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Southeast Asian of the month for September: Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad

Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad, former president of Malaysia

Born in 1925, Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad is one of the longest-serving prime minister of Malaysia and on the other side, leaders of Asia. His hometown is Alur Setar, capital of the north-western state of Kedah, where also his place of education before his entry to the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. He married his former classmate and later fellow doctor, Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali in 1956, who bore him 5 children: three sons and two daughters.

During World War II, and during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, to help his family income, Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad sold pisang goreng (banana fritter) and other snacks. During his stay in Singapore, he is the editor of the medical magazine name “The Cauldron,” and also an anonymous contributor to “the straight time” newspaper (in which he was using his nickname ”Che det”). His other major role during early life was being the president of the Muslim society in the college.

The beginning of his private practice set a year after his marriage in his hometown when he left the government medical service he attended after his graduation. In 1959, he owned a Pontiac Catalina and employed an ethnic Chinese chauffeur. However, his political life started even earlier. In 1945, he joined an organization name “United Malays National Organization (UMNO).” In 1965, his first political achievement came in form of the parliament seat (member), which he eventually lost in 1969.

During the event of the riot in 1969 was a downturn for his political career. After seeing the lacks of leadership of the prime minister of that time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, he publicly criticise him and was eventually sacked out of the UMNO. He continues his campaign for the sake of Malaysia by writing the book “The Malay Dilemma,” which describes about the reason behind the slow progress of Malaysian economics. This book was banned in the later stage.

Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad regained his UMNO membership in 1972, and was appointed senator in 1973. In order to contest the 1974 election, he abandoned his position, in which he was return unopposed and further promoted to the minister of education. In 1975, he was elected as one of the three vice president of the UMNO.
He became the prime minister of Malaysia in 1981. This new prime minister conducted the constitutional amendment where he removes some power from the monarchies. Under his leadership, Malaysia was able to avoid large impact from the economic crisis in 1997. For domestic dominance, his UMNO won landslide election in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995 and 1999. He established an effective foreign policy which he proficiently deals with the US, Australia, Singapore, Middle East, China, and Asia countries. He plays important role in ASEAN and APEC.

His announcement in 2002 shocked the whole Malaysia as he pronounced the word “retire.” He himself also burst into tears. However, after several persuasions, he decided to remain in office until October 2003. The reason for this delay is to allow more time to choose his successor.

Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad is a truly noble Southeast Asian. In Malaysia, he is known as the “father of modernisation.” He is perhaps America’s best Muslim friend. He often spoke strongly and controversially in favor of nonalignment; economic development; and the world's “southern” (typically less-developed and nonaligned) countries. During his time in office, he is considered one of Asia’s most influential leaders. He is also encouraging the spirit of “Asian Value.”

- Microsoft Student: Mahathir Bin Mohammad
- MSN Encarta

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