Mahathir to set up political party at age 95

Updated 08 Aug 2020

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The group would be independent, champion the rights of the country’s Muslim majority and battle corruption says Mahathir Mohamad. — Reuters/File
The group would be independent, champion the rights of the country’s Muslim majority and battle corruption says Mahathir Mohamad. — Reuters/File

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, 95, said on Friday he was setting up a new political party as he seeks to take on the government, months after he quit as premier and his administration collapsed.

Mahathir, the world’s oldest leader until his resignation in February, first entered parliament as an MP in 1964 and had two stints as prime minister, totalling a quarter of a century.

But far from quietly retiring, the spry nonagenarian has continued to challenge the legitimacy of the leader who replaced him, and on Friday announced the new party.

Mahathir said the group, still unnamed, would be independent, champion the rights of the country’s Muslim majority and battle corruption.

“We will fight the parties involved in bribery and the stealing of money,” he told reporters at a press conference.

Mahathir said he will be chairman and the party would not be part of the current government or the opposition alliance of which he used to be a member. Several other MPs also appeared with Mahathir at the announcement.

The ex-premier used to be a member of a party called Bersatu, which he set up to contest the 2018 election, but it split when Mahathir’s shaky coalition government collapsed.

The veteran politician was first premier from 1981 to 2003 but then launched a comeback ahead of the polls two years ago, to take on the corruption-mired regime of Najib Razak.

He led an opposition alliance to a shock victory and returned as prime minister.

But the government collapsed this year amid intense infighting over whether Anwar Ibrahim should become the next premier, and Mahathir resigned.

He sought to come back as prime minister but lost out to Muhyiddin Yassin, who now leads a coalition that includes Najib’s scandal-plagued party.

Analysts said Mahathir’s party would need the support of other parties to stand a chance of success.

“Standing alone, he would be lucky to win back his own seat,” Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow, from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s ex-finance minister, now a key opposition figure, was charged with corruption over a $1.5 billion construction project, the latest government critic to be targeted since a scandal-plagued party returned to power.

Lim Guan Eng is the highest-profile figure yet to face a criminal probe in a sweeping crackdown on dissent launched by the new administration, and says the case against him is politically motivated.

A crowd of journalists and supporters, including fellow MPs, were waiting for him as he arrived at a Kuala Lumpur court Friday morning, following his arrest by anti-graft officials the previous evening.

The case centres on a 6.3 billion ringgit ($1.5 billion) project to build an undersea tunnel in the northern state of Penang, which Lim led as chief minister from 2008 to 2018.

Lim, who is also the leader of opposition group the Democratic Action Party (DAP), pleaded not guilty to one count of soliciting a bribe from a businessman in exchange for his company being appointed for the project.

According to the charge, the alleged kickback was a cut of profits the company would have made from its work on the project.

“This is a baseless allegation, and it is politically motivated to tarnish and smear my reputation,” he said outside court.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020