Mahathir, 97, to contest election to 'save country from Umno rule'

Two-time former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has thrown his hat in the ring yet again, as he banks on his newly formed coalition to scuttle plans of his former party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), to reclaim power in snap elections that will be held in weeks.

Mahathir on Tuesday (Oct 11) announced his decision to defend his parliamentary seat on the holiday island of Langkawi, surrounded by supporters who turned out in force at his office in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

“We have decided that in Langkawi the candidate is Dr Mahathir Mohamad,” the 97-year-old told a news conference.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the dissolution of parliament as widely expected, paving the way for the country’s 15th general election that must be held within the next 60 days.

The move, however, was panned by critics and the opposition, who raised concerns that it coincides with the annual monsoon season that Malaysia ’s meteorological department warned could cause widespread floods across the nation.

Several parts of the country have already started experiencing floods after torrential rains in Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. The National Disaster Management Agency on Tuesday issued warnings of rising river levels in the states of Johor, Kedah, Melaka and Pahang on the peninsula.

Mahathir’s decision to defend his parliamentary seat marks his 11th foray into a general election. He lost only once before, more than half a century ago in 1969, by a margin of less than 1,000 votes.

He holds the national record for having the longest tenure as prime minister at 22 years during his first stint that ended in 2003 when he resigned, and also as the world’s oldest serving prime minister when he returned to the post in the aftermath of the watershed 2018 national polls.

Mahathir was instrumental in getting the multiracial Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition past the line that year, leading to the first change of government the country has seen since gaining independence from Britain in 1957, as voters angered by spiking living costs and allegations of rampant corruption among political elites booted out the Umno-led Barisan Nasional alliance.

But his second term as prime minister ended prematurely, when his then-party Bersatu – formed by disenfranchised Umno leaders – instigated an internal coup in 2020 that brought Umno back into the power structure to set up a Malay nationalist administration.

The new Gerakan Tanah Air coalition is Mahathir’s latest creation, and is an amalgamation of his pro-Malay rights party Pejuang, fellow Malay nationalist party Putra and several Malay organisations.

Mahathir wouldn’t say if he would be prime minister a third time if his political alliance wins.

“We have not decided who will be prime minister because the prime minister candidate is only relevant if we win,” he said.

Gerakan Tanah Air, or Homeland Movement, still needs to receive the approval of the Registrar of Societies to contest the election as a formal coalition.


The alliance will contest at least 120 of the 222 seats up for grabs in the election, Mahathir said, with the aim of presenting a third alternative to the corruption-tainted Umno, a traditional bastion for the majority Malay-Muslim voters, and the urban-centric PH.

Mahathir criticised Umno for being driven by self-interest in pushing Prime Minister Ismail Sabri, an Umno vice-president, to dissolve parliament, in an alleged bid to erase corruption cases facing party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former premier Najib Razak , who is serving a 12-year jail sentence for corruption linked to a former unit of 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

The nonagenarian said their main goal was to defeat Umno, and they were open to working with other parties “who are of the same feather”.

“Who they are, I cannot say, but we are willing to cooperate if they want to save this country from Umno rule,” he said.

Mahathir did not dismiss the possibility of again working with PH, which is led by his former protégé-turned-nemesis Anwar Ibrahim , who he sacked as deputy premier and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy during his first tenure as prime minister.

Their feud sparked the opposition Reformasi or Reform movement, shaping Malaysia’s politics over the past two decades. It was also widely seen as the reason behind the coup that brought down the PH government.

Asked if he was open to rekindling working ties with Anwar, Mahathir said it was a question best put to his former deputy.

“The problem is he doesn’t want to work with me. I’m a very nice man,” Mahathir said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.


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