PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s 97-year-old former leader Mahathir Mohamad announced on Tuesday that he will defend his seat in the general elections expected next month, though he would not say whether he would be prime minister for 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,” Mahathir told a news conference.
If so, he would be the oldest-ever candidate for the post, which has a five-year term.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament on Monday for snap polls, caving in to pressure from his United Malays National Organization party, which is hoping for a big win on its own amid feuds with allies in the ruling coalition. The Election Commission will meet on Oct 20 to fix a date for the vote, which must be held within 60 days of parliament’s dissolution.
Ismail Sabri said the past years have seen several unprecedented developments after the 2018 national elections, including political uncertainties with the changes of several prime ministers and the COVID-19 pandemic, which together have harmed the country’s socioeconomic and political situation.
Mahathir said he will defend his parliamentary seat in Langkawi island. He also warned that a win by the ruling UMNO party could see imprisoned former prime minister Najib Razak pardoned.
Mahathir was a UMNO premier for 22 years until his retirement in 2003. Then in 2016, he was inspired to return to politics by the massive looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, state fund during Najib’s term in office and rode a wave of public anger to lead the opposition to a historic victory in 2018 polls that ousted 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 graft charges against Najib and other UMNO leaders. But his alliance collapsed less than two years later due to defections, returning UMNO to power under a new coalition government.
After his government’s collapse in 2020, Mahathir formed the Pejuang party and a new alliance with several small parties.
He said UMNO’s main objective is to free Najib, who began his 12-year jail term in August after losing his final appeal in a corruption case linked to the 1MDB scandal.
“Should they be able to win and form the government, that is their first objective, not about the welfare of the people,” Mahathir said, commenting on UMNO.