PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, 97, announced Tuesday that he would defend his seat in general elections scheduled for next month, though he did not say whether he would be prime minister for a third time if his political alliance wins. .
“We have not decided who will be the prime minister because the prime ministerial candidate is only relevant if we win,” Mahathir told a news conference.
Though unlikely, he would be the oldest candidate for the job, which has a five-year term.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved Parliament on Monday for quick polls, bowing to pressure from his United Malays National Organization party, which is hoping for a big victory on its own amid disputes with allies in the ruling coalition. The Electoral Commission must set a date within the week for a vote, which must take place within 60 days of the dissolution of Parliament.
Despite his nonagenarian status and a health problem this year, Mahathir said he will defend his parliamentary seat on the island of Langkawi. He also warned that a victory by the ruling UMNO party could land former Prime Minister Najib Razak in prison. forgiven and released from the hook.
Mahathir was Prime Minister of UMNO for 22 years until his retirement in 2003. Then, in 2016, he was inspired to return to politics by the massive looting of the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad during Najib’s tenure and rode a wave of public anger for leading the opposition to a historic victory in the 2018 polls which overthrew the UMNO, which had ruled since the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Mahathir became the world’s oldest head of government at 93 and oversaw corruption charges against Najib and other UMNO leaders. But his reformist alliance collapsed in less than two years due to defections, returning UMNO to power under a new coalition government.
After the collapse of his government in 2020, Mahathir formed the Pejuang party and a new alliance with several smaller parties.
Echoing both opposition and UMNO allies, Mahathir criticized UMNO on Tuesday for putting its self-interest first in snap elections during the annual monsoon season in November that causes extensive flooding. He said that UMNO aims to win big by offering bribes and money to people.
He said UMNO’s main goal is to free Najib, who began his 12-year prison sentence in August after losing his final appeal in a corruption case related to the 1MDB scandal. Najib is also facing several other 1MDB-related trials that could lengthen his prison term if he is convicted. UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is also on trial on dozens of corruption charges unrelated to the 1MDB case.
“If they win this election, their first step would be to ask (Malaysia’s king) to pardon Najib. Right now, they have applied but have not been pardoned,” Mahathir said. “If they can win and form the government, that is their first goal, not the welfare of the people.”
Mahathir said his political alliance has not been approved by the government and some 120 candidates will run under the Pejuang banner in Malay-dominated parliamentary seats.
Analysts said Mahathir’s appeal may no longer appeal to ethnic Malay voters who supported him in 2018. UMNO, which had just 36 of the 222 lawmakers in the newly dissolved Parliament, believes many Malays have returned to their fold after his landslide victory in the recent by-elections. .
The Alliance of Hope, which Mahathir led to victory in the 2018 polls, remains the top contender with 90 lawmakers. His prime ministerial candidate is Anwar Ibrahim, who was originally due to succeed Mahathir before his government collapsed.
While Mahathir competes head-on with UMNO and others for the votes of Malays, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, Anwar’s alliance stands on a multi-racial platform. Ethnic Chinese and Indians form large minorities in the country.
Anwar said on Monday that the elections will be a time for people to vote for the traitors who led to the collapse of his alliance government in 2020.
“Did you think we could reverse 60 years of entrenched corruption and kleptocracy with a single election? Did you think that these scheming crooks and thieves would just give up? Anwar said in a statement. “We didn’t give up either. We never give up.”