The 97-year-old statesman who twice led Malaysia suffered his first electoral defeat in 53 years.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has lost his parliamentary seat in Saturday’s general election, a defeat likely to end the career of one of Asia’s most staunch politicians.
Mahathir came fourth in a five-way fight in Langkawi, a resort island in northwest Malaysia, which he had won with a huge majority in the previous poll in 2018. To make matters worse, he also lost his deposit.
“It is a big surprise that he is not alone [Mahathir] lost, but he lost spectacularly,” said Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from outside Kuala Lumpur.
“He has not only lost his seat, but also his deposit because he has not managed to get more than one-eighth of the votes cast. His party also failed to win a single seat.”
It was the 97-year-old’s first electoral defeat in more than half a century. He served as Prime Minister of Malaysia for 22 years, from 1981 until his retirement in 2003.
He returned to active politics as the billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB unfolded, joining forces with his former deputy-turned-rival Anwar Ibrahim to defeat the then-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition – a group they both once belonged to – to become prime minister in 2018, just two months short of his 93rd birthday.
‘Crooks or jailbirds’
Visibly slowed by his age, but he still looked healthy, this time running around under the banner of his own Pejuang Party, laughing at suggestions to retire, telling reporters ahead of the election that he was a ” good chance” of winning.
‘I’m still talking to you, I think, to give reasonable answers,’ said Mahathir.
He added that his party would not form alliances with parties led by “thugs or prison birds” – a clear reference to the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Najib Razak that Mahathir himself once led.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s BN coalition — which is dominated by UMNO — lost ground to rival alliances led by Anwar and former Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, another former UMNO bold who now heads the Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance , which also includes the Islamic party. PASS.
Mahathir was often criticized for his tough rule when he led the Southeast Asian nation from 1981 to 2003, but he was also lauded for helping transform the country into one of the world’s largest exporters of high-tech goods.
His long leadership brought political stability and he was credited with the title “Father of Modern Malaysia” as he oversaw the construction of key projects such as the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the North-South Highway and opened the country to foreign investment .
Mahathir had warned that Najib would be released if his allies won Saturday’s election.
He also offered to become prime minister for the third time. Observers said there was no chance that would happen and Pejuang did not win any seats where it was contested.
His massive confrontations with opposition leader Anwar, the man he sacked as his deputy in 1998 and accused of sodomy, have dominated and shaped Malaysian politics since the 1990s.
But in the end it was age that proved to be his greatest opponent.
“Mahathir’s time is over,” Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia told AFP news agency ahead of the election.