Born and raised in Alor Setar, Kedah, Mahathir excelled at school and became a medical doctor. He became active in the UMNO before entering Parliament in 1964. He served one term before losing his seat, subsequently falling out with Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman5 and being expelled from UMNO. When Abdul Rahman resigned, Mahathir re-entered UMNO and Parliament, and was promoted to the Cabinet. By 1976 he had risen to Deputy Prime Minister, and in 1981 was sworn in as Prime Minister after the resignation of his predecessor, Hussein Onn.
During Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister, Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernization and economic growth, and his government initiated a series of bold infrastructure projects. Mahathir was a dominant political figure, winning five consecutive general elections and fending off a series of rivals for the leadership of UMNO. However, his accumulation of power came at the expense of the independence of the judiciary and the traditional powers and privileges of Malaysia’s royalty. He deployed the controversial Internal Security Act to detain activists, non-mainstream religious figures, and political opponents including the Deputy Prime Minister he fired in 1998, Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir’s record of curbing civil liberties and his antagonism towards western interests and economic policy made his relationships with the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, among others, difficult. As Prime Minister, he was an advocate of third-world development and a prominent international activist.