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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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Although he began his first term conservatively, during the 1980s Mahathir became more authoritarian. In 1987 he instituted the Internal Security Act, which permitted him to close four newspapers and order the arrests of 106 activists, religious leaders and political opponents, including Anwar Ibrahim, his former deputy prime minister. He also altered the constitution to restrictive the interpretive power of the Supreme Court,
and he forced a number of high-ranking members to resign.
Mahathir’s record on civil liberties, as well as his criticisms of Western economic policies and industrialized nations’ policies toward developing countries, made his relationships with the United States, Britain and Australia difficult. He banned The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for printing negative editorials about him, and supported a national law condemning drug smugglers to death, resulting in the execution of several Western citizens.
Mahathir retired in 2003, and remains an active and visible part of Malaysia’s political landscape. He is an ardent critic of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, whom he chose to succeed him.
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