Mahathir Mohamad

Norodom Sihamoni
July 6, 2017
Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor
July 11, 2017

Mahathir Mohamad

Mahathir Mohamad is known as one of the most successful prime ministers in Malaysia’s history. It was clear by Mahathir’s performance in school that he was destined to do great things. When he was 16 the school shut down during the Japanese occupation of World War II. He took to the streets selling coffee and banana fritters to stay out of trouble. During his 22 year tenure he fought hard for equal opportunities for the Malay people. He formulated policies that helped businesses flourish and made education easily available to the people of the country. While his polices have earned him a lot of criticism over his career, Mahathir never wavered from his convictions. This healthy stubbornness made him an effective politician. The first example of this resolve came when he was exiled from politics for criticizing the current regime. Instead of cowering he wrote ‘The Malay Dilemma’, which continued the critique. This book played a huge role in Prime Minister Rahman’s resignation. During his tenure he showed resolve constantly with his battles over control with the royal family. Mahathir’s storied career has cemented him as perhaps the most influential figure in Malaysia’s history

Childhood & Early Life

  • Mahathir Mohamad was born on July 10, 1925 in Malaysia. He was raised in a poor neighborhood in Alor Setar region of the state of Kedah.
  • His father’s name was Mohamad bin Iskandar. He was a principal with low socioeconomic standing. His mother was only a distant relative to Kedah royalty.
  • Mahathir excelled throughout school. He won a scholarship to an English secondary school.
  • He completed secondary school once the war ended. He enrolled in medical school at the ‘King Edward VII College of Medicine’ in Singapore.


  • After graduating medical school Mahathir got his first job in the medical industry. He worked as a government service doctor until 1956. In the same year, he returned to his home region of Alor Setar and opened up a private practice. He was the only Malay doctor in the area at that time.
  • Mahathir’s second love was politics. He was active in protests as a student, where he advocated for Malaysian independence.
  • He was a strict supporter of the ‘United Malays National Organisation’ during his time in Alor Setar. He quickly became a prominent member through charismatic advocacy of his positions.
  • In 1959, he came close to running for office but ended up withholding himself from the election in protest due to conflict with the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.In 1964, he ran for his first political office and won. He was elected to the seat representing Kota Setar Seletan in the federal parliament.
  • Mahathir began his career in politics during a volatile time. Racial tensions between the Chinese and Malay reached a fever pitch in 1969. In that same year Mahathir lost his re-election campaign.
  • The race riots of May 1969 saw hundreds of Chinese and Malay killed. Mahathir wrote an open letter criticizing Rahman for favoring Chinese interests. This let her got him fired from the supreme council and kicked out of the UMNO party.
  • In 1970 he published his first book, ‘The Malay Dilemma’. It was a further critique on the lack of support from Rahman’s administration for the Malay people. This criticism got the book banned.
  • Mahathir returned politics in 1973 after a three year hiatus. He was appointed as a senator in new Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein’s regime.
  • In 1974 he was appointed as the Minster of Education. He also won the seat for Kubang Pasu in the House of Representatives.
  • He ran for a vice-presidency position in the UMNO party and won. This set him up to be named deputy prime minister shortly after.
  • In 1981 he became prime minister. The first two years of his tenure saw battles for more authority with the royal family.
  • From 1981 to 2003, Mahathir made a great impact on Malaysian politics with his progressive policies. His tenure spanning over two decades is the longest any elected leader has served in his country, which attests to his list of accomplishments.
  • In retirement Mahathir has written several books, with the most recent being his memoirs in 2011.


Mahathir is just an ordinary doctor; a general practitioner and not a specialist. His understanding of economics is as rudimentary as the average Malaysian. His idea of increasing the equity of the Malays is so simplistic – use the GLCs. Mahathir’s vision of doing business is by profiteering through controlling shares in as many companies as possible without considering the possibility of losing money. Sad to say, real life businesses involves losses, not just profits.

Mahathir’s economic policy was not based on any solid foundation and had never been tested in any country before. It was based on his opinions and viewpoints. If these had been any good or worked, many countries would have already implemented similar ideas centuries ago. Even established capitalist and communist economic systems have come under fire and economic collapse is a norm these days, part of a man-made boom and bust cycle. Several economists have even urged nations to revert back to gold-based currencies, an ancient and established type of monetary system, so what are Mahathir’s child-like economic concepts by comparison? His fifth mistake is therefore his skewed understanding of the economy. It led to the controversial de-pegging of the ringgit from the US dollar and the overnight closure of the CLOB share market trading in 1998 – two events that investors have still not forgiven Malaysia and Mahathir for.

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  1. […] LUMPUR: A retired judge has alleged that Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former attorney-general (AG) Abu Talib Othman were behind the amendment to the Federal […]

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