Born and raised in Alor Setar, Kedah, Mahathir excelled at school and became a medical doctor. He became active in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysia's largest political party, before entering Parliament in 1964. He served one term before losing his seat, subsequently falling out with Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and being expelled from UMNO. When Abdul Rahman resigned, Mahathir re-entered UMNO and Parliament, and was promoted to the Cabinet. By 1976 he had risen to Deputy Prime Minister, and in 1981 was sworn in as Prime Minister after the resignation of his predecessor, Hussein Onn.
During Mahathir's tenure as Prime Minister, Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernisation and economic growth, and his government initiated a series of bold infrastructure projects. Mahathir was a dominant political figure, winning five consecutive general elections and fending off a series of rivals for the leadership of UMNO. However, his accumulation of power came at the expense of the independence of the judiciary and the traditional powers and privileges of Malaysia's royalty. He deployed the controversial Internal Security Act to detain activists, non-mainstream religious figures, and political opponents including the Deputy Prime Minister he fired in 1998, Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir's record of curbing civil liberties and his antagonism towards western interests and economic policy made his relationships with the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, among others, difficult. As Prime Minister, he was an advocate of third-world development and a prominent international activist.
He remains an active political figure after his retirement. He became a strident critic of his hand-picked successor Abdullah Badawi in 2006 and later, Najib Razak in 2015. His son Mukhriz Mahathir was the Chief Minister of Kedah until early 2016. On 29 February 2016, Mahathir Mohamad quit UMNO in light of UMNO's support for the actions of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Among the other reasons are the RM2.6bil and 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issues. On 9 September 2016, the Registrar of Societies (RoS) gave his final stamp of approval for Mahathir Mohamad’s new Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) (English: Malaysian United Indigenous Party), making it an official political party. Mahathir is currently the chairman of the party.
He also served as the Chancellor of Universiti Teknologi Petronas(UTP) from 2004 to 2016.
Mahathir was born at his parents' home in a neighbourhood of Alor Setar, the capital of the state of Kedah, British Malaya, on 10 July 1925. Mahathir's birth certificate gives his date of birth as 20 December. He was actually born on 10 July; his biographer Barry Wain explains that 20 December was an "arbitrary" date. Mahathir's grandfather, Iskandar Kutty was married to Siti Hawa from Johor in 1881 in Penang. His grandfather was brought to Malaya by the British East India Company to teach English in the Kedah royal palace. Mahathir's father, Mohamad bin Iskander was from Penang, a Malay with Indian ancestors from the South Indian state of Kerala and the first Malay headmaster of an English school (now Maktab Sultan Abdul Samad) in Alor Setar, while his mother Wan Tempawan binti Wan Hanafi, was from Kedah, of Malay descent respectively and came from a long line of Kedah royal household courtiers. An aspect of Mahathir's birth set him apart: he was not born into the aristocracy or a prominent religious or political family. Mahathir's father was a school principal whose low socio-economic status meant his daughters were unable to enroll in secondary school, while Wan Tempawan had only a distant relationship to Kedah's royalty. Both parents had been married previously; Mahathir had six half-siblings and two full-siblings.
Mahathir was a hard-working student. Discipline imposed by his father motivated him to study, and he showed little interest in sports. He won a position in a selective English medium secondary school, having become fluent in English well ahead of his primary school peers. With schools closed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II, he went into business, first selling coffee and later pisang goreng (banana fritters) and other snacks. After the war, he graduated from secondary school with high marks and enrolled to study medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore (now part of National University of Singapore). There he met his future wife, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, a fellow medical student. After he graduated, Mahathir worked as a doctor in government service before marrying in 1956. He returned to Alor Setar the following year to set up his own practice. The success of his practice, as the only Malay doctor in the town, allowed him to build a large house, invest in various businesses and, pointedly, employ a chauffeur to drive his Pontiac Catalina. He and Siti Hasmah had their first child, Marina, in 1957, before conceiving three others and adopting three more over the following 28 years.
Mahathir had been politically active since the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, when he joined protests against the granting of citizenship to non-Malays under the short-lived Malayan Union. He later argued for affirmative action for Malays at medical college. While at college he contributed to The Straits Times under the pseudonym "C.H.E. Det", and a student journal, in which he fiercely promoted Malay rights, such as restoring Malay as an official language. While practising as a doctor in Alor Setar, Mahathir became active in UMNO; by the time of the first general election for the independent state of Malaya in 1959, he was the chairman of the party in Kedah. Despite his prominence in UMNO, Mahathir was not a candidate in the 1959 election, ruling himself out following a disagreement with then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. The relationship between the two Kedahans had been strained since Mahathir had criticised Abdul Rahman's agreement to the retention of British and Commonwealth forces in Malaya after independence. Now Abdul Rahman opposed Mahathir's plans to introduce minimum educational qualifications for UMNO candidates. For Mahathir this was a significant enough slight to delay his entry into national politics in protest. The delay did not last for long. In the following general election in 1964, he was elected as the federal parliamentarian for the Alor Setar-based seat of Kota Setar Selatan.
Elected to parliament in a volatile political period, Mahathir, as a government backbencher, launched himself into the main conflict of the day: the future of Singapore, with its large and economically powerful ethnic Chinese population, as a state of Malaysia. He vociferously attacked Singapore's dominant People's Action Party for being "pro-Chinese" and "anti-Malay" and called its leader, Lee Kuan Yew, "arrogant". Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in Mahathir's first full year in parliament. However, despite Mahathir's prominence as a backbencher, he lost his seat in the 1969 election, defeated by Yusof Rawa of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). Mahathir attributed the loss of his seat to ethnic Chinese voters switching support from UMNO to PAS (being a Malay-dominated seat, only the two major Malay parties fielded candidates, leaving Chinese voters to choose between the Malay-centric UMNO and the Islamist PAS). Large government losses in the election were followed by the race riots of 13 May 1969, in which hundreds of people were killed in clashes between Malays and Chinese. The previous year, Mahathir had predicted the outbreak of racial hostility. Now, outside parliament, he openly criticised the government, sending a letter to Abdul Rahman in which the prime minister was criticised for failing to uphold Malay interests. The letter, which soon became public, called for Abdul Rahman's resignation. By the end of the year, Mahathir had been fired from UMNO's Supreme Council and expelled from the party; Abdul Rahman had to be persuaded not to have him arrested.
While in the political wilderness, Mahathir wrote his first book, The Malay Dilemma, in which he set out his vision for the Malay community. The book argued that a balance had to be achieved between enough government support for Malays so that their economic interests would not be dominated by the Chinese, and exposing Malays to sufficient competition to ensure that over time, Malays would lose what Mahathir saw as the characteristics of avoiding hard work and failing to "appreciate the real value of money and property". The book continued Mahathir's criticism of Abdul Rahman's government, and it was promptly banned. The ban was only lifted after Mahathir became prime minister in 1981; he thus served as a minister and deputy prime minister while being the author of a banned book. Academics R. S. Milne and Diane K. Mauzy argue that Mahathir's relentless attacks were the principal cause of Abdul Rahman's downfall and subsequent resignation as prime minister in 1970.
Abdul Rahman resigned in 1970 and was replaced by Abdul Razak Hussein. Razak encouraged Mahathir back into the party, and had him appointed as a Senator in 1973. He rose quickly in the Razak government, returning to UMNO's Supreme Council in 1973, and being appointed to Cabinet in 1974 as the Minister for Education. He also returned to the House of Representatives, winning the Kedah-based seat of Kubang Pasu unopposed in the 1974 election. One of his first acts as Minister for Education was to introduce greater government control over Malaysia's universities, despite strong opposition from the academic community. He also moved to limit politics on university campuses, giving his ministry the power to discipline students and academics who were politically active, and making scholarships for students conditional on the avoidance of politics.
In 1975, Mahathir ran for one of the three vice-presidencies of UMNO. The contest was considered to be a battle for the succession of the party's leadership, with both Razak and his deputy, Hussein Onn, in declining health. Each of Razak's preferred candidates was elected: former Chief Minister of Melaka, Ghafar Baba; Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a wealthy businessman and member of Kelantan's royal family; and Mahathir. When Razak died the following year, Hussein as his successor was forced to choose between the three men to be deputy prime minister; he also considered the ambitious minister Ghazali Shafie. Each of Mahathir's rivals had significant political liabilities: Ghazali, having been defeated by the others for a vice-presidency, lacked the support of UMNO members; Ghafar had no higher education and was not fluent in English; and Razaleigh was young, inexperienced and, critically, unmarried. But Hussein's decision was not easy. Hussein and Mahathir were not close allies, and Hussein knew the choice of Mahathir would displease Abdul Rahman, still alive and revered as the father of Malaysia's independence. After six weeks of indecision Mahathir was, much to his surprise, appointed as Hussein's deputy. The appointment meant that Mahathir was the anointed successor to the prime ministership.
Mahathir is regarded as having been a successful Minister for Education and then Minister for Trade and Industry (1978–81). In the latter post, he implemented a "heavy industries policy", establishing a HICOM, a government-controlled corporation, to invest in the long-term development of manufacturing sectors such as an indigenous car industry. He spent much of his time in the ministry promoting Malaysia through overseas visits.
However, Mahathir was not an influential deputy prime minister. Hussein was a cautious leader who rejected many of Mahathir's bold policy proposals. While the relationship between Hussein and Mahathir was distant, Ghazali and Razaleigh became Hussein's closest advisers, often bypassing the more senior Mahathir when accessing Hussein. Nonetheless, when Hussein relinquished power due to ill health in 1981, Mahathir succeeded him unopposed and with his blessing.
Mahathir was sworn in as Prime Minister on 16 July 1981, at the age of 56. One of his first acts was to release 21 detainees held under the Internal Security Act, including journalist Samad Ismail and a former deputy minister in Hussein's government, Abdullah Ahmad, who had been suspected of being an underground communist. He appointed his close ally, Musa Hitam, as Deputy Prime Minister.
Mahathir exercised caution in his first two years in power, consolidating his leadership of UMNO and, with victory in the 1982 general election, the government. In 1983, Mahathir commenced the first of a number of battles he would have with Malaysia's royalty during his premiership. The position of Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Malaysian head of state, was due to rotate in to either the elderly Idris Shah II of Perak or the controversial Iskandar of Johor. Mahathir had grave reservations about the two Sultans. Both were activist rulers of their own states and Iskandar had only a few years earlier been convicted of manslaughter. Mahathir tried to pre-emptively limit the power that the new Agong could wield over his government, introducing to parliament amendments to the Constitution to deem the Agong to assent to any bill that had not been assented within 15 days of passage by Parliament. The proposal would also remove the power to declare a state of emergency from the Agong and placed it with the Prime Minister. The Agong at the time, Ahmad Shah of Pahang, agreed with the proposals in principle but baulked when he realised that the proposal would also deem Sultans to assent to laws passed by state assemblies. Supported by the Sultans, the Agong refused to assent to the constitutional amendments, which had by then passed both houses of Parliament with comfortable majorities. When the public became aware of the impasse, and the Sultans refused to compromise with the government, Mahathir took to the streets to demonstrate public support for his position in mass rallies. The press took the side of the government, although a large minority of Malays, including conservative UMNO politicians, and an even larger proportion of the Chinese community, supported the sultans. After five months, the crisis resolved, as Mahathir and the Sultans agreed to a compromise. The Agong would retain the power to declare a state of emergency, but if he refused to assent to a bill, the bill would be returned to Parliament, which could then override the Agong's veto.
On the economic front, Mahathir inherited the New Economic Policy from his predecessors, which was designed to improve the economic position of the bumiputera (Malaysia's Malays and indigenous peoples) through targets and affirmative action in areas such as corporate ownership and university admission. Mahathir also actively pursued privatisation of government enterprises from the early 1980s, both for the liberal economic reasons it was being pursued by contemporaries such as Margaret Thatcher, and because he felt that combined with affirmative action for the bumiputera it could provide economic opportunities for bumiputera businesses. His government privatised airlines, utilities and telecommunication firms, accelerating to a rate of about 50 privatisations a year by the mid-1990s. While privatisation generally improved the working conditions of Malaysians in privatised industries and raised significant revenue for the government, many privatisations occurred in the absence of open tendering processes and benefited Malays who supported UMNO. One of the most notable infrastructure projects at the time was the construction of the North–South Expressway, a motorway running from the Thai border to Singapore; the contract to construct the expressway was awarded to a business venture of UMNO. Mahathir also oversaw the establishment of the car manufacturer Proton as a joint venture between the Malaysian government and Mitsubishi. By the end of the 1980s, Proton had overcome poor demand and losses to become, with the support of protective tariffs, the largest car maker in Southeast Asia and a profitable enterprise.
In Mahathir's early years as prime minister, Malaysia was experiencing a resurgence of Islam among Malays. Malays were becoming more religious and more conservative. PAS, which had in the 1970s joined UMNO in government, responded to the resurgence by taking an increasingly strident Islamist stand under the leadership of the man who in 1969 had defeated Mahathir for his parliamentary seat, Yusof Rawa. Mahathir tried to appeal to religious voters by establishing Islamic institutions such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia which could promote Islamic education under the government's oversight. He also attracted Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM) to join UMNO. In some cases, Mahathir's government employed repression against more extreme exponents of Islamism. Ibrahim Libya, a popular Islamist leader, was killed in a police shoot-out in 1985; Al-Arqam, a religious sect, was banned and its leader, Ashaari Mohammad, arrested under the Internal Security Act. Mahathir comprehensively defeated PAS at the polls in 1986, winning 83 seats of the 84 seats it contested, leaving PAS with just one MP.
Any illusion that the 1986 election may have created about Mahathir's political dominance was short-lived. In 1987, he was challenged for the presidency of UMNO, and effectively the prime ministership, by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Razaleigh's career had gone backwards under Mahathir, being demoted from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Razaleigh was supported by Musa, who had resigned as Deputy Prime Minister the previous year. While Musa and Mahathir were originally close allies, the two had fallen out during Mahathir's premiership, with Musa claiming that Mahathir no longer trusted him. Razaleigh and Musa ran for the UMNO presidency and deputy presidency on a joint ticket against Mahathir and his new choice for deputy, Ghafar Baba. The tickets were known as Team B and Team A respectively. Mahathir's Team A enjoyed the support of the press, most party heavyweights, and even Iskandar, now the Agong, although some significant figures, such as Abdullah Badawi, supported Team B. In the election, held on 24 April 1987, Team A prevailed. Mahathir was re-elected a by a narrow margin, receiving the votes of 761 party delegates to Razaleigh's 718. Ghafar defeated Musa by a slightly larger margin. Mahathir responded by purging seven Team B supporters from his ministry, while Team B refused to accept defeat and initiated litigation. In an unexpected decision in February 1988, the High Court ruled that UMNO was an illegal organisation as some of its branches had not been lawfully registered. Each faction raced to register a new party under the UMNO name. Mahathir's side successfully registered the name "UMNO Baru" ("new UMNO"), while Team B's application to register "UMNO Malaysia" was rejected. UMNO Malaysia, under the leadership of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and with the support of both of Malaysia's surviving former Prime Ministers Abdul Rahman and Hussein, registered the party Semangat 46 instead.
Having survived the political crisis at least temporarily, Mahathir moved against the judiciary, fearing a successful appeal by Team B against the decision to register UMNO Baru. He steered an amendment to the Constitution through parliament to remove the general power of the High Courts to conduct judicial review. The High Courts could now only engage in judicial review where specific acts of parliament gave them the power to do so.The Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas, responded by sending a letter of protest to the Agong. Mahathir then suspended Salleh for "gross misbehaviour and conduct", ostensibly because the letter was a breach of protocol. A tribunal set up by Mahathir found Salleh guilty and recommended to the Agong that Salleh be dismissed. Five other judges of the court supported Salleh, and were suspended by Mahathir. A newly constituted court dismissed Team B's appeal, allowing Mahathir's faction to continue to use the name UMNO. According to Milne and Mauzy, the episode destroyed the independence of Malaysia's judiciary.
At the same time as the political and judicial crises, Mahathir initiated a crackdown on opposition dissidents with the use of the Internal Security Act. The appointment of a number of administrators who did not speak Mandarin to Chinese schools provoked an outcry among Chinese Malaysians to the point where UMNO's coalition partners the Malaysian Chinese Association and Gerakan joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in protesting the appointments. UMNO's Youth wing held a provocative protest that triggered a shooting by a lone Malay gunman, and only Mahathir's interference prevented UMNO from staging a larger protest. Instead, Mahathir ordered what Wain calls "the biggest crackdown on political dissent Malaysia had ever seen". Under the police operation codenamed "Operation Lalang", 119 people were arrested and detained without charge under the Internal Security Act. Mahathir argued that the detentions were necessary to prevent a repeat of the 1969 race riots. Most of the detainees were prominent opposition activists, including the leader of the DAP, Lim Kit Siang, and nine of his fellow MPs. Three newspapers sympathetic to the opposition were shut down.
Mahathir suffered a heart attack in early 1989, but recovered to lead Barisan Nasional to victory in the 1990 election. Semangat 46 failed to make any headway outside Razaleigh's home state of Kelantan (Musa had since rejoined UMNO).
The expiry of the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1990 gave Mahathir the opportunity to outline his economic vision for Malaysia. In 1991, he announced Vision 2020, under which Malaysia would aim to become a fully developed country within 30 years. The target would require average economic growth of approximately seven per cent of gross domestic product per annum. One of Vision 2020's features would be to gradually break down ethnic barriers. Vision 2020 was accompanied by the NEP's replacement, the National Development Policy (NDP), under which some government programs designed to benefit the bumiputera exclusively were opened up to other ethnicities. The NDP achieved success out one of its main aims, poverty reduction. By 1995, less than nine per cent of Malaysians lived in poverty and income inequality had narrowed. Mahathir's government cut corporate taxes and liberalised financial regulations to attract foreign investment. The economy grew by over nine per cent per annum until 1997 prompting other developing countries to try to emulate Mahathir's policies. Much of the credit for Malaysia's economic development in the 1990s went to Anwar Ibrahim, appointed by Mahathir as finance minister in 1991. The government rode the economic wave and won the 1995 election with an increased majority.
Mahathir initiated a series of major infrastructure projects in the 1990s. One of the largest was the Multimedia Super Corridor, an area south of Kuala Lumpur, in the mould of Silicon Valley, designed to cater for the information technology industry. However, the project failed to generate the investment anticipated. Other Mahathir projects included the development of Putrajaya as the home of Malaysia's public service, and bringing a Formula One Grand Prix to Sepang. One of the most controversial developments was the Bakun Dam in Sarawak. The ambitious hydro-electric project was intended to carry electricity across the South China Sea to satisfy electricity demand in peninsular Malaysia. Work on the dam was eventually suspended due to the Asian financial crisis.
The financial crisis threatened to devastate Malaysia. The value of the ringgit plummeted due to currency speculation, foreign investment fled, and the main stock exchange index fell by over 75 per cent. At the urging of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government cut government spending and raised interest rates, which only served to exacerbate the economic situation. In 1998, Mahathir reversed this policy course in defiance of the IMF and his own deputy, Anwar. He increased government spending and fixed the ringgit to the US dollar. The result confounded his international critics and the IMF. Malaysia recovered from the crisis faster than its Southeast Asian neighbours. In the domestic sphere, it was a political triumph. Amidst the economic events of 1998, Mahathir had dismissed Anwar as finance minister and deputy prime minister, and he could now claim to have rescued the economy in spite of Anwar's policies.
In his second decade in office, Mahathir had again found himself battling Malaysia's royalty. In 1992, Sultan Iskandar's son, a representative hockey player, was suspended from competition for five years for assaulting an opponent. Iskandar retaliated by pulling all Johor hockey teams out of national competitions. When his decision was criticised by a local coach, Iskandar ordered him to his palace and beat him. The federal parliament unanimously censured Iskandar, and Mahathir leapt at the opportunity to remove the constitutional immunity of the sultans from civil and criminal suits. The press backed Mahathir and, in an unprecedented development, started airing allegations of misconduct by members of Malaysia's royal families. As the press revealed examples of the rulers' extravagant wealth, Mahathir resolved to cut financial support to royal households. With the press and the government pitted against them, the sultans capitulated to the government's proposals. Their powers to deny assent to bills were limited by further constitutional amendments passed in 1994. With the status and powers of the Malaysian royalty diminished, Wain writes that by the mid-1990s Mahathir had become the country's "uncrowned king".
By the mid-1990s it had become clear that the most serious threat to Mahathir's power was the leadership ambition of his deputy, Anwar. Anwar began to distance himself from Mahathir, overtly promoting his superior religious credentials and appearing to suggest he favoured loosening the restrictions on civil liberties that had become a hallmark of Mahathir's premiership. However, Mahathir continued to back Anwar as his successor until their relationship collapsed dramatically during the Asian financial crisis. Their positions gradually diverged, with Mahathir abandoning the tight monetary and fiscal policies urged by the IMF. At the UMNO General Assembly in 1998, a leading Anwar supporter, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, criticised the government for not doing enough to combat corruption and cronyism. As Mahathir took the reins of Malaysia's economic policy over the coming months, Anwar was increasingly sidelined. On 2 September, he was dismissed as deputy prime minister and finance minister, and promptly expelled from UMNO. No immediate reasons were given for the dismissal, although the media speculated that it related to lurid allegations of sexual misconduct circulated in a "poison pen letter" at the general assembly. As more allegations surfaced, large public rallies were held in support of Anwar. On 20 September, he was arrested and placed in detention under the Internal Security Act.
Anwar stood trial on four charges of corruption, arising from allegations that Anwar abused his power by ordering police to intimidate persons who had alleged Anwar had sodomised them. Before Anwar's trial, Mahathir told the press that he was convinced of Anwar's guilt. He was found guilty in April 1999 and sentenced to six years in prison. In another trial shortly after, Anwar was sentenced to another nine years in prison on a conviction for sodomy. The sodomy conviction was overturned on appeal after Mahathir left office.
While Mahathir had vanquished his rival, it came at a cost to his standing in the international community and domestic politics. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended Anwar as a "highly respectable leader" who was "entitled to due process and a fair trial". In a speech in Kuala Lumpur, which Mahathir attended, US Vice-President Al Gore stated that "we continue to hear calls for democracy", including "among the brave people of Malaysia". At the APEC summit in 1999, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien refused to meet Mahathir, while his foreign minister met with Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Wan Azizah had formed a liberal opposition party, the National Justice Party (Keadilan) to fight the 1999 election. UMNO lost 18 seats and two state governments as large numbers of Malay voters flocked to PAS and Keadilan, many in protest at the treatment of Anwar.
At UMNO's general assembly in 2002, Mahathir announced that he would resign as prime minister, only for supporters to rush to the stage and convince him tearfully to remain. He subsequently fixed his retirement for October 2003, giving him time to ensure an orderly and uncontroversial transition to his anointed successor, Abdullah Badawi. Having spent over 22 years in office, Mahathir was the world's longest-serving elected leader when he retired. He remains Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister.
During Mahathir's term, Malaysia's relationship with the West was generally fine despite his being known as an outspoken critic towards it. Early during his tenure, a small disagreement with the United Kingdom over university tuition fees sparked a boycott of all British goods led by Mahathir, in what became known as the "Buy British Last" campaign. It also led to a search for development models in Asia, most notably Japan. This was the beginning of his famous "Look East Policy". Although the dispute was later resolved by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mahathir continued to emphasise Asian development models over contemporary Western ones... he particularly criticised the double standards of Western nations
Mahathir has always been publicly critical of the Foreign Policy of the United States and yet relations between the two countries were still positive and the United States was the biggest source of foreign investment, and was Malaysia's biggest customer during Mahathir's rule. Furthermore, Malaysian military officers continued to train in the US under the International Military Education And Training (IMET) program.
The BBC reported that relations with the United States took a turn for the worse in 1998, when US Vice-President Al Gore stated at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference hosted by Malaysia:
Democracy confers a stamp of legitimacy that reforms must have in order to be effective. And so, among nations suffering economic crises, we continue to hear calls for democracy, calls for reform, in many languages – People Power, doi moi, reformasi. We hear them today – right here, right now – among the brave people of Malaysia.
Gore and the United States were critical of the trial of Mahathir's former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, going so far as to label it as a "show trial". US News and World Report called the trial a "tawdry spectacle." Also, Anwar was the preeminent Malaysian spokesperson for the economic policies preferred by the IMF, which included interest-rate hikes. An article in Malaysia Today commented that "Gore's comments constituted a none-too-subtle attack on Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and more generally on governments, including Japan, that resist US demands for further market reforms." Gore's endorsement for the reformasi (reformation) asking for (among other things) the ouster of Mahathir, was anathema to Mahathir, and he remarked that "I've never seen anybody so rude". This also summed up the Malaysian expectation that one who is a guest should not show such discourtesy to the host.
However, Mahathir's views were already firmly entrenched before this event. For example, before the ASEAN meeting in 1997, he made a speech condemning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling it an oppressive instrument by which the United States and other countries try to impose their values on Asians. He added that Asians need stability and economic growth more than civil liberties. These remarks did not endear him to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was a guest at the meeting.
The relationship was stormy both ways. Following Anwar's firing and subsequent imprisonment, Madeleine Albright paid a visit to Anwar's wife.
Yet Mahathir has not hesitated to point to America for justification of his own actions. In speaking of arbitrary detention without trial of prisoners of conscience in Malaysia, he said: "Events in the United States have shown that there are instances where certain special powers need to be used in order to protect the public for the general good."
At the other end of the spectrum, the United States government has previously criticised the Malaysian government for implementing the ISA, most recently in 2001 when President George W. Bush said "The Internal Security Act is a draconian law. No country should any longer have laws that allow for detention without trial." In 2004, however, Bush reversed his stance and claimed "We cannot simply classify Malaysia's Internal Security Act as a draconian law."
In 2003 Mahathir spoke to the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, and as part of his speech, said:
If innocent people who died in the attack on Afghanistan and those who have been dying from lack of food and medical care in Iraq are considered collaterals, are the 3,000 who died in New York, and the 200 in Bali also just collaterals whose deaths are necessary for operations to succeed?
Marie Huhtala, the American ambassador to Malaysia, responded with a statement: "These are not helpful statements by any standard, and I'm here to tell you that Washington does take note of them. They are bound to have a harmful effect on the relationship."
More recently, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq caused additional friction between the two countries; Mahathir was highly critical of President George W. Bush for acting without a United Nations mandate.
In spite of all this, Malaysia's relationship with the US has been strong. A 2003 house subcommittee hearing (Serial No. 108–21) on US policy towards South East Asia sums it up as "Despite sometimes blunt and intemperate public remarks by Prime Minister Mahathir, U.S.-Malaysian cooperation has a solid record in areas as diverse as education, trade, military relations, and counter-terrorism."
Even after retirement, Mahathir was not hesitant about his criticisms of the United States. In 2004, (The Star, 18 October 2004), he was quoted as having said "The American people are, by and large, very ignorant and know nothing about the rest of the world.... Yet they are the people who will decide who will be the most powerful man in the world". In the same interview, he also correctly predicted George W. Bush's victory in the 2004 United States presidential election.
Mahathir's relationship with Australia (the closest country in the Anglosphere to Malaysia, and the one whose foreign policy is most concentrated on the region), and his relationship with Australia's political leaders, has been particularly rocky. Relationships between Mahathir and Australia's leaders reached a low point in 1993 when Paul Keating described Mahathir as "recalcitrant" for not attending the APEC summit. (It is thought that Keating's description was a linguistic gaffe, and that what he had in mind was "intransigent".)
Mahathir, along with other Malaysian politicians (and many other Asian leaders) also heavily criticised Keating's successor, John Howard, who he believed had encouraged Pauline Hanson, whose views were widely perceived as racist.
Mahathir is an alumnus of the Medical College at the University of Malaya at that time located in Singapore under British Malaya (University of Malaya campus at Singapore has since been renamed National University of Singapore while the campus at Kuala Lumpur remains as University of Malaya). He graduated as a physician from then King Edward VII Medical College in 1953, during British rule.
However, relations with Singapore under Mahathir's tenure were stormy. Many disputed issues raised during his administration have not been resolved. Many of these international issues have been raised up under Mahathir's Premiership term, but no significant headway had been made then to resolve them bilaterally. Issues have included:the low price of raw water paid by Singapore to Malaysia (3 Malaysian cents (US$0.008) per 1000 gallons);
the proposed replacement of the Causeway by a suspension bridge to improve water flow through the Straits of Johor (later cancelled by Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi);
Singapore's land reclamation work, affecting shipping access to Port Tanjung Pelepas;
the use of Malaysian airspace by Republic of Singapore Air Force jets;
the status of Pedra Branca Island (also known as "Pulau Batu Putih"), was brought to the International Court of Justice and now belongs to Singapore;
the sovereignty of the railway line crossing Singapore and Points of Agreement regarding the matter.
Fully suspended the trading of CLOB (Central Limit Order Book) counters, during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis indefinitely freezing approximately US$4.47 billion worth of shares and affecting 172,000 investors, most of them Singaporeans.
On a much positive note:Singapore-Malaysia reaches an agreement in 1988 and Mahathir build Linggui Dam on the Johor River and supplies raw waters to the water-scarce city (Singapore).
Lee and Mahathir announced plan for natural gas pipeline from Terengganu to Singapore. It was completed 10 years later in January 1992.
On Lee Kuan Yew's death: Mahathir wrote in his blog chedet.cc titling "Kuan Yew and I". He expressed his sorrow and grief at the loss of Lee. He says that he often cross-swords with the veteran Singaporean leader but it bares no enmity but differences of opinions for what was good for the newborn nation to thrive forward. He then wrote that with Lee's death, ASEAN has lost a strong leadership after Lee Kuan Yew and President Suharto.
Many political analysts believes that with Lee's passing, Mahathir is the last "Old Guard" of Southeast Asia.
In April 2016, 1st Anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew's death. Tun Dr. Mahathir told the media that Singaporeans must value Lee Kuan Yew's contributions and sacrifices for Lee was pivotal to Singapore's success today. Mahathir said Lee was responsible for turning Singapore into a financial centre with a world-class port, and into an aviation hub. He said, that's an achievement we all need to recognized. Mahathir again says that Lee has his own stand not the same with the stand of Malaysia.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mahathir has been noted as a particular significant ally of that nation. He visited Sarajevo in June 2005 to open a bridge near Bosmal City Center signifying friendship between Malaysians and Bosnians.
He made a three-day visit to Visoko to see the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun in July 2006. He made another visit a few months later.
In February 2007, four non-governmental organisations: the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, the Congress of Bosniak Intellectuals, and two Christian organisations: the Serb Civil Council and the Croat National Council, nominated Mahathir for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work during the conflict.
On 22 June 2007, he made another visit to Sarajevo with a group of Malaysian businessmen to explore the investment opportunities in the country.
On 11 November 2009, he also chaired closed-door meeting of leading investors at the Malaysia Global Business Forum – Bosnia, which was also attended by then president Haris Silajdžić.
Among some developing and Islamic countries, Mahathir is generally respected, particularly for Malaysia's relatively high economic growth as well as for his support towards liberal Muslim values. Leaders such as Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, praised him and have been trying to emulate Mahathir's developmental formulae. He was one of the greatest spokesmen on the issues of developing world and strongly supported the bridging of the North-South divide, as well as exhorting the development of Islamic nations. He was dedicated to various non-NATO blocs such as ASEAN, the G77, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Nations, and most recently, the G22 at the latest World Trade Organization talks at Cancún.
On his retirement, Mahathir was named a Grand Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm, allowing him to adopt the title of "Tun". He pledged to leave politics "completely", rejecting an emeritus role in Abdullah's cabinet. Abdullah immediately made his mark as a quieter and less adversarial premier. With much stronger religious credentials than Mahathir, he was able to beat back PAS's surge in the 1999 election, and lead the Barisan Nasional in the 2004 election to its biggest win ever, taking 199 of 219 parliamentary seats. Mahathir is the CEO, Chairman and hence a senior adviser to many flagship Malaysian companies, such as Proton, Perdana Leadership Foundation and Malaysia's government-owned oil and gas company Petronas, etc. Mahathir and Abdullah had a major fallout over Proton in 2005. Proton's chief executive, a Mahathir ally, had been sacked by the company's board. With Abdullah's blessing, the company then sold one of the company's prize assets, the motorcycle company MV Agusta, which was bought on Mahathir's advice. Mahathir also criticised the awarding of import permits for foreign cars, which he claimed were causing Proton's domestic sales to suffer, and attacked Abdullah for cancelling the construction of a second causeway between Malaysia and Singapore. Mahathir complained that his views were not getting sufficient airing by the Malaysian press, the freedom of which he had curtailed while prime minister: he had been named one of the "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press" by the Committee to Protect Journalists for his restrictions on newspapers and occasional imprisonment of journalists. He turned to the blogosphere in response, writing a column for Malaysiakini, a online media news website , and starting his own blog. He unsuccessfully sought election from his local party division to be a delegate to UMNO's general assembly in 2006, where he planned to initiate a revolt against Abdullah's leadership of the party. After the 2008 election, in which UMNO lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, Mahathir resigned from the party. Abdullah was replaced by his deputy, Najib Razak, in 2009, a move that prompted Mahathir to rejoin the party. Mahathir continued to attract controversy in retirement for remarks on international affairs. He is a strident critic of Israel, to the point where in 2012 he stated: "I am glad to be labeled antisemitic [...] How can I be otherwise, when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies." Mahathir established the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to investigate the activities of the United States, Israel and its allies in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He has also suggested that the September 11 attacks of 2001 might have been staged by the United States government.
Mahathir launched the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalise War Forum in 2005 which led to the establishment of the Perdana Global Peace Organisation in 2006. The forum concluded with major support from attendees that a serious active and sustained struggle is needed to outlaw war and encourage global peace. In 2010, Perdana Global Peace Foundation (PGPF) was registered as a non-governmental organization in which Mahathir is the President. The efforts undertaken by PGPF are the establishment of the Tun Mahathir PGPF Chair for Global Peace at the International Islamic University Malaysia, the perennial Mahathir Global Peace School programme, PGPF Club, Break the Siege mission, Permata Projects in Gaza and Warm Winter and Ramadhan Campaign. As envisioned by Mahathir, PGPF strongly advocates global peace through international conferences, talks and outreach programmes at schools, universities and public forum. Mahathir underwent a heart bypass operation in 2007, following two heart attacks over the previous two years. He had undergone the same operation after his heart attack in 1989. After the 2007 operation, he suffered a chest infection. He was hospitalised for treatment of another chest infection in 2010.
In the wake of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal in 2015, Mahathir became a vocal critic of Prime Minister Najib Razak's government, even more so than Abdullah. He has repeatedly called for Najib to resign. On 30 August 2015, he and his wife, Siti Hasmah, attended the Bersih 4 rally, which saw tens of thousands demonstrating for Najib's resignation.
In 2016, Mahathir ignited several protests that culminated in the Malaysian Citizens' Declaration by himself with the help of Pakatan Harapan and NGOs to oust Najib. Najib's response to the corruption accusations has been to tighten his grip on power by replacing the deputy prime minister, suspending two newspapers and pushing through parliament a controversial National Security Council Bill that provides the prime minister with unprecedented powers. In June 2016, Mahathir also actively campaigned for AMANAH candidates from Pakatan Harapan for the 2016 Sungai Besar by-election and the 2016 Kuala Kangsar by-election.
By 2017, Mahathir had registered a new political party and had it join Pakatan Harapan. He has been proposed as a possible chairman and prime ministerial candidate of Pakatan Harapan.
For his efforts to promote the economic development of the country, Mahathir has been granted the soubriquet of Bapa Pemodenan (Father of Modernization).
Mahathir's official residence, Sri Perdana, where he resided from 23 August 1983 to 18 October 1999, was turned into a museum (Galeria Sri Perdana). In keeping with the principle of heritage conservation, the original design and layout of the Sri Perdana has been preserved.
Mahathir has been a highly controversial figure, and a subject of harsh attacks by his critics. Former de facto Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim writes in his memoirs: "In my heart, I cannot accept allegations that Dr Mahathir personally was a corrupt man. Corrupt people are never brave enough to speak as loudly as Dr Mahathir. Wealth is not a major motivation for him. He only craves power."
Two of Mahathir's sons became active in politics: Mokhzani was a senior official of UMNO Youth (the party's youth wing) before leaving politics and focusing on his business career; Mukhriz was elected to Parliament in 2008, and in 2013 became the Chief Minister of Kedah.
According to Wain, writing his biography of Mahathir in 2010:
Rising living standards, together with Dr. Mahathir's showpiece buildings and outspoken defence of Malaysia's interests, contributed to a sense of national identity, pride and confidence that had not existed before. He put Malaysia on the map, and most Malaysians were pleased about it.... [However], he would not be able to escape responsibility for many of the problems likely to plague Malaysian society in the future, from creeping Islamisation to corruption and inequality. For while he held Malaysia together for 22 years, the political-administrative system atrophied and decayed under his personalised brand of governance.The Malay Dilemma (1970) ISBN 981-204-355-1
The Challenge,(1986) ISBN 967-978-091-0
Regionalism, Globalism, and Spheres of Influence: ASEAN and the Challenge of Change into the 21st century (1989) ISBN 981-3035-49-8
The Pacific Rim in the 21st century,(1995)
The Challenges of Turmoil, (1998) ISBN 967-978-652-8
The Way Forward, (1998) ISBN 0-297-84229-3
A New Deal for Asia, (1999)
Islam & The Muslim Ummah, (2001) ISBN 967-978-738-9
Globalisation and the New Realities (2002)
Reflections on Asia, (2002) ISBN 967-978-813-X
The Malaysian Currency Crisis: How and why it Happened,(2003) ISBN 967-978-756-7
Achieving True Globalization, (2004) ISBN 967-978-904-7
Islam, Knowledge, and Other Affairs, (2006) ISBN 983-3698-03-4
Principles of Public Administration: An Introduction, (2007) ISBN 978-983-195-253-5
Chedet.com Blog Merentasi Halangan (Bilingual), (2008) ISBN 967-969-589-1
A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 8 March 2011 ISBN 9789675997228.
Doktor Umum: Memoir Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, 30 April 2012 ISBN 9789674150259. This book was the BM version of his best-selling memoir,"A Doctor in the house".