KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad expects Malaysia’s graft-tainted ruling party will hold general elections in coming months — and could win big — but the nonagenarian reformer vowed Friday that he would fight “even a losing battle” on principle.
In an wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Mahathir described President Joe Biden as “ineffective" and “anti-Islam" for supporting Israel, accused the U.S. of trying to provoke a war in Taiwan and slammed Europe for provoking Ukraine to fight.
Mahathir said the ruling United Malays National Organization will most likely “win big” in the event of snap polls. He believes that many rural Malay voters have returned to UMNO because they were offered money and other incentives.
“I think they will want to have the general elections this year. If possible, maybe as soon as two or three months from now because they feel that at this moment, the public still look up at them, and the opposition is broken up, disorganized," he said.
Elections are not due until September 2023, but some UMNO members, including ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who are both fighting graft charges, have been rallying for an earlier vote.
Mahathir was an UMNO prime minister for 22 years until his retirement in 2003. Inspired to return to politics by the massive looting of the 1MDB state fund during Najib's term in office, Mahathir rode a wave of public anger and led the opposition to the historic victory in 2018 polls that ousted Najib's government.
Mahathir became the world's oldest head of government at 93, but his reformist alliance collapsed in less than two years due to defections. UMNO returned to power and now leads a new coalition government.
Now 97, Mahathir has formed a new party Pejuang and a Malay alliance to contest 120 Malay-dominated parliamentary seats. He said his mission remained the same: to “clean-up" the country and form a graft-free government.
“I dont know about being prime minister candidate, but if I am strong enough, if I am healthy enough, if they want me to contest, I will contest," he told AP.
“I will fight, even if it is a losing battle," he said. “I will fight because I believe in principle. It’s not what happens to me. I believe in principle. I believe that this is a great country which can become a developed country, but under the crooks you will never become."
Najib has maintained his innocence. With his final appeal against his 12-year-jail sentence in the first of several trials ongoing in the country’s top court, he will not be allowed to run in the event of an early election.
Mahathir said he believes Najib is hoping to make a political comeback with an UMNO win.
“In the elections, if UMNO wins, he expects an UMNO government to ask for a pardon for him and when he gets a pardon, (and is ) cleared completely, he can then become prime minister," Mahathir said. “He will do it. Believe me, he will do it."
Mahathir has been known for decades as a critic of the West and its geopolitics.
He said Biden was an “ineffective" leader. “In a way, he’s very anti-Islam, he’s not being fair. He allows Israel to commit all kinds of crime, genocide, and he does nothing. He supports them," Mahathir said.
He warned the U.S. was antagonizing China through recent delegation visits to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others. China considers Taiwan as its territory and regard such visits as meddling in its affairs.
“If (China) wanted to invade, they could have invaded. They didn’t. But America is provoking so that they can be a war, so that the Chinese will make the mistake of trying to occupy Taiwan. Then there is an excuse...for U.S. to help Taiwan, even fight against China and sell a lot of arms to Taiwan," Mahathir said.
He also railed against the European Union over the Russian war on Ukraine.
“What the NATO is doing, the EU is doing is to provoke some more and asking the Ukrainians to fight," he said. “They promised to accept Ukraine (into NATO) but they didn't."