Malaysia’s veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, won a historic election victory on 10 May (2018) in a political earthquake that toppled the country’s scandal-plagued premier Najib Razzak and ousted a party the Barisan Nasional (BN) that had ruled for over six decades.
In a thumping victory, a dramatic political comeback for Mahathir has emerged. His return as a winner in the elections is certainly an unparalleled event in both national and international arenas.
Mahathir who previously ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years and came out of retirement to take on Prime Minister Najib Razak after the leader became embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.
Across the world people have admired his ability, how he kept himself physically and psychologically fit for running for office at the age of 92. Not many people, first of all, make it to this age, and secondly, not many people can think of contributing to the country at this age.
It is evident that at 92, he hasn’t slowed down.. There is no dearth of active movement in him. He was seen crisscrossing the country during his campaigns and has attended demonstrations and candlelight vigils.
The lifestyle he led is quite important here. He recently told the media that he has been active all the time, and that helped him stay mentally alert, and maintain his weight at between 62kg and 64kg for the last three decades.
He even told a newspaper he did have no health problems, but was careful about keeping himself well. He said he didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and didn’t overeat. He ate just enough food to keep himself going.
Like all great leaders, he has embraced change for the sake of his country. It was at the helm for 22 years -- from 1981 to 2003, he spent a completely stress-free life during his rule and he could face problems-both local and international. Mahathir must have done something to keep his stresses quelled so that they could not hamper his health.
A study published in International Psychogeriatrics and quoted by the Time magazine showed that at 90 and 100 years, a person display qualities of resilience and adaptability. The study quoted one man who recently lost his wife. He said to his interviewers: “Thanks to my sons, I am now recovering and feeling much better … I have fought all my life and I am always ready for change. I think changes bring life and give chances to grow.”
So, changing oneself is a factor in having a sustainable, effective, and long life. If we take the example of Mahathir Mohamad, we see that he has changed since leaving office in 2003. There was a time when he was with the government party. At that time, he was against the opposition.
The scandal surrounding Malaysia’s sovereign fund (1MDB) had gripped the country for years. The US reportedly said it was moving to seize more than $1bn (£761m) in assets, ranging from plush properties to a private jet, from people connected to the country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. The asset seizure by the US was reportedly the largest ever by the Justice Department’s anti-corruption unit.
The Department of Justice alleges $3.5bn (£2.6bn) was misappropriated from 1MDB. “The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale,” Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said at a news conference. Prime Minister Najib was not named in the suit. But it referred to “Malaysian Official 1”, described as “a high-ranking official in the Malaysian government who also held a position of authority with 1MDB”. It also sets up a rare confrontations between the US and Malaysia, which is considered an important partner in the fight against terrorism.
Swiss authorities had reportedly opened criminal proceedings related to 1MDB on “public interests and money laundering” suspected corruption of public foreign officials.
Najib has also consistently denied taking money from 1MDB or any public funds .His office said Malaysia had “led the way in investigations into 1MDB” and would in future “fully co-operate with any lawful investigation”.
Over the last year, Najib has also sacked his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and replaced the former attorney-general over comments they made about the scandal. Malaysia’s government has cracked down on reporting of the 1MDB scandal, blocking access to certain online news portals and targeting media groups and journalists.
Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysians should push for a referendum on the prime minister’s leadership. Opposition leader in parliament, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, called upon Najib to give a full explanation in parliament and go on leave so a full probe could take place.
Civil society groups said Najib should both resign immediately to make way for independent investigations. The 1MDB controversy has frustrated many Malaysians who are struggling with the rising cost of living and what is perceived to be ingrained corruption in its political system. Last year tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for the resignation of Najib Razzak.
Mahathir has gone through more changes. He has already expressed his wish to pass on his responsibilities to Anwar Ibrahim now in jail. It was Mahathir himself who once didn’t approve of Ibrahim’s inappropriate practices and was instrumental in ousting him from his responsibilities.
Ibrahim Anwar, former Deputy Prime Minister now in jail is due to be released from prison in June. Mahathir has vowed to get him a royal pardon and later hand over the premiership to him.
Now, the changed Mahathir is now promoting Ibrahim. Dr Mahathir Mohamad says he should not have gotten rid of Anwar Ibrahim the way he did. Mahathir added “From a political point of view, I should not have done so because when I was prime minister, I promised myself not to do anything that would make people hate me,” In the Sin Chew interview, Mahathir admitted that the incident involving Anwar caused him to lose votes in the 1999 election, “Now I know, perhaps I should have put justice first and not political reasons.”
Mrs. Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail is a Malaysian politician serving as the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and Member of Parliament for Pandan since 12 May 2018. Mrs. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said that her husband Anwar Ibrahim could be released from custody within days, and be granted a full royal pardon hopefully within a week.
“The Agong (king) wants the pardon to happen as soon as possible,” Wan Azizah told reporters outside a hospital where she had gone to visit Anwar. “If the director of prisons is satisfied ... then he may be released in two-three days..”
Meanwhile basking with outstanding victory in election, Mahathir is reported to have said that people who described him as a dictator, asked me to lead them.” He added: “I never really thought the opposition would accept me, and I didn’t really think I would accept them. But we were all very much against Najib, and they consider that more important than any differences we had before. So now I am with them, and they are with me.”
According to various media reports, Mahathir, like all high performers across the world, has never stopped learning from various sources and applying the knowledge in his life. He has utilized the last 15 years in learning. And like all great leaders, he has embraced change for the sake of his country. Great leaders never fail to see country’s interests.
Mahathir planned each and every aspect of his work, which may have kept him efficient all these years, as he himself said that he had never retired.
Now that he has been sworn in as the seventh prime minister of Malaysia, Malaysia is likely to go through many phases of change, which would impact upon the Asian politics to a great extent.
Suva Selvan, a 48-year-old doctor, said he felt the country had just won its independence. “I feel that with this change we probably can see something better in the future… our hope for the future is a better government, fair, free and united,” he told AFP.
Defeat could just be the beginning of Najib’s troubles. Mahathir has vowed to bring him to justice over allegations that billions of dollars were looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, which the scandal-hit leader set up and oversaw. At a press conference after his win, Mahathir vowed: “We are not seeking revenge. We want to restore the rule of law.” Najib and his wife have been barred from leaving the country by the government.
Very soon, the international media will start writing on Mahathir who has sustained himself tremendously as a human being and as a statesman. We have seen many people, including many heads of state, across the world, who have nurtured themselves and also contributed to the country they lived in. Like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (who lost power in 2017) and Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Mugabe is still alive at 94, and Mandela passed away in 2013.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.