'I should be dead now' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 02, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, November 02, 2018

'I should be dead now'

Mahathir jokingly says of his second stint as PM

Leaning back in his chair and admitting he is feeling every one of his 93 years, the world's oldest leader Mahathir Mohamad says his second stint as Malaysian premier is taking its toll as he grapples with everything from fending off China to paying down a mammoth national debt.

"I should be dead now, actually," joked the nonagenarian leader in an interview with AFP yesterday.

The veteran statesman is as sharp and straight-talking as ever, and not one to shy away from offering frank views on controversial issues, including gay rights and anti-Semitism.

But it's not been an easy ride for Mahathir -- who has suffered increasing health problems in recent years -- since his ramshackle alliance won a shock victory at May elections and toppled the corruption-plagued regime of Najib Razak.

Since then, a host of former leaders have been been arrested for corruption, many linked to the novel-worthy political saga around sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, in which billions of dollars were allegedly looted in a fraud stretching from Singapore to Switzerland.

Aside from the crackdown on corruption, Mahathir is seeking to pay off a $250 billion national debt, and has cancelled a string of costly China-backed mega-projects, risking the ire of the world's number-two economy.

On top of that, his own coalition is an uneasy alliance.

It was cobbled together as a means of ousting Najib and is packed with politicians who once vehemently opposed him, including former nemesis Anwar Ibrahim, now the presumptive successor to the premiership.

"It is exhausting," conceded Mahathir.

"This time around I have to do more work than the first time I became prime minister... the whole government machinery has been destroyed almost."

Mahathir's victory took almost everyone -- including his own alliance -- by surprise, and amounted to a political earthquake that ousted the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition after six decades in power.

After years of graft scandals and divisive racial politics in the multi-ethnic country, voters finally had enough of BN, with the 1MDB scandal the tipping point for many.

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