Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was named on Sunday to lead the opposition coalition during the country’s next election, set to take place at some point in the first half of 2018.
Should Mahathir’s opposition alliance prove to be victorious when they challenge Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition at the polls – a party that’s witnessed sizeable losses in the past two elections – then 92-year-old Mahathir will become the world’s oldest serving leader.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II currently reigns as the oldest, coming in at age 91.
Despite having previously ruled the country for 22 years from the same party that current Prime Minister Najib rules from, Mahathir will lead from the opposite side after being drawn back into politics since his retirement in 2003.
Following his appointment on Sunday, Mahathir delivered a speech at the convention where he explained that, though he had previously fought for the success of his UMNO party, he would now “[fight] to take it down,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
“It is not easy for me to destroy the party that I loved for 60 years,” the retired doctor added.
Mahathir has been vocal in his criticism of Najib’s administration for corrupting UMNO, which is now the main party of the ruling BN coalition.
Prime Minister Najib has been embroiled in a national scandal for the past year that involves hundreds of millions of dollars being transferred through his bank account and the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The US Justice Department estimates that the misappropriated funds from 1MDB could be as high as $4.5 billion.
Following the retired doctor’s shocking return to politics, Mahathir was seen to garner some critical responses from current government leaders.
Government minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the Associated Press reported, said the 92-year-old doctor’s candidacy would just stall the opposition’s reform hopes.
“It’s laughable for (the opposition) to appoint Mahathir as the next PM and expect him to implement those reforms,” the minister tweeted out on Sunday from his personal account. “It’s a tragedy to their own cause….anyway, I thank (the opposition) for making it even easier for (the ruling coalition) to win the upcoming general election.”
It’s laughable for PH to appoint Mahathir as the next PM and expect him to implement those reforms. What happened to the so called those Nurul Izzahs of PH? Has PH succumbed to its lust for power at the expense of its ideals?
— Abdul Rahman Dahlan (@mpkotabelud) January 7, 2018
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of jailed opposition leader and former deputy Prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, will also lead the coalition.
As part of his campaign, Mahathir intends to run on a platform that will seek to grant a royal pardon for Anwar, who would then takeover as the country’s prime minister, the AFP reported.
Anwar was convicted for a second time in 2014 for sodomy, a charge that he has continuously refuted as being part of a larger political conspiracy designed to end his career and split up the opposition party.
Within Malaysia, a charge of sodomy disqualifies the accused of running for office, but should Anwar receive a royal pardon he will be allowed to run again.
During his 22-year tenure as prime minister, Mahathir was known as Asia’s longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2003. Both he and the current prime minister like to accuse the other of abusing their power and corruption, but they both also deny these accusations, reported the Straits Times.
Najib is known for shutting down peaceful opponents through imprisonments and attempting to silence media outlets that are critical of his administration.
Mahathir, however, was also known for having his own authoritarian proclivities, having been the one responsible for initially jailing former deputy Anwar in 1998 for alleged charges of corruption and sodomy.