Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad was appointed as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia on 16th July 1981. He served the country for 22 years, becoming Malaysia’s and South-East Asia’s longest-serving Prime Minister. He led the country through a fast-paced modernisation drive that earned Malaysia international recognition as an industrial powerhouse. Under his leadership, several mega infrastructure-projects took place, notably the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC), PETRONAS Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). Tun Dr Mahathir opened Malaysia to foreign investments, reduced international trade barriers, privatised government services, as well as established world-class physical infrastructure. During Tun Dr Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, Malaysia became one of the most prosperous and dynamic economies in Southeast Asia, with a thriving industry, growing middle class, and increased quality of life. Malaysia also played a more active role in the international arena, acting as a voice for developing countries in Asia and Africa. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is also remembered for Vision 2020, a framework for making Malaysia a developed nation by the year 2020. For his achievements, he is regarded as Malaysia’s "Father of Modernisation". In 2016, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad set up a new political party to challenge the National Front. In 2018, making a stunning political comeback at the age of 93, the coalition he led won the general elections and he was elected as Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister.
4th Prime Minister: 1981 - 2003
7th Prime Minister: 2018 - Current
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Malaysia’s fourth, and longest-serving, Prime Minister, on 16th July 1981. He is known as Malaysia’s “Father of Modernisation” for his successes in transforming Malaysia into a modern, industrial powerhouse. Tun stepped down as Prime Minister on 31st October 2003. In a stunning political comeback, the coalition he established in 2017 to challenge the government, won Malaysia’s 14th General Elections in 2018. At the age of 93, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister.
Tun Dr Mahathir was born on 10th July, 1925 (his official birth date is recorded as 20th December 1925) in Kampung Seberang Perak, Alor Setar, Kedah, described by Tun himself as "the poorer quarters" of town. Tun Mahathir's parents were Mohamad bin Iskandar and Wan Tempawan binti Wan Hanafi and Tun was the youngest of nine siblings.
He received his early education in his hometown, at Sekolah Melayu Seberang Perak, an all-boys school for two years, then in a government English school where his father was the headmaster. This school would later be renamed Kolej Sultan Abdul Hamid. As a student, Tun Dr Mahathir was active in debates and was highly regarded for his English language skills. He was appointed editor of the school magazine, and played in the school’s rugby team.
His education was interrupted when the Japanese launched an incursion into Southeast Asia via Thailand, Penang, and Kelantan, on the 8th of December, days after Tun sat for his Junior Cambridge Examination. Tun attended a Japanese school only briefly, opting instead to help his family by selling food at the nearby Pekan Rabu. After the Japanese surrender, Tun Dr. Mahathir resumed his education at Kolej Sultan Abdul Hamid where his first commentary as editor of the school magazine was on the war and the Japanese.
The Japanese occupation had sown the seeds of disillusionment against the British for they had failed to protect the Malay states and the rulers. After the war, Tun Mahathir and his schoolmates protested against the Malayan Union. Tun wrote letters to the Press to state his opposition and also mounted a poster campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the Malayan Union. After UMNO was established in May 1946, Tun Dr Mahathir was among the first to register to become a member, in full support of the party’s objective of ensuring the dismantling of the Malayan Union.The campaign against the Malayan Union was successful, and the Malayan Union was dismantled in 1948, replaced by the Federation of Malay States that recognised the special position of the Malays.
In 1947, Tun Mahathir gained admission into the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore as a government scholar. During his college years, he wrote for The Sunday Times (now known as The Straits Times) under his pen name, C.H.E Det (Det was his family nickname). Most of his articles were about the problems of the Malays. In 1953, Tun Mahathir graduated and served as a medical officer at Alor Setar General Hospital. While in college, Tun had met Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, also a medical student. In 1956, they were married in a ceremony in Jalan Imbi in KL. They have seven children: Marina, Mirzan, Melinda, Mokhzani, Mukhriz, Maizura, and Mazhar.
Tun left government service in 1957 to set up his own practice, “Maha Clinic”, in Alor Setar, establishing the country’s first Malay-owned private clinic.
Tun Mahathir became active in politics and in 1964, stood for elections in Kota Setar Selatan, and won. In 1965, he was elected to UMNO’s Supreme Council. In 1969, Tun stood for elections again, but this time, he lost to his PAS opponent. The opposition’s win and victory parade in Kuala Lumpur then led to a violent racial clash between the Chinese and the Malays that left almost two hundred people dead. Following the 13th May 1969 race riots, Tun wrote a scathing letter to Tunku, criticising him for his soft approach in economics that Tun felt sidelined the Malays in economic development as it gave free reign to Chinese domination. Because of that letter, he was expelled from UMNO. During his time in the “political wilderness”, Tun continued his private medical practice and wrote his thoughts on the plight of the Malays into a book, “The Malay Dilemma”, which was subsequently banned in Malaya.
Tunku resigned as Prime Minister in 1970, and Tun Abdul Razak Hussein took over. In 1972, Tun Mahathir’s application to rejoin UMNO was accepted. He was appointed Senator in 1973. As he was passionate about education, Tun Mahathir was appointed a Member of the University Court and University Malaya Council. The next year, 1974, Tun contested in the elections and won the Kubang Pasu seat unopposed. He was appointed Malaysia’s Minister of Education, and ended his private medical practice.
In 1976, Tun Dr. Mahathir was made Deputy Prime Minister and two years later, he took on the post of Minister of Trade and Industry where he led several investment promotion missions overseas. In 1981, after Tun Hussein Onn stepped down as Prime Minister due to ill health, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became UMNO’s President and Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister.
Under his leadership, Malaysia transformed from being an agricultural country to a modern, industrial nation. Tun emphasized a clean, efficient government, and launched the Bersih, Cekap & Amanah campaign (Clean, Efficient, & Trustworthy) to reduce corruption, promote efficiency, and nurture trust in the public service. Other innovations he introduced to the public administration system were to insist that government employees clock in and out each day as well as wear name tags.
In his drive to industrialise Malaysia, Tun established a national car company, PROTON, and in 1982, the company produced its first ever Malaysian-made car, the Proton Saga. He also introduced closer partnerships between government and the private sector through the “Malaysia Incorporated” concept. Tun is also remembered for Vision 2020, a bold vision for the country to attain fully-developed economy status by the year 2020, not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of education, societal maturity, and governance.
After leading the National Front to successive victories in the 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995 and 1999 General Elections, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. stepped down as Prime Minister on 31st October 2003.
Writing is one of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's passions as he started writing while in school, and continued writing articles, books, and now, blogposts, throughout his career (his blog is located at www.chedet.cc).Tun Dr. Mahathir is also an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction. His favourite authors include Wilbur Smith, Dick Francis, and Ken Follett. He also loves horse-riding.
Post-retirement, Tun was appointed Honorary President of Perdana Leadership Foundation, a research and archive centre to document the contributions of all past Prime Ministers of Malaysia. Tun is also President of the anti-war Perdana Global Peace Foundation, and is the Chairman of the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War.
In 2016, Tun Dr Mahathir left UMNO, in protest against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s leadership, and formed a new political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). In 2017, at the age of 92, he re-entered the political fray, this time as leader of the Opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan.
1925: December 20 - Born in Alor Star, Kedah; the youngest of nine siblings
1931: Attended the Seberang Perak Malay School
1933: Attended an English school which was later named Sultan Abdul Hamid College
1942 - 1945: Education interrupted by the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Dropped out of school to sell food in Pekan Rabu to support the family
1945: Became politically aware and actively participated in various political organisations such as the Kedah Malay Union, Saberkas, and UMNO, to oppose the Malayan Union
1947: Earned a place at King Edward VII Medical College in Singapore to pursue medical studies as a government scholar
1953: Graduated as a doctor and served as Medical Officer in the Alor Setar General Hospital
1956: Married Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Hj Mohd Ali
1957: Left government service to set up Maha Clinic in Alor Setar
1964: Stood for elections in Kota Setar Selatan and won
1965: Elected to the UMNO Supreme Council
1969: Stood for elections in Kota Setar Selatan but lost this time to a PAS candidate
1969: Following the riots of May 13, wrote a letter criticizing the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Expelled from UMNO
1970: Wrote "The Malay Dilemma" which was subsequently banned in Malaysia
1970: Tunku Abdul Rahman resigned as Prime Minister, and Tun Abdul Razak Hussein became Malaysia’s second Prime Minister
1972: Tun Mahathir returns to UMNO, and is appointed Senator
1974: Won the Kubang Pasu parliamentary seat unopposed, and is appointed Minister of Education
1976: March 5 - Appointed as Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister of International Trade and Industry by Tun Hussein Onn
1981: June 28 - Elected as President of UMNO unopposed at the 32nd UMNO General Assembly
1981: July 16 - Officially installed as the fourth Prime Minister at 55 years and 7 months old
1987: April 24 - Re-elected as President of UMNO after defeating Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in party elections by 43 votes
1995: May 4 - Victory for the ruling coalition in the 9th General Elections
1998: September 7 - Took over the Finance Minister portfolio, upon the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister
1999: January 8 - Appoints Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Deputy Prime Minister.
2002: June 21 - Announces resignation from party and government at the UMNO General Assembly.
2003: October 31 - Steps down as Prime Minister. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi becomes Malaysia’s fifth Prime Minister
2009: April 3 - Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak becomes the sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia
2016: Leaves Umno in protest against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's leadership
2016: Sets up Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) that later joined the opposition coalition to establish Pakatan Harapan
2017: Re-enters politics as Opposition leader
2018: Announces candidacy for Langkawi parliamentary seat for the 14th General Election
2018: Wins the 14th General Elections and becomes Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister
A more elaborate biography presented in an interactive timeline is available here: https://www.perdana.org.my/pms-of-malaysia/visual-timeline
You can also download an infographic version of our former Prime Minister's biography here: https://www.perdana.org.my/pms-of-malaysia/biography-infographics