Mahathir.

In short, all the Malaysian prime ministers since 2004 had always been blessed without exception. Mahathir was a servant, advisor, and mentor to the prime ministers.

Mentored by Mahathir


Anwar and Mahathir's relationship had deteriorated. Anwar previously served as Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1993 to 1998. When Asia was hit by the economic crisis in 1998, Mahathir and Anwar were at odds over the handling of the crisis. Some of Mahathir's policies began to be criticized by Anwar.

Their disputes had long tails. Mahathir fired Anwar and threw him in jail in 1998 on charges of sodomy and abuse of power. On a series of accusations, Anwar reacted by calling Mahathir a crazy, senile, unhealthy person to lead the nation. On the other hand, from the start, Anwar was thought to be Mahathir's successor, something the mentor had even planned before he withdrew his decision because of a dispute.

Ending 22 years of his post, Mahathir began to seriously prepare for his successor. After Anwar was eliminated, there were two strongmen in the UMNO environment Mahathir had prepared, namely Abdullah, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia replacing Anwar, and Najib, a minister in Mahathir's cabinet since 1986.

Abdullah advanced first. He was appointed as Mahathir's successor in October 2003. At that time, Abdullah also served as Vice-President of UMNO. That position might make Mahathir choose Abdullah as the successor.

In the 2004 Malaysian election, Abdullah won through the anti-corruption campaign and coupled with Najib as Deputy Prime Minister. However, after a period of leadership, Abdullah's government was even bombarded with criticism for not being able to fulfill his campaign promises.

Mahathir also criticized Abdullah, garnered opposition support, and openly urged him to step down. Moreover, in the 2008 Malaysian election, Barisan Nasional (BN) failed to win a two-thirds majority for the first time since Hari Merdeka in 1957.

For Mahathir, the deterioration of the BN votes was a strong signal of how Malaysian people were dissatisfied with Abdullah's government. He could not move anymore. He was forced to step down from the Prime Minister's seat in 2009 and surrender his position to Najib.

Najib was sworn in as Prime Minister on April 3, 2009. Mahathir himself supported and recommended Najib, a British-educated economist with an aristocratic background, to lead Malaysia. In fact, Mahathir even returned to UMNO after briefly leaving when he protested Abdullah.


In the 2013 Malaysian election, Najib came out victorious. As if repeating Abdullah's leadership with a longer duration, Najib's performance did not go smoothly. He was involved in the vortex of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.

Mahathir was furious and jumped into the stronghold of the opposition which had been harshly criticized Najib's leadership. In his era, Anwar who still had influence in the opposition was thrown back into prison in 2015 for the second time on the same charge: sodomy.

In and out of UMNO

As the first generation of political figures in Malaysia, Mahathir began his political career at UMNO, exactly after he graduated from high school in 1946. According to Barry Wain in his book entitled Malaysian Maverick, the Japanese occupation of Malaya and the return of Britain after World War II in 1946 were enough to traumatize young Mahathir and at the same time make him politically literate.

Mahathir began entering the Parliament of Malaysia in 1964, a year after Malaysia was established. He began to dispute with the first Prime Minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman. The climax was in 1969.

Mahathir was expelled from UMNO membership because of criticizing Abdul Rahman related to the fate of the Malays. According to Mahathir, the Malays received less attention from the state. In the same year, the 13 May incident erupted and killed hundreds of people.

Mahathir's political career actually began after being expelled from UMNO. Alienated from the national political scene, he spilled his ideas in a book called The Malay Dilemma. The book was quite controversial. Its contents generally said the removal of Malay people since the British colonial era.

After returning to UMNO in 1972, Mahathir's political career continued to climb. In 1973, he was elected to Dewan Negara, entered the Parliament in 1974, and was appointed Minister of International Trade and Industry in 1978.

Mahathir was elected as the President of UMNO in June 1981 and eventually became the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia a month later. Since then, his influence had remained unshakeable for up to two decades.

In a speech at the beginning of May 2018 in Titiwangsa, Mahathir apologized and claimed responsibility for Najib's rise as Prime Minister in 2009.


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