What birthday? Malaysia’s Mahathir celebrates turning 94 with wish to continue working

12-Jul-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamad celebrates his 94th birthday on Wednesday, and well-wishes have flooded in from citizens and local media, as well as his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.

Mahathir was born on July 10, 1925 in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah. He is the world’s oldest sitting prime minister following his return to office in May 2018, making him the country’s fourth and seventh premier.

“A very happy 94th birthday to Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad today,” Lee wrote on his Facebook page, along with a photo of him and his wife Ho Ching with Mahathir and his wife Siti Hasmah during a visit to the island nation last year, when an orchid was named in their honour.

“On the 94th birthday of Tun Mahathir, we hope Allah gives him good health and he has the chance to continue serving the country,” said Pakatan Harapan leader and prime-minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.

Speaking to Malaysian news agency Bernama, Mahathir said his late mother, Wan Tempawan Wan Hanapi, was the most influential individual in his life. “She brought me up, she taught me the way I should behave, the things I should do,” he said.

The prime minister named Nelson Mandela as the world leader who inspired him the most, citing his fight against apartheid in South Africa, as well as Peter the Great of Russia “because he changed a disorganised Russia into a world power”.

He also revealed that his favourite Malaysian singer is Siti Nurhalisa, he prefers coffee over tea, and Japan is his favourite of the countries he has visited.

Malaysian newspaper The New Straits Times ran two opinion pieces in his honour, with the headlines “Che Det, be all that you can be!” and “Doc around the clock: Dr Mahathir celebrates his (sixth) Sweet Sixteen”. Che Det was Mahathir’s pen name when he used to contribute to the newspaper, then called the Straits Times, before Malaysia’s independence from the British in 1957.

Mahathir himself offered a cheeky response when asked about his birthday wish by local media: “My birthday? No, it’s December 20, so I’m still 93.” Mahathir’s birth certificate says he was born on December 20, an arbitrary date his father selected for official purposes, according to biographer Barry Wain.

On his own social media, the nonagenarian took a more serious tone. “Thank you for all the birthday greetings I received today. My birthday wish is very simple, that I can finish my work setting Malaysia on the road of recovery,” he wrote.

Malaysians flooded the comments section of his posts, with many thanking Mahathir for returning to lead the country. “May Allah bless you with good health and strength to make Malaysia baru [new] again,” wrote one Facebook user.

Despite his age, Mahathir maintains a packed roster of events, travelling extensively and working full days from 8.30am to 6pm. In the past six months, he has travelled to countries including China, the Philippines and most recently Britain.

Mahathir attributes his longevity to hard work, which he said keeps him mentally fit, and a strict diet to maintain his weight. In an interview with the South China Morning Post last year, he says he gets his energy from “simple things like not putting on weight, not eating too much, proper sleep, a little bit of exercise”.

Even after he stepped down from the top job for the first time in 2003, Mahathir still went to his office every day to work. His determination to do something for the country is a trait shared by him and the former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, although the two men seldom saw eye to eye.

Lee the current Singaporean leader’s father was a member of the Lion City’s cabinet for 21 years even after he stepped down from his post as the country’s prime minister.

When the elder Lee passed in March 2015, Mahathir wrote on his blog: “No matter how friendly or unfriendly we are, the passing away of a man you know well saddens you. I cannot say I was a close friend of Kuan Yew. But I still feel sad at his demise.”

The two shared a similar work ethic, working tirelessly into later life the age of 91, in Lee’s case and made it clear they would sacrifice their golden years to save their countries if necessary. Lee went even further to say: “Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.”



Category: Malaysia

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