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Mahathir Mohamad was the fourth prime minister of Malaysia, holding office from 1981 to 2003. He improved the economy and was a champion of developing nations.
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Mahathir Mohamad was born in 1925 in Alor Setar, Malaysia. He was a doctor before becoming a politician with the UMNO party, and ascended quickly from member of parliament to prime minister. During his 22 years in office, he grew the economy and was an activist for developing nations, but also imposed harsh restrictions on civil liberties. He resigned office in 2003.
Mahathir Mohamad was born on December 20, 1925, in Alor Setar, in the state of Kedah in northern Malaysia. His family was modest but stable, and his father was a respected teacher at an English language school.
After finishing Islamic grammar schools and graduating from the local college, Mahathir attended medical school at the University of Malaya in Singapore. He was an army physician before forming a private practice at the age of 32.
Mahathir became active in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysia’s largest political party, and was elected to its policy-making group, the Supreme Council. With the support of the UMNO, he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1964. He wrote a book, The Malay Dilemma, demanding affirmative action for indigenous Malays and equal status with Chinese-Malaysians, while also criticizing Malays’ “economic backwardsness.” These then-radical ideas earned the ire of Prime Minister Abdul Rahman, and the UMNO banned the book and expelled Mahathir from the party.
Rahman resigned in 1970, and after Mahathir was reinstated in the UMNO in 1972, his political career took off. He was reelected to parliament in 1973, promoted to a Cabinet position in 1974 and rose to deputy prime minister in 1976. He became prime minister just five years later when his predecessor, Hussein Onn, retired.
Mahathir had a significant impact on the economy, culture and government of Malaysia. He won five consecutive elections and served for 22 years, longer than any other prime minister in Malaysia’s history. Under him, Malaysia experienced rapid economic growth. He began privatizing government enterprises, including airlines, utilities and telecommunications, which raised money for the government and improved working conditions for many employees, although many of the beneficiaries were UMNO supporters. One of his most significant infrastructure projects was the North-South Expressway, a highway that runs from the Thai border to Singapore.
From 1988 to 1996, Malaysia saw an 8 percent economic expansion, and Mahathir released an economic plan—The Way Forward, or Vision 2020—asserting that the country would be a fully developed nation by 2020. He helped shift the country’s economic base away from agriculture and natural resources and toward manufacturing and exporting, and the country’s per capita income doubled from 1990 to 1996. Although Malaysia’s growth has slowed and it’s unlikely the country will achieve this goal, the economy remains stable.
But in spite of these accomplishments, Mahathir leaves a mixed legacy.
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