The 97-year-old elder statesman of Malaysian politics lost his parliamentary seat – the first electoral defeat in 53 years.
Mahathir came fourth in a five-way fight in his long-held constituency in the holiday resort island of Langkawi, the country’s election commission said on Saturday.
“It’s a major surprise that not only has he [Mahathir] lost, but he has lost in a spectacular fashion,” Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from outside Kuala Lumpur, said.
“He has not only lost his seat but has lost his deposit because he has not been able to get more than an eighth of votes cast. His party has also not managed to win a single seat.”
It was the 97-year-old’s first electoral defeat in more than half a century. He served as Malaysia’s prime minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003.
He returned to politics two years ago in the wake of the multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB. Mahathir held the Guinness World Record for being the “world’s oldest current prime minister” when he became prime minister in 2018, just two months shy of his 93rd birthday.
‘Crooks or jailbirds’
Visibly slowed by age but still looking healthy, Mahathir ran this time around under his own Homeland Fighters’ Party and had laughed off suggestions he should retire, telling reporters before the election that he had a “good chance” of winning.
“I’m still standing around and talking to you, I think, making reasonable answers,” Mahathir said.
He added his party would not form any alliances with parties that are led by “crooks or jailbirds” – an apparent reference to the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party of jailed former Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition – which is dominated by his UMNO party – lost ground to rival alliances led by former Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The corruption-tainted Barisan Nasional coalition, which ruled Malaysia since its independence from Britain until 2018, could still return to power depending on post-election alliances.
Mahathir has been criticized for ruling the Southeast Asian nation with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003, but he is also hailed for helping transform the country from a sleepy backwater into one of the world’s top exporters of high-tech goods.
His long leadership provided political stability, and he gained the title of “Father of Modern Malaysia” as he oversaw the construction of highways and industrial parks in the 1980s and 1990s.
The reformist Pakatan Harapan alliance led by Mahathir won a stunning victory over UMNO and Najib, who was later convicted of corruption and is currently serving a 12-year jail sentence.
Mahathir became prime minister again, but his government collapsed in less than two years due to infighting.
He has warned that Najib would be freed if the jailed politician’s allies in UMNO win.
He also offered to become prime minister a third time, but observers said he had no chance from the beginning.
His titanic clashes with opposition leader Anwar, his erstwhile heir-in-apparent with whom he had a bitter falling out, have dominated and shaped Malaysian politics over the past two decades.
In the end, age was his biggest opponent.
“Mahathir’s time has passed,” Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia told AFP earlier this month ahead of the election.